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Steelers unable to get ground game rolling again

| Monday, Oct. 28, 2013, 1:08 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Raiders' Daneil Muir (right) takes down Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell in the third quarter Sunday, Oct. 27, 2013, in Oakland, Calif. The Steelers are 31st in the NFL in rushing (481 yards) this season.

An agitated Ben Roethlisberger managed a wry, sarcastic smile as he explained why the floundering Steelers abandoned the ground game after spotting the Oakland Raiders 14 points in the first quarter of a 21-18 defeat Sunday at O.co Coliseum.

But that smile on Roethlisberger's face was erased by the sobering reality that the 2-5 Steelers started sluggishly — again.

Even worse, they looked ill-prepared as Jeannette native Terrelle Pryor split the middle of a stunned defense for a 93-yard touchdown on the first snap from scrimmage. It was a record-setting gallop that whipped the faithful into a ravenous frenzy.

“We can't put ourselves behind the eight ball in giving a play like that early,” said linebacker LaMarr Woodley, whose blown assignment swung the gate open for Pryor. “We practiced on that all week, but we gave it up on the first play.”

Also, Pryor forced offensive coordinator Todd Haley to audible under distress. Despite running back Le'Veon Bell rushing for a career-high 93 yards in a 19-16 win over Baltimore, Haley opted to swim or sink with Roethlisberger.

With three offensive linemen scratched from the game with injuries, Bell spent the rest of the afternoon on the sidelines or as the last wave of defense against an Oakland pass rush that smothered Roethlisberger five times.

The Steelers attempted 45 pass and 19 running plays against the Raiders. Bell carried five times in the first half, eight in the second.

Roethlisberger said the game plan was designed to feature Bell in a variety of ways. Bell tried picking his way through Oakland's defense with runs between the tackles. He ran out of the wildcat formation, but averaged only 1 yard on 3 attempts.

Then, when the Raiders went up 14-0 on Darren McFadden's 7-yard touchdown run midway through the opening quarter, the Steelers turned their backs on the running game, but it was two Roethlisberger interceptions — and two missed field goals by Shaun Suisham — that may have doomed their season.

“We've got to find a way to be better,” wide receiver Antonio Brown said. “It's tough when you're fighting from the back.”

It was especially tough on the Steelers' rookie running back. Bell figured the offense had gathered some momentum during a two-game winning streak. So he appeared particularly distraught over his uninspired numbers: 13 carries, 24 yards, 1.8-yard average.

“Everything they did we saw on film,” Bell said. “They didn't sell out defensively. We got out-executed, that's all. I don't feel anyone got their heads down after Pryor's touchdown. But that play opened our eyes a little bit. Basically, we spotted them a touchdown.

“It certainly changed what we wanted to do a little bit. It took away the running game. They showed us a lot of different things.”

Ralph N. Paulk is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at rpaulk@tribweb.com or via Twitter @RalphPaulk_Trib.

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