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Le’Veon Bell’s receiving has become as much ‘safety valve’ as it has route running

The Pittsburgh Steelers dual-threat running back spent a lot of time catching passes in the backfield.

NFL: AFC Divisional Playoff-Jacksonville at Pittsburgh Steelers Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers talented running back Le’Veon Bell is a tremendous receiver. This is public knowledge, but how, and where, he catches those passes certainly is worth noting. In 2017, Bell was targeted a whopping 106 times by Ben Roethlisberger, and according to Pro Football Focus (PFF), over half of those targets went to bell at the line of scrimmage, or behind.

While screen plays would certainly be categorized as at, or behind, the line of scrimmage targets, a lot of these passes came with Bell as a safety valve. Bell is still a tremendous route runner, but good things happen when you just get Bell the ball in space.

This is something Bell mentioned will be a goal of the Steelers with Randy Fichtner at the helm this season as offensive coordinator. When I think back to 2014, Bell’s breakout season, I think about all the plays where things broke down offensively, and Roethlisberger simply just flipped the ball to Bell in the flat and let him do work — which he almost always did.

The Steelers’ offense is best when the defense has no idea how it will be attacked. This is truly a demoralizing feat when the defense bottles up running lanes, brackets the receivers and has a safety shading Antonio Brown. It looks as if things are all accounted for, until Bell slips into the flat and breaks off a 10+ yard reception to move the chains.

While the Steelers have been a horrendously bad screen team, using Bell in a variety of ways is never a bad thing — whether the targets come at, or behind, the line of scrimmage. Bell has proven he can run routes with the best of them, but the more ways you can break down a defense, the better.