When the Pittsburgh Steelers got Le’Veon Bell back last season, they were kind of taken by surprise by how well their backup, DeAngelo Williams, handled the starting job without him. It took them a while to formulate a plan as to how to make use of both of them.
This plan began to take shape toward the middle of the season, only to see Bell go down with an injury. Williams’ subsequent run as the starter for the second half of the season only reinforced the coaching staff’s belief that they could benefit from fielding both on the field together.
We saw that plan come to fruition on Sunday night in Bell’s first game back from suspension. While Bell obviously saw the lion’s share of work—18 carries, five receptions on six targets—Bell did get his snaps and touches as well. He had five total touches, including four carries and a reception, but he saw 16 snaps, with 10 of them coming together with Bell. Below is a breakdown of how they were used together.
On an early first-quarter play, the Steelers sat Bell in the slot before motioning him in pre-snap behind the left tackle. Williams lined up in the right sidecar, but off the snap ran a flat route to the right. With the left guard pulling right, Bell took a short screen pass up the middle. The end result wasn’t very effective, but it shows the effort to instill creativity in their two-back looks.
On the final play of the first quarter, the offense put both backs on the field—and they split both of them out wide, with each of them well outside the numbers on their respective sides. Bell was on the left side, with the corner playing off, and Ben Roethlisberger hit him with a quick pass for six yards on first down.
Two plays into the second quarter, we saw Williams in the backfield and Bell in the right slot. Bell ran a drag route over the middle for the third-down play, while Williams leaked out of the backfield to the right. The mismatch of directions drew off the middle-of-the-field coverage and held the safety to help leave Antonio Brown isolated for a back-shoulder reception.
A bit later into the second quarter, we got our look at the one true two-back set of the night, with Bell in the left sidecar and Williams to the right. Williams moved up to block the outside linebacker while Bell got the draw carry for 14 yards. It should be pointed out that this was a third-and-29 play.
Late in the half, we saw Bell trying to return the favor for Williams, who got the carry behind a pulling right guard with Bell in the left slot. Bell tried to chip the defender, but was too slow to close to the inside.
Bell did say after the game that he relishes the opportunity to hit these players who spend all game hitting him, so I would expect to see more of these sorts of plays going forward, and a refinement of looks as they figure out what works with the combination of tailbacks on the field. For the record, Williams was in the backfield on all but one play together with Bells, while Bell was at wide receiver for all but one. They spent one play each together in the backfield and lined up at receiver.