One of the main things that attracted the Steelers to running back Le’Veon Bell during April’s draft was his ability to be diverse.
The Steelers believed that Bell could run with speed and power; run any kind of scheme whether it is the inside zone, outside zone or power; catch the ball out of the backfield; and be on the field for all three downs.
Through his first three NFL starts, Bell has proven he’s capable of doing it all.
It was never more evident than Sunday against the Ravens when offensive coordinator Todd Haley came up with a creative and diverse game plan that featured Bell.
The reason for Bell’s success was partly because of how Haley was able to use him in a number of different ways in the run game.
Last year, the Steelers were hamstrung with what they could do because of their running back personnel.
Not this year.
The first 10 times Bell ran the ball it was out of different and sometimes unique formations that forced the Ravens to play honest defense.
Haley used Bell with an inside handoff from the shotgun; the I-formation; the single-back set with end-around action; the read option; the single-back set with strong formation; the single-back set with a banana bunch formation; the lead draw; the single-back set and even a fake screen inside handoff look.
It allowed the Steelers to run the ball effectively on first down that led to third-and-manageable situations.
Out of Bell’s 93 yards, 62 came on first down that set the Steelers up in manageable third downs. The Steelers had only one third down that was more than 10 yards.
The Steelers converted 7-of-12 third downs.
Bell also caught a pass and was asked to block nine times.
It’s been well documented how much defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau is using Troy Polamalu in various ways on a weekly basis. That didn’t change against the Ravens. The Steelers used their quarter package (two defensive linemen, two rush linebackers, one inside linebacker, six defensive backs) 74 percent of the time against Baltimore. The twist came with where Polamalu lined up – at either the buck or mack inside linebacker position next to Lawrence Timmons. Polamalu lined up in that slot 21 times with the majority of them coming on either first- or second-and-long. Rookie linebacker Vince Williams played in only 18 snaps because of it. Polamalu finished with eight tackles.
The Steelers might have found a way to integrate Mike Adams into the lineup without exposing him to his pass protection issues. Adams lined up as an extra tackle 17 times) against the Ravens and was asked pass block only five times. The Steelers were very successful running the ball with Adams in the game – 77 of their season-high 141 yards.
It wasn’t quite the wildcat that Bell ran more than it was read option, minus the read. Bell took the direct snap four times with Antonio Brown coming on jet-sweep action each time. Bell handed the ball to Brown once and kept it himself the other resulting in 15 yards. Bell didn’t read the defense to determine what he was going to do with the ball. All four plays were predetermined.
Baltimore coach John Harbaugh’s curious decision to attempt an onside kick early in the fourth quarter of a 13-9 game became even stranger when you look at the film. During their previous three kickoffs, Stevenson Sylvester, who is located in the middle of the Steelers logo on the 50-yard line during kickoffs, never once left his spot until the ball was kicked. Sylvester recognized the onside attempt before Justin Tucker kicked the ball and started to move forward.
The wide receiver screen was a big part of the Steelers’ game plan last week. Not so much against the Ravens. Offensive coordinator Todd Haley called only two wide receiver screens – none until four minutes left in the first half – that resulted in 8 yards.
Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco picked apart the middle of the Steelers defense. Flacco was 12 of 13 for 97 yards in the middle of the field, with the only incompletion coming on the deep pass to Jacoby Jones early in the third quarter that was knocked away by William Gay.