When Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell receives the ball from Ben Roethlisberger, he doesn’t launch full speed into a clutter of linemen.
Instead, Bell often stutter-steps, seemingly running at half speed, before finding a hole and carrying the ball several yards for the explosive Steelers offence.
The style seems to work for Bell, who has run for 337 yards and two touchdowns in the Steelers’ two playoff wins.
Over his last eight games — a half-season’s worth of games — he’s rushed for a total of 1,172 yards and eight touchdowns.
As The MMQB’s Peter King points out, Bell’s style is one that coaches often hate:
“Usually, Bell lines up as the classic I-back, seven yards deep, and when he takes a handoff from Ben Roethlisberger, he’ll take a couple of jab steps toward a hole and almost stop in his tracks. …
“Most coaches decry what they call pussyfooting. You’ll hear coaches sometimes yell at their backs to hit it up in there, don’t wait, get what you can. But Bell figures he’s running behind such a great tactical line that eventually he’s going to see a good crease. So he waits longer than other backs. It’s working.”
As King notes, CBS’s Phil Simms calls Bell “The Great Hesitator” for his patient running style.
It’s not an exaggeration. To watch Bell is to sometimes feel as though there’s a glitch in the broadcast.
When Bell finds his gap, he puts his foot on the gas.
“I’ve loved to block for him. I’ve seen other guys try to do [his patient style] and can’t do it,” said Steelers guard Ramon Foster, via ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler. “Our job is to hold our blocks. He’s by far the best back in the league, no matter what other guys say.”
As Fowler notes, the Steelers have increased Bell’s carries significantly in recent games, and it’s paying off. The Steelers may be known as a dynamic passing team, but in recent weeks Bell has carried the offence. In December, Bell averaged a healthy 5.2 yards per carry. Against the Dolphins, it was 5.8. Against the Chiefs it was 5.7.
Things won’t be as easy for Bell in the AFC Championship game against the Patriots. Only two teams allowed fewer rushing yards than the Patriots this season. And their 3.9 yards allowed per attempt ranked ninth.
The Patriots also only allowed Bell to gain 81 yards rushing in their Week 7 win over the Steelers. But that was before Bell went on his current tear. Now he gets a second chance.
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