One of the things rarely talked about with Antonio Brown is his durability. No, he does not have a consecutive starts streak, mainly because the team has locked up playoff seeding early enough to the point where he did not have to. He also has missed a playoff game, a concussion after the hit from Vontaze Burfict in 2015. Still, in the regular season, Brown has not missed a game due to injury since 2012. On top of that, he never misses practice. That is why his toe injury against the Bengals became a headline story.
So when he went down with that injury and needed assistance to limp off of the field, you knew it was not good news. The next thought was what in the world do the Steelers do on offense when Antonio Brown is not on the field. I mean he has been the pulse since 2013.
The answer obviously was Le’Veon Bell. However, when a team relies on Bell and Brown, and Brown gets taken away, how do you get Bell the ball when it is so obvious? This was the issue the Steelers faced when Bell went out against New England last season.
The Steelers got creative in how they got Bell the ball, and it included a lot of running to the edges, off of the tackles. Whether it was the Patriots lack of speed at linebacker, a banged up group of edge rushers, or that this was something unexpected, it was very effective for the team.
You can see compared to a typical Le’Veon Bell game, he was getting to the outside a lot. The first chart is Bell last week, against the Patriots. The other three are what a typical Bell workload would look like, including the week before.
They were committed to winning on the outside with Bell. One thing the Steelers offensive line is good at as a whole is pulling and leading as a blocker on the move. The best at is David DeCastro. Challenging those edges gets the athletic guard out in space and shoving defenders out of the way to free tons of open field for Bell.
On the play below, you can see Maurkice Pouncey dash into the open field and seal off a linebacker at the second level. On top of that Hubbard is off to the races to establish a path on the edge and free up Bell for an 18-yard run.
The Steelers got creative in doing this and set up a play that they should be considering moving forward. Bell is out wide to start the play. However, he is motioned into a situation where the ball is snapped and he is moving on a sweep to the right. Again, you can see how effective Hubbard and JuJu Smith-Schuster are at getting upfield and paving the way.
However, what makes this so dangerous is all of the branches that you run off of this play. They can motion Bell back into the backfield and run between the tackles, they have two tight ends on the field. They can also send him back and on a route, run screens, or use him in play action or as a complete decoy out of this look. It is a tough idea.
When the defense has all of this to ponder, the Steelers can throw yet another wrinkle into their sweeps and tosses to the outside. Below, is what looks like the typical toss play. However, Le’Veon Bell cuts back and carves up the middle of the field. Watch the blockers. They are not pulling. In fact, DeCastro and Pouncey are sealing off that cutback lane for Bell to step through the middle.
It is a good way to get Bell in space with decisions to cut one way or the other behind his blockers. The Texans currently are better positioned at linebacker and on the edges, so it will be interesting to see if this idea was something Todd Haley was looking at all week, was this an idea that was going to pop up for this stretch run of games, or if this is what he thinks is most effective without the star receiver of Antonio Brown.