Friday, December 26, 2014

Is Bell an effective short-yardage back?

With the Eagles having signed Mike Bell to an offer sheet yesterday, I wanted to take a look and see how he's fared as a short-yardage back over the years. The results might surprise you.

Is Bell an effective short-yardage back?

How successful has Mike Bell been as a short-yardage back? (Eric Gay/AP file photo)
How successful has Mike Bell been as a short-yardage back? (Eric Gay/AP file photo)

With the Eagles having signed Mike Bell to an offer sheet yesterday, I wanted to take a look and see how he fared as a short-yardage back over the years.

I went through his game logs, and also checked out some numbers on

Here's what I found out:

* On third-and-short (defined as less than 3 yards), Bell was 9-for-12 last season, or 75 percent. Only five players had a higher success rate in those situations.

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* Bell got the ball six times inside the opponents' 3 yard line and got in the end zone three times.

* On his career, Bell has converted 37 of 60 short-yardage opportunities, or 61.7 percent. It's remarkable how similar Bell's numbers were in short yardage during the two seasons in which he had over 150 carries. As a rookie with Denver, Bell converted 17 of 29 opportunities. And last season with the Saints, he converted 17 of 28 opportunities.

However, the problem I ran into was determining how Bell's numbers compared to other running backs in the NFL.

So I contacted the industry experts in judging such matters: Football Outsiders.

Bill Barnwell, the site's managing editor, was kind enough to provide his analysis of Bell's short-yardage success. He has a metric that measures how Bell fared in short-yardage situations (using down and distance) compared to how the average running back would have fared. What Barnwell found was that Bell was actually below average last season, compared to the rest of the league.

As I mentioned above, Bell converted 17 of 28 short-yardage opportunities last season. Per Barnwell, the average back would have converted 17.9. So Bell was a -0.9.

As he pointed out, a lot of this has to do with a team's offensive line and scheme. By Barnwell's measurement, Dolphins running backs Ricky Williams and Lousaka Polite ranked the highest in terms of this short-yardage metric. Any coincidence that they ran in the same scheme and behind the same offensive line?

Then again, other Saints running backs Pierre Thomas (+0.5) and Lynell Hamilton (+2.2) had the same offensive line as Bell, but each posted a better number than him.

Barnwell also provided numbers for the Eagles' running backs last year:

Brian Westbrook: +0.7 (4 successes vs. 3.3 expected successes)
LeSean McCoy: -2.0 (9 vs. 11)
Leonard Weaver: -0.1 (6 vs 6.1)
Donovan McNabb: -0.4 (3 vs. 3.4)
Michael Vick: -0.8 (5 vs. 5.8)

Of the backs still on the roster, Weaver (not surprisingly) was the most effective short-yardage runner, although he too was slightly below average (granted, a pretty small sample size).

And Bell fared better than McCoy.

We'll keep this post filed away and bring it back during the 2010 season when the Eagles will undoubtedly be faced with some crucial, short-yardage situations.

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Sheil Kapadia
About this blog
Sheil Kapadia is in his fifth season writing about the Eagles and the NFL for His earliest memories as a sports fan include several trips to Veterans Stadium with his Dad. He's not a beat writer or an Insider, but is here to discuss the NFL 365 days a year. E-mail him at or by clicking here

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