Heavier workload is ringing true for Steelers running back Bell
Le'Veon Bell ripped off a 29-yard gain on his final carry of the first quarter in Jacksonville, exactly the kind of breakaway run the Steelers drafted him for 18 months ago.
It was his 11th run of 10 yards or more this season.
He didn't get the ball again until the third quarter.
Bell then had runs of 8, 5 and 5 yards during a 20-yard quarter, only to be replaced by LeGarrette Blount for the first possession of the fourth quarter.
Blame a red-zone offense in which Ben Roethlisberger threw nine passes, was sacked twice and didn't hand off the ball once. Blame an offense that sometimes moved backward as quickly as it did forward because of penalties — the aggravating kind that caused Mike Tomlin to bring in officials for practice again Wednesday.
Whatever the reason, Bell never became the focus of the offense on a day he ran for 82 yards on 15 carries, giving him 460 yards this season — the second most in the NFL.
Bell doesn't know how many more yards he could have gained in a game in which the Steelers totaled 372 yards but only one touchdown. But for a runner who likes getting the ball as much as possible, 15 carries are little more than warming up.
“I feel like a lot of runners in the NFL: the more they get the ball, the more they get into a rhythm,” Bell said Wednesday. “The better (rhythm) I get, the game kind of slows down for you. You get into kind of a zone, as people will say.
“The more you get the rock, the better it will get for you.”
Bell figures to get it a lot Sunday in Cleveland. The Steelers are No. 7 in rushing, averaging 137.2 yards. The Browns are 29th in rush defense (152.5 yards), allowing 16 runs of 10 yards or more, and they're without one of their best defensive linemen, Phil Taylor, who had knee surgery Wednesday.
But, as Bell knows, nothing is predictable in the NFL — as evidenced by the first Browns-Steelers game five weeks ago when the Steelers led 27-3 at halftime only to need a last-play field goal to win 30-27.
“They're going to come in knowing we love to run the ball, knowing we're one of the top rushing teams in the league — and they're one of the low rush defenses in the league,” Bell said. “They're going to come in trying to shut the run down.”
The Steelers shut down the run game once they reached the Jaguars 20.
But offensive coordinator Todd Haley apparently isn't to blame for the one-sidedness of the play-calling.
“That's me calling plays, feeling like we have the advantage in the pass game down there, so I called passes,” Roethlisberger said. “And I don't regret any of it.”
Bell hinted the Steelers won't be so one-dimensional in Cleveland, saying, “We've got to do what we've got to do to keep those guys honest. We're going to be balanced on offense and make them respect the pass because we just can't go out there and try to run if it's not there.”
With the atmosphere expected to be like some of the Steelers-Browns games of the past, a running game often is the best way to quiet the crowd. However, Bell has only 34 carries the last two games after having 21 apiece in two of the first three games.
“Our goal is to run it, get Le'Veon and LeGarrette (Blount) over 100 (yards) apiece. That's what we want to do, definitely,” left guard Ramon Foster said. “We're going into a hostile environment, and I'm sure they're going to be geeked up out of their mind to stop the run and make some plays. Our goal is to keep their offense off the field and turn the clock.”
And perhaps turning it back to the days when the Browns knew Franco Harris and Jerome Bettis were going to run the ball yet were powerless to stop it.
“We've got the playmakers to do it. We've got the offensive line to do it,” Bell said. “We've just got to go out there and put it together.”