Steelers: Le’Veon Bell’s “Patience” Examined

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Patience at Work

NFL: AFC Wild Card-Miami Dolphins at Pittsburgh Steelers
NFL: AFC Wild Card-Miami Dolphins at Pittsburgh Steelers /

So let’s look at one specific play where we can see this vaunted patience and what the nuts and bolts of it are. We don’t have to look too far back. Take this play (which can be found at from the game against the Chiefs. It’s a 38 yard run from the 26 yard line on a 1st and 10 with 13:48 left in the 3rd Quarter.

They line up in shotgun, Bell to Ben’s left, tight end on the left too. Two receivers are lined up wide on the right another next to the tight end on the left. When the play starts Ben hands it to Bell who hops to a couple yards behind the line of scrimmage and skips for a beat while the play develops.

The wide receiver on the left runs to the secondary to draw attention and find someone to block. The two wideouts on the left fake a screen to freeze the defensive backs for a bit. Everyone else’s gets to blocking the man in front of them. No pulls or traps on this play.

Following his two skips Bell, in what seems a blink of an eye, is 5 yards beyond the line of scrimmage. The key variable in the play was a Foster/Pouncey double team on the tackle and how the two linebackers would react. The skipping accomplished two things. First, it froze the linebacker right of center until DeCastro got to him. Second, a leftward skip drew the left of center linebacker in slightly, to the side of the double team.

By the time Bell found his hole Pouncey had peeled off of the double team and kept him in place. People talk about speed, power, etc. With a skip and a hop Bell took care of both the defensive line and linebackers, just purely by knowing how his blockers were going to react to what was in front of them, and using that awareness to position linebackers where his linemen could reach them.

It becomes a blocking chain reaction too. That wide receiver who came in to block is now on the safety, since the linebackers are taken care of. Bell, knowing the blocker would be coming from the left, cut that direction to enable his blocker to get the best angle, pick and roll style.

So following his juke he saw daylight and started to run. A defender approached on his right and he used his arm to keep them from wrapping him up. He kept upright and went through two defensive backs. He repeated the same thing 5 yards later but this time a linebacker managed to drag him down after being himself dragged a couple yards.

That was a significant amount of decisions and things to be aware of before the play and as it evolved. A lot of backs would be content just to be very athletic and hope there’s a hole. A lesser back might have just seen the Foster/Pouncey double team created a 3 yard bulge, ran into the back of them until someone in pursuit got them from behind.

Bell is by no means the only back to make cuts and find openings, but most run games that utilize cutback lanes have those designed. You get the defense going one direction, cut back. This play was right up the middle. Bell got the ball and saw what developed, reacting to it immediately.

So when people refer to Bell’s patience they maybe miss what he’s doing. Yes, he’s patient, but he’s not just waiting for someone to do something for him, he’s anticipating opportunities and reacting to how different variables work out mid-play. He can do this because of awareness. He’s aware of his surroundings, he’s aware of how blockers and defenders play an react, and he’s aware of his own skill set.

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Bell’s most important quality is awareness. Without awareness, patience is little more than waiting. But whatever you choose to call it, even tippy-toe, it’s changing the game.