I have talked a lot about the Pittsburgh Steelers’ plans for running back Le’Veon Bell ever since I noticed how much they used him at wide receiver in the third game of the season in 2015, his first game back, and the only game in which he played with a healthy Ben Roethlisberger.
Needless to say, I was really intrigued to see how they would end up using Bell in his first game this season with Roethlisberger healthy, and I wasn’t disappointed. In 55 total snaps, including penalties and the two-point attempt, Bell saw 15 snaps lined up as a wide receiver.
He played wide receiver, in fact, on over 40 percent of the passing snaps for which he was in the game, and he even played it on a couple of running plays with DeAngelo Williams in the game. He played as a blocker for Williams—or tried to anyway.
There are so many things that the Steelers and Todd Haley can do with a player as gifted as Bell, enough that it might cause one to overthink and try to get too creative with him at the expense of overall team success in the process of feeling out what works. Yesterday, Haley was asked how he balances being creative with Bell’s skill set versus using him traditionally, as the running back that he is.
“I’ve been in a situation similar”, he said, referring to his time in Kansas City. “In a lot of cases the guy that’s toting the ball after a top-level back is—there’s a drop off somewhat. But with Le’Veon being the guy, it just opens up more doors and gives us more flexibility to work both those guys on the field”, referring to Williams.
“Against the Chiefs, it was a nice combination”, Haley said, “and it worked out well”. In all, Bell picked up 144 yards on 18 carries and another 34 on five receptions. Williams added seven yards on four carries and a two-yard reception, but he scored a touchdown from two yards out on one of his five touches, and he had a nine-yard run wiped out by a holding call.
Williams saw 16 snaps during the game, most of which came with him sharing the field with Bell, but only once were they both lined up at running back. Bell peeled back in behind the tackle on one play to run a screen play, but for the most part, he lined up at receiver while Williams was in the backfield. On one snap, they both were lined up out wide as receivers.
Sunday will be only the second full game that the Steelers have had Bell, Roethlisberger, and Williams all healthy together at the same time, and the first time Bell and Roethlisberger should finish a game together since the penultimate game of the 2014 season.
One should expect that the manner in which Haley and the offense take advantage of Bell’s expanding versatility will be a work in progress, a feeling-out process, but the Steelers’ offensive coordinator believes he can walk the balance between trickery and effectiveness, with Williams playing his part in that equation.