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Steelers Film Room: Fear the Return of Le'Veon Bell (Path to 500 Series Part II)

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The film room continues its "Path to 500" series with a review of just how Le'Veon Bell can take opponents' out of their game.

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

We continue our series on the Pittsburgh Path to 500 with a study of what Le'Veon Bell brings to the table in the Steelers' offense. Our last edition showed the prowess of the team's offensive line and what it could do with either Bell or Williams running behind it, but this week we wanted to remind everyone of just how good Bell can be.

During the Pittsburgh Steelers' 2015 campaign, fans and analysts became so enamored with the effort and success of running back DeAngelo Williams that many speculated whether the Steelers needed Le'Veon Bell in their future to be successful. Williams did have an impressive season as the backup running back that was promoted to full time starter in the absence of Bell.

While only starting 10 games, Williams gained 907 yards and scored 11 touchdowns in 2015. His performance was impressive and deserved praise, but anyone who thinks Pittsburgh should have dumped Bell for a trade forgets just how valuable Bell is to any offense. Unless someone came and offered a Herschel Walker trade, Pittsburgh needs to keep Bell and watch him tear up the league.

This Film Room session will focus on what Bell did with Pittsburgh's offensive line in his limited time during 2015 and why it could be even more difficult to stop him in 2016. If you notice, each play below is when Ben Roethlisberger was not under center for Pittsburgh; the point of highlighting these plays is to show when opponents could line up expecting to stop the run but still could not contain Bell.

Any hole is a threat with Bell

On this cutback run, Bell was able to analyze the defensive positioning and find a hole on the weak side of the offense for a 20+ yard gain. Pittsburgh's attack with Bell usually involves a zone scheme that gives him multiple options for attack. This plan has worked well for Bell and despite his young career he has proven to have great instincts at the line of scrimmage to pick the right holes and dissect defensive fronts.

As he sees the safety bump down into the gap between Alejandro Villanueva and Ramon Foster, he cuts to the other side of the offense where Heath Miller and Marcus Gilbert have opened a humongous hole for him to exploit. Bell's straightaway speed isn't the best in the NFL, but his quick decision making combined with his explosiveness make him a nightmare to bring down at the line.

Chemistry with the offensive line

Le'Veon Bell has proven to be adept at allowing his offensive line to complete their assignments and showing enough patience to let holes develop in the team's schemes with enough urgency to hit them as soon as they become open. Patience and urgency are a combination that is difficult to find a good mix to for many players which is why it is extremely important Pittsburgh has Bell in the future.

Here notice how the offensive line does a great job between Foster, Kelvin Beachum and Cody Wallace to create a hole on the left side of the line. That hole could have been closed by the middle linebacker who has positioned himself in the right spot where Pittsburgh wanted to attack, but Bell seeing this stutter stepped just long enough for David DeCastro to see that he was free of any assignment, identify the linebacker and give just enough of a push to spring Bell.

These kinds of plays are moments when Bell and the line are firing on all cylinders. While Williams had impressive moments and showed he could run hard through holes, he did not manipulate defenses the way Bell did in a cohesive scheme with Pittsburgh's offensive line.

Makes running lanes even when they should not be there

One of Bell's X-Factor abilities is to spin a play that would be a short gain into a big play for the offense. Here the San Diego Chargers were in position to bottle up this run play for a two yard gain, when Bell's first jab step faked out the defensive front who was all attacking to the strong side of this play. Notice in the hole how Bell's first jab step forces number 98 on the defense to spin back away from the hole that Bell wants to attack and Bell still has the time to hit the hole before it closes.

Bell's second move completely breaks down a defensive back in open space and allows him for another big gain. His quick feet and instinctive decision making make these plays all the more of a problem.

Teams will have to prepare for a Ben Roethlisberger aerial attack combined with this

When people remember the Steelers' 2015 season, it might be easy to overlook the fact that the team did not have one single game in which both Le'Veon Bell and Ben Roethlisberger played for an entire game together. Bell's two game suspension left the Steelers with Williams at running back, and upon his return in week three, Roethlisberger suffered an injury that would sideline him for multiple weeks.

When Roethlisberger returned from injury in week eight, it was Bell who would suffer a season-ending injury. Bell's 556 yards and 4.9 averaged yards per carry all came in games when the offense had to rely on either Michael Vick or Landry Jones at quarterback. Situations like that allow defenses to focus their priority on stopping the ground game and not worry about a precise passing attack that they would have to worry about with Roethlisberger on the field.

Let the key players in this offense be healthy for a full season and it could be something the NFL has never seen. Bell's reputation in the league as a third year player landed him as the 41st best player in the league on the NFL Network's Top 100 list despite only starting six games in 2015. Let 16 starts be in a well oiled machine that is Pittsburgh's attack with Maurkice Pouncey and David DeCastro leading the line, Roethlisberger under center and Antonio Brown tearing up secondaries. Opposing defenses will have way too many problems on their hands and Bell will have even better opportunities to take over as they contemplate which way the Steelers want to carve them up.

The Steelers are on the path to their first ever 500 point season with an offense should their key players remain healthy. Our next session in this series will show just why teams have headaches when facing Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh passing attack on every down.