The addition of Le’Veon Bell helps the Jets offense in some obvious ways. The running game, which ranked near the bottom of the league in yards per rush and yards per game in 2018, will surely receive an added boost. Bell is one of the best running backs in the NFL and he has the ability to make something out of nothing with his patience and propensity for dodging tacklers. The balance of a good running game will also help 2nd-year quarterback Sam Darnold. However, it’s Bell’s unique receiving skills that will add a dynamic to the passing game that most teams in the league do not possess.
First, Bell will be able to take those screens and dump off passes and turn them into big gains more often, like on the play below.
Where Bell makes an even greater difference, though, is with his ability to align as a receiver across the formation. Offenses that have running backs or tight ends who are talented enough to align in unconventional positions on the field give their quarterback distinct advantages (See New England Patriots, 2010-2018).
First, the ability to align unconventionally helps define the coverage for the quarterback pre-snap. Take the below play for instance. You can see that Bell was aligned on the outside. The Ravens matched up with a safety over him. Safeties don’t align on the perimeter unless they are playing man coverage.
Ben Roethlisberger knew he had man coverage across the board and could pick the match-up he liked best based on the player or the route. He chose Bell on a slant.
Aligning running backs on the perimeter to help define the coverage pre-snap is a tactic that can make the quarterback’s job significantly easier. But having a running back who is a mismatch against most safeties in the passing game provides a distinct advantage for the offense.
You’ve seen Bell out of the backfield and you’ve seen him on the perimeter. However, he can also be effective out of the slot, where he is likely to get more match ups against linebackers.
On the below play, Bell was running a wheel route.
The linebacker who locked up on Bell in coverage actually did a good job of staying with him. Bell was able to make a tough catch in traffic, though, showing ball skills that most running backs don’t possess.
As you can see from this touchdown, even if a linebacker has the athleticism to match up with Bell, they are still at a disadvantage when the ball is in the air because of his receiving abilities.
Having a versatile running back like Bell makes it difficult for defenses to match up from a personnel-package standpoint as well. This is something the Jets should especially be able to take advantage of on early downs this season.
For instance, if the defense wants to account for Bell as a receiver and brings an extra cornerback on the field to handle him in the passing game, the Jets will be able to align Bell in the backfield and run the ball against a lighter defense.
If defenses account for him as a traditional running back and match up with bigger and slower personnel, the Jets will be able to move him out of the backfield to take advantage of mismatches in the passing game. This cat and mouse game should favor the Jets all season, if Bell is utilized correctly.
Of course, all of this comes down to how exactly Adam Gase plans to attack with Bell. If he is just used as a traditional back, he will still add plenty of value, both on the ground and through the air. But if he is utilized in a way to take advantage of his unique skill set for his position, the Jets offense will have the opportunity to be one of the most difficult to defend in the NFL this season.