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MIRZA ZUKIC: Bell holds key to Steelers' resurgence

by and on October 21, 2013 11:00 AM

PITTSBURGH — I’m starting to believe … that Le’Veon Bell is the real deal. He’s the reason the Pittsburgh Steelers will “stack” some more wins this season after all.

Bell had his best game in a Steelers uniform in the 19-16 win over the Ravens on Sunday, rushing for 93 yards and a healthy 4.9 yards-per-carry average while breathing some much-needed life into the Steelers’ ground attack.

It was fun to watch, and he displayed a variety of his abilities that had everyone in the organization raving during the summer.

He’s fast and explosive and seems to have the ability to break a big play at any time. He’s powerful, and he doesn’t go down without a fight. He has good vision to see the holes created by his offensive line and hit them. It sounds like a rather pedestrian skill to have, but it’s not every tailback’s strength.

And when the holes aren’t there, he’s shown the patience to wait for them to open up. On several occasions Sunday, Bell slowed down at the line of scrimmage when there was no hole to run through.

“Sometimes when I hand it off, and I carry out my fake, I turn around, and it’s almost like he is standing still in the hole,” quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said.

“I think to myself, ‘Gosh, he’s going to get killed.’ But he has that patience. It’s not because he doesn’t know what he’s doing or where he is going. He’s a good runner and he knows his surroundings and what is going on.”

Time and time again, Bell turned those runs into positive plays. Another one among his skills, he accelerates quickly, whether it’s out of the backfield or bouncing off his linemen to extend a play.

What’s scary is that Bell is still catching up with the speed of the professional game three games into his NFL career.

“The game is still fast to me,” Bell said. “The game is starting to slow down, slowly but surely.”

And the Steelers are getting better, slowly but surely.

For the better part of two seasons—since Todd Haley took over as offensive coordinator—the Steelers have been searching to strike a balance between the pass and the run.

We’re starting to see it, and Bell is the reason behind it.

It was hardly a juggernaut performance, with the Steelers gaining 286 total yards against Baltimore. But 141 yards of that total came on the ground in what was the Steelers’ best rushing game in nearly a calendar year.

That finally made the Steelers’ offense a valid two-dimensional threat for the first time, really, all season. The pass and the run were working, leaving Baltimore unsure which to defend.

Bell was a huge part of that equation. Of his 93 rushing yards, 62 came on first-down runs. That makes it easier to move the chains, and it makes the passing game more effective.

Of course, this isn’t to say there are no concerns for the Steelers offense.

Pittsburgh’s patchwork offensive line had its best game of the season Sunday, but that unit remains in flux and one injury away from disaster.

Pittsburgh has won with 19 points the past two weeks, but that probably won’t be enough to keep pulling out wins.

Not coincidentally, the Steelers remain putrid in red-zone efficiency. They ranked 31st in the league in that category entering Sunday’s game and added another 1-for-3 clunker, scoring one touchdown in three trips inside the Ravens’ 20-yard line.

The Steelers had another possession on which they reached the Baltimore 20 but didn’t cross inside the 20, so it didn’t count as a red-zone possession, but you might as well count that, too. That would make the Steelers 1-for-4 in the red zone Sunday.

That, too, will be hard to overcome.

At the same time, it’s probably foolish to expect everything to come together at once for the Steelers.

“We knew over the course of time, it was going to be a while for us to all start jelling,” veteran cornerback Ike Taylor said. “We’ve got a good mix of veteran and young guys. The mix is the mix, meaning it’s going to take a while.

“No, it’s still not fixed, but we’re doing better.”

Taylor and Co. have played much-improved defense the past two weeks.

The Steelers’ offense is making improvements, too, and it starts with being able to run the ball. For Pittsburgh, it’s not so much about running to be dominant like the old school Steelers, but running successfully enough to be an efficient, two-dimensional offense.

The Steelers managed to strike that balance Sunday and that’s why they won. Bell had his fingerprints all over it.

Mirza Zukic is a sports writer that primarily covers the Pittsburgh Steelers and is the Gazette's track and field beat writer.

Teri Enciso is a photographer for The Indiana Gazette.
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