Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell is one of the best pure rushers in the NFL. His methodical, patient approach is unorthodox but effective in the trenches. Bell is also one of the NFL’s best receiving threats out of the backfield as his hands and route running abilities are a rarity for the position. The Steelers and Bell will have to take these facts into consideration as they approach an artificial deadline of February 20th for a new deal. But while Bell can run and catch perhaps better than anyone, let us not forget what secures his spot as one of the NFL’s top running backs – his elite ability to protect the quarterback.
Many running backs can run the football. A handful can run and catch the football. Only a select few can run, catch and block. Bell belongs to the rare club that can do all three and that is why his value to the Steelers remains sky high. Here are just a few examples of Bell’s reliability in pass protection from this season.
Perhaps Bell’s most memorable block of the 2017 season, the Steelers’ running back stands right in harms way as he neutralizes the incoming threat that is 233-pound linebacker Wesley Woodyard. Woodyard comes through untouched and Bell shows not only his strength but his fortitude in sacrificing his body in order to give Ben Roethlisberger the time needed to attempt a pass.
Pass protection is more than just strength and not shying from contact, it is also about intelligence. You need to be able to diagnose a formation and identify where the blitz is coming from within a second. Bell is among the best in the game at it, watch above at how the Steelers running back moves across the line to quickly pick up Vikings safety Andrew Sendejo. Untouched off a safety blitz, Bell holds his ground against Sendejo, allowing Roethlisberger to complete his pass to Jesse James.
One concept the Steelers had high success with is blitzing with their defensive backs. Other teams had little to no success with this concept against the Steelers this season, thanks largely to the talent and intelligence of Bell. On the play above, Ravens’ free safety Lardarius Webb is blitzing from the edge and Bell recognizes it immediately. Bell rushes over, forces Webb outside, giving Roethlisberger a clean pocket to find his tight end to move the chains.
Another example of a corner blitz against this Steelers, this time against the Chicago Bears. Cornerback Bryce Callahan is blitzing wide and Bell wisely uses this to his advantage as the Bears’ cornerback is too far away from the play to make an impact on the pocket. While Roethlisberger’s pass eventually falls incomplete, this is just another example of Bell’s elite services in pass protection.
While there have been many proposals from the fans, media and analysts for how the Steelers should handle Bell’s impending free agent status, they must consider what the team would be losing in Bell’s talent. The Steelers would not just be replacing a running back, they would also be replacing a receiver and a proven pass blocker.