Bells trademark pause has helped make him the NFLs best running back, and redrawn the parameters of the position. He is altogether new
LeVeon Bell, the Pittsburgh Steelers running back, may be the most mystify player in the NFL. He is not a head-scratcher in the manner of, say, the New York Giants Odell Beckham, whose ocean of talent seems to evaporate at inopportune days; Bell produces with remarkable consistency. Its just that the route he produces builds little sense, even as proof of it comes straight through your television.
Here is an example from the Steelers 18 -1 6 win over the Chiefs in Kansas City on Sunday night, in which Bell rushed for 170 yards on 30 carries. Early in the second quarter, Bell took a handoff and, at just the moment every other running back on earth would accelerate, slowed. He hopped in place, waited for the bruise Pittsburgh line to portion the Chiefs front, and then sneaked through. The play went down as a six-yard gain up the middle, a description that usually means shoulders have been lowered and helmets have collided. Bells run, though, looked like hypnosis.
NBCs seen-it-all-before announcing crew crowed. Hes constructing that famous now that reluctance, instead of just bursting through the hole, play-by-play man Al Michaels told. Cris Collinsworth joined in: That patience has become his trademark, and something Im going to guess a lot of high school and even younger children start trying to do.
Bell is a variably gifted runner quick in space and tough in traffic, with a physique that seems able to alter itself to fit the scenario but the pause is now his calling card. It has helped make Bell the NFLs best running back and the Steelers one of the four squads left in the Super Bowl hunt. It has also, as Collinsworth suggested, redrawn the parameters of the position. Watching Bell run feels like watching the future.
Quarterbacks have traditionally monopolized footballs evolution; think of Peyton Manning deceiving opposing defenses with pre-snap audibles, or Aaron Rodgers disputing the very notion of a difficult hurl. The job description for running back, on the other hand, has remained fairly consistent. They try to run away from defenders, or over them. The best of them tend to be admired not for their play-to-play ingenuity but for their reliability. They stick in the memory by their repeated maneuvers: Adrian Petersons jump-cuts through the line, Marshawn Lynchs stiff-arm.
Bell is perhaps the first running back in NFL history who is most captivating in moments of inaction. When he stops at the line of scrimmage and scans the blockers and defenders shifting around him, he looks like nothing so much as a quarterback surveying routes and coverages. When he eventually moves, it is as if hes moving a chess piece( Bell is an avid player ). The actual motion is a formality; the real work was in spotting the opportunity.
Bell does not lack for physical gifts. Even those, though, seem unexplainable by traditional measures like 40 -yard-dash days and bench press totals. Standing 6ft 1in and 225 lbs, he has a downhill skiers swiveling hips, a ballerinas iron toes, and a rowers grip. He preserves immaculate balance amid the wreck of the average play; where other players take hasty objective and heave themselves, he can adjust his path by the seeming millisecond. His athleticism might be less obvious than that of his faster or burlier counterparts Bell was, tellingly, only a two-star recruit in high school, sought after by the likes of Bowling green and Eastern Michigan before landing at Michigan State but it is no less impressive, and by his fourth season, he has built a style that suits it.
If Pittsburgh beats the favored New England Patriots in Sundays AFC title game and reaches the Super Bowl, that style will figure heavily. Bells massive rushing total kept the Steelers afloat in the game against Kansas City, in which they managed six field goals but no touchdowns, but he may have to do even more for Pittsburgh to maintain pace with the high-scoring Pats. Both squads acknowledge his importance. Hes a man for all situations or circumstances, Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin says of Bell, and New England coach Bill Belichick echoes the sentiment in his terse route: He is good all of the time.
Regardless of the outcome on Sunday, Bell will play a dual role, as a key offensive weapon and as a generational innovator. Before his outburst against the Chiefs, Bell said: I believe Im changing the game. In that sense, Im what Steph Curry is to basketball. He changed the game so hes going to always go down as being remembered.
As with Curry, the things-to-come part of Bells play can be so fascinating that it overshadows the present. Much will be said and written about whether he is an anomaly or blueprint, whether his style is teachable or learnable, and whether coach-and-fours at lower levels of football will be willing to let their most gifted athletes practice patience when they could simply rumble for 10 yards. There is also an unavoidable part of danger to the approach; asking a runner to stand still while players 100 lbs heavier try to take out his knees carries more danger than asking a phase guard to shoot a 30 -footer.
At the very least, though, Bell has allowed for fresh possibilities. When he carries the ball against the Patriots on Sunday, he will induce in football fans not the old eye-widening awe, but a breath-catching sense of suspense. He will weave , not dash. He will pick , not hammer. It remains to be seen how many imitators Bell inspires, but for now it is enough that he himself is not one. He is altogether new.