While the Kansas City Chiefs were able to dispatch the New Orleans Saints to finish their road games undefeated, they did lose starting running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire to a lower-body injury in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s game. The rookie went down awkwardly at the end of a run and had to be helped off the field.
Initial X-rays have come back negative, but it’s still unknown how much time he will miss — or if he’ll even be able to return this season. But thankfully, the Chiefs had already made a move in free agency earlier in the season: signing veteran running back Le’Veon Bell.
Bell had been getting plenty of playing time — but now, it’s only going to increase. On Sunday, Bell had his second-highest snap count since he joined the team, giving us a peek at what he may be able to provide during Edwards-Helaire’s absence.
The Chiefs will likely also likely be rotating Darrel Williams — and may even use Darwin Thompson — but Bell should be the bell cow going forward. Let’s dive into his performance against the Saints.
Bell’s signature running style has always been defined by his patience — that is, his ability to press the line of scrimmage until a rushing lane opens up.
Le'Veon Bell is now the guy in KC while CEH - hopefully - recovers, and that's not too shabby at all— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) December 22, 2020
Working IZ Slice, Bell does a good job delaying in the backfield to allow blocks to flow. Presses the backside A gap to influence the LB before slipping to the playside B w/ pace pic.twitter.com/xiBwqep5ZJ
In terms of settling in behind combo blocks and waiting for a hole to open, this isn’t quite a vintage “Pittsburgh Le’Veon Bell” snap — but he slow-plays it enough to impact the linebacker.
As he takes the handoff, he could easily aim right at the B-gap — because it is the proper read — but the linebacker could easily flow with it. So instead, Bell aims for the back-side A-gap to pull the linebacker over the top, giving his blockers a chance to climb up to him. As the linebacker gets sucked into the blockers, Bell is able to slide over to the B-gap and work through the hole; no player is left to fill it.
Bell’s ability to run patiently helps the blockers work to the second level — but when it is combined with his high running IQ, it allows him to manipulate defenders. His body control and lateral agility — allowing him to shift from gap to gap — also give him the ability to pull defenders out of their traditional run fits and open up other gaps.
It’s possible to be too patient, which can allow blocks to be deconstructed — and the entire trench to deteriorate while the running back is waiting for an opening. When Bell first arrived in Kansas City, this appeared to be a problem. He was being overly patient, giving defenders too much time to overwhelm the offensive line. But more recently, he has done a good job of adjusting to his surroundings, balancing patience with decisiveness.
The next thing that jumps out about Bell is his vision, allowing him to identify rushing lanes and gaps as they open.
Dialing up a classic Power O off tackle and anotehr nifty run by Bell— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) December 22, 2020
Settles in behind the pull looking to take it between the kick out and puller. Sees the LB flow over the top and makes a little jump cut inside the pull to pick up a solid gain. pic.twitter.com/c5btAFYgzn
Here, the Chiefs are running a classic power run off the right tackle — but Bell does a good job avoiding being locked into one gap.
As the pulling guard comes around, Bell settles in behind the puller, looking to split the pull and kick-out block right off the tight end’s hip. By flowing up and over to the D-gap, the linebacker takes away the lane Bell wants to use — but he’s able to adapt on the fly. Bell makes a jump cut back inside the tight end and guard to pick up a solid chunk of yardage.
Trying to finish off the game by running out the clock. and the Chiefs dial up Power again— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) December 23, 2020
Works to slide in behind the puller in C-gap, looks a little cluttered so he bounces outside. EMOLOS slips disengaging from the kick-out and Bell gets just enough of the edge pic.twitter.com/rwrz7Z2m99
Later in the game, the same play leads Bell through an entirely different journey.
This time, the tight end down-blocks the linebacker while the pulling guard goes outside. Bell is again looking to split the puller and kick-out block again — but quick interior pressure slows the guard down. With his blocker late through the gap, Bell sees the defender sitting there. He bounces outside — this time, around the kick-out block — and is able to just squeak by a slipping defensive end, picking up a first down to finish off the game.
The read on this play wasn’t overly complex, but there were a couple of different paths Bell could have taken. He did a good job keeping his eyes on all of them. His last-second ability to identify an open rushing lane isn’t a skill all running backs display — but Bell does it consistently.
Because of his patience and the vision, the fact that Bell is big and powerful Bell often goes under the radar.
Not sure why Bell hadn't been the full time short yardage back for KC just w/ the size and power— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) December 23, 2020
Good patients behind the OL allowing blocks to take shape, little outside flash to slow down 2nd level fillers, before working into the hole. Low pads and just keeps driving pic.twitter.com/z0KFEM3x67
Bell is listed at 6-feet-1 and 225 pounds — and when he needs to, he runs every bit as that big.
Here we see him use a little dead-leg stutter-step leading into the gap — in order to slow down any quick-flow players — and then he drops his pads to work through a condensed hole. His low center of gravity — and power — allows Bell to keep driving into the pile until help arrives to pick up an extra five yards after contact.
Given his combination of vision and power, Bell probably should have been the Chiefs’ short-yardage and goal-line running back since his arrival. While he may not always run like a power back, when he has to, Bell has the ability to drop his pads and utilize his mass to make sure he falls forward. It doesn’t look like Chris Carson or Derrick Henry — but it’s still effective.
It’s pretty evident that Bell isn’t as explosive or dynamic as he used to be. Watching him run, there are moments when you’d like to see him get upfield more quickly. This is the area where the Chiefs are likely to miss Edwards-Helaire the most.
Clyde Edwards-Helaire was also having a fantastic game before the injury. Hopefully he recovers fully for his own health but it'd be a bonus to get him back in the playoffs.— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) December 23, 2020
Chiefs will miss his burst and elusiveness if he can't return for the stretch run. pic.twitter.com/GhwVEZsBsA
Make no mistake: Edwards-Helaire isn’t the NFL’s fastest running back, but he does have good burst and change-of-direction ability. He’s able to put his foot in the ground to take away defender’s angles — or otherwise escape — in a way that Bell simply can’t do any longer. The Chiefs running game hasn’t been particularly dynamic — but without Edwards-Helaire, that might be even more evident.
The bottom line
So the Chiefs will miss their first-round rookie during the season’s home stretch — but they do have a quality veteran to take his place. By all appearances, Bell is getting more comfortable in the Kansas City offense and figuring out how his running style best fits his new team.
He still runs with the iconic patience and vision that made him so special — and he’s starting to figure out how best to use it within the Chiefs’ scheme. He also brings an extra dimension of power to the running game, which could help improve the team’s production in short-yardage situations.
Still, it will be interesting to see how the Chiefs will utilize Darrel Williams and Darwin Thompson, hoping to add some more dynamic elements to the rushing attack until Edwards-Helaire returns.