Rookie running back Bell leads improved ground game for Steelers
By Alan Robinson
Published: Monday, Dec. 16, 2013, 10:18 p.m.
Le'Veon Bell spent an evening getting an earful from the Cincinnati Bengals. All of this chattering helped prepare him for an even more talkative critic.
His mother, Lisa.
Bell, becoming ever-more-reliable component of the Steelers offense by the week, produced 107 yards rushing and receiving, plus a 1-yard touchdown run, during the 30-20 win over the Bengals on Sunday night.
Not that his performance did much to silence Cincinnati.
“That's the most trash talk, I feel like, I've had in the NFL so far,” Bell said. “They were definitely out there barking. ... No. 55 (linebacker Vontaze Burfict), he was like, 'I'm going to be here all day, all day.' He was trash talking a lot, but that's what makes the game fun. That's what really gets me going.”
The Steelers have badly needed their second-round draft pick to get going, and he finally appears to be, with a combined 421 yards on runs and catches in four games.
But his mom wishes he wouldn't somersault into the end zone on touchdowns, as he did again Sunday night.
“When I talk to my mom, she's going to be talking me out of it again,” Bell said. “(It) just happened naturally.”
What's happening for the Steelers is they're finally regaining a second dimension, the running game, to go with Ben Roethlisberger's record-setting throwing. The quarterback already owns team records for attempts (525) and completions (340) in a season.
Bell averaged only 2.4 yards rushing against the Bengals, and his 3.3 average for the season is the lowest of any of the NFL's top 25 rushers. He is 24th overall with 198 carries for 646 yards.
But Roethlisberger considers the rookie's receiving yardage to be rushing yards because so many throws are designed to get the ball into his hands while on the run, and near the line of scrimmage.
“It's really your only opportunity as a runner to try to get the ball in some open space and make guys miss you,” Bell said. “I love doing that, catching the ball out of the backfield and making guys miss.”
Roethlisberger calls them run game alternatives, and they enabled Bell to touch the ball on 12 of the Steelers' first 16 plays.
“A lot of our run plays have quick passes off them,” Roethlisberger said. “If the run doesn't look good, I rise up and throw the ball quickly. There are a lot of different ways to kind of run the ball, if you will.”
This long-sought run/pass balance helped the Steelers average 28 points over their last seven games, up from a 17.8 average in their first seven.
“We've got to use this and continue to grow from week to well,” Bell said. “The young guys on the o-line, the young guys on the backfield, we're going to continue to try to grow and get better.”
Bell won't get to 1,000 yards rushing as a rookie unless he has two big games, and the Steelers have gone an NFL-long 22 games without a 100-yard rusher.
However, Bell's 388 yards receiving as the ninth most of any NFL running back, and the most for a Steelers rookie. Bell also could surpass Franco Harris to have the most scrimmage yards of any rookie in team history; Harris had 1,135 yards in 1972, including 1,055 yards rushing. Bell has 1,034 yards.
“I love the way they get me the ball — out of the backfield, running the ball,” Bell said. “I get the opportunity to make plays.”
Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @arobinson_Trib.
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