Steelers running game becomes clear as a Bell
If there is anything you can say about Le'Veon Bell after his first three games in the NFL, it's that he can grade himself pretty hard.
A week after giving his performance against the New York Jets a “D”, the Steelers rookie running back was a more forgiving following a 19-16 win over Baltimore at Heinz Field.
But not that much.
“I'll go to a C-,” Bell said with a laugh.
Bell must grade on a curve because his performance against the Ravens' top 10 run defense was top of the class.
Bell rushed for a career-high 93 yards on 19 carries, and the Steelers went over 100 yards rushing as a team for the first time since November — a span of 11 games.
Much of that had to do with Bell.
“Any questions about Le'Veon Bell today? No?” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin snarked during his postgame news conference.
Bell, who sat out the first three games with a foot injury, came under criticism last week after gaining 34 yards against the Jets. That prompted Tomlin to come to Bell's defense during his weekly news conference.
Tomlin was asked about his rookie again Sunday.
“It was what I thought (he) was capable of being,” Tomlin said.
Coming into the game, no Steelers running back had more than 92 yards rushing for the season. The Steelers rushed for a season-high 141 against the Ravens. The last time the Steelers rushed for 100 yards in a game was Nov. 18 against in Baltimore when they gained 134.
“Le'Veon is a good back,” Steelers receiver Emmanuel Sanders said. “It is crazy seeing how he runs. He kind of dances, then he hits the hole. We came into the game saying we wanted to run the ball well, and that's what we did.”
More succinctly, the Steelers wanted to run the ball at the heart of the Baltimore defense. Namely, at the less-than-100-percent Haloti Ngata and Marcus Spears and, more notably, away from Elvis Dumervil and Terrell Suggs on the outside.
“That's what we were trying to do,” Steelers guard David DeCastro said. “We just kept at it. We were just moving them and giving the backs space. We were getting decent yards so (offensive coordinator Todd) Haley kept with it.”
Haley used Bell in various formations, including the wildcat, but a couple of things remained constant — the Steelers running between DeCastro, center Fernando Velasco and left guard Ramon Foster and running successfully on first down.
Of Bell's 93 yards, 62 came on first down (5.6 yards per carry), putting the Steelers in second- and third-and-manageable situations.
The Steelers converted seven of their 14 first downs on the ground and converted 58 percent of their third downs.
“He did a great job,” Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. “He was patient when he needed to be, he was physical when he needed to be, and he used his speed. He did a great job, but the credit goes to the o-line.”
The line was playing without its opening day left tackle, right tackle and center. Maurkice Pouncey was lost for the year eight plays into the season, Mike Adams was benched and Marcus Gilbert left early Sunday with a leg injury.
“It is really nice and especially to run the ball in the fourth quarter like we did,” DeCastro said. “We moved the ball and wanted to control the clock, and that's what we did.”