Steelers RB Bell looks to help team improve its ground production
Rookie running back Le'Veon Bell is anxious to show he can carry the load for a ground game that has largely spun its wheels this season during the Steelers' winless drought.
Bell, who got his first career start against Minnesota on Sunday, isn't likely to prove his durability if the Steelers continue to spot the opposition big leads in the first half. Predictably, the Steelers abandoned the run game once the Vikings surged to a 17-point lead en route to a 34-27 victory.
It was a familiar scenario — one that played out in losses to Chicago, Cincinnati and Tennessee.
“We were running the ball efficiently in the first half, so I feel we could have ran the ball in the second half if we hadn't fallen so far behind,” said Bell, who rushed for 57 yards on 16 carries. “We mixed in some runs to keep it balanced, but we couldn't pound it the way we wanted to.
“I'm a competitive type of guy. I just want to do whatever it takes to win games.”
The Steelers haven't been in a position to lean on the ground game in the second half. While quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has had some success throwing the ball, he's been under siege. The offensive line has given up 15 sacks, including five to the Vikings.
The Steelers, who play at the Jets on Oct. 13, haven't fared well running the ball in any half. However, the league's 29th-ranked run game is far more efficient in the first half, averaging 37.8 yards compared to 20.3 in the second half.
“When you've got the running game going it opens up so much. It takes a lot of pressure off the guys up front,” wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery said. “The defensive line is just pinning their ears back, and it wears us down.
“When we get the running game going, it gives us a chance to get an early lead that will keep us from changing our game plans. You can do what you want to do as far as play action, which makes our passing game even more effective.”
There was no pretense of feeding the ball to Bell in the second half. He carried the ball 10 times in the first half, but touched it six times in the second half only in an effort to slow down a Minnesota pass rush that overran the Steelers' offensive front.
“You always want to run the football, but when you get in certain situations, you gotta get back in the game,” offensive coordinator Todd Haley said. “We had opportunities to score points and not be in that situation.”
The Steelers will face a Jets team ranked fifth in the NFL against the run.
“It's going to come down to how we start,” said Bell, who will have four off days to mend a sore right foot. “If we're in the game, we'll run the ball. As long as we balance the offense, we should be fine.
“The people calling the plays know what I can do. I want them to feel confident in putting the ball in my hands as much as they can. We need to run the ball in the second half.”
Cotchery and Roethlisberger concede the Steelers must figure out a way to get off to a fast start against the Jets. If not, the Jets' defense will have little respect for a running game that is mostly ineffective once the Steelers are in catch-up mode.
“We have to have some in-game reps in the run game because this is a copycat league,” Cotchery said. “If you have problems, you better address them quickly because the next team you're playing is going to attack your weaknesses.”
Ralph N. Paulk is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @RalphPaulk_Trib.
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