Steelers rookie running back Le'Veon Bell gave himself a C-minus for his performance Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens.
Kind of makes you wonder what Bell's A game looks like, doesn't it?
A lot of people laughed when Steelers coach Mike Tomlin went out of his way to gush about Bell's 16-carry, 34-yard day in a 19-6 win against the New York Jets Oct. 13. Even Bell, that notorious tough grader, gave himself a D for that one.
But no one is laughing this morning, not after Bell played a big role in the 19-16 win against the Ravens, running 19 times for 93 of the Steelers' 141 rushing yards. It wasn't just their best rushing day in nearly a year. It helped them to convert 7 of 12 third downs because they always seemed to be in third-and-short situations. It also slowed the Ravens' ferocious pass rush, which sacked quarterback Ben Roethlisberger just three times with four other hurries.
"The game is still fast, but it's starting to slow down for me," Bell said. "The more I play, the more comfortable I feel. I had a great week of practice and I think it showed today. I'm going to continue to get better."
Tomlin and offensive coordinator Todd Haley keep asking more of Bell. They used him Sunday as a wildcat quarterback on four plays, splitting Roethlisberger out to the left each time. Bell gave the ball to wide receiver Antonio Brown on an inside handoff on the first play for a 3-yard gain. He kept it the next three times for gains of 6, 7 and 2 yards.
"It was a nice little wrinkle," Tomlin said.
"I like it," Bell said. "It's something I'm comfortable with. It's a great mix-up for our offense."
Roethlisberger seemed to enjoy it, too, although the Steelers probably aren't going to ask their $100 million quarterback to line up outside too many times. He threw a block on cornerback Corey Graham on Bell's first run out of the wildcat.
"I told him he should have cut it outside of me," Roethlisberger said, grinning. "The coaches yelled at me and told me to get out of there, but you know me."
A pass by Bell, who played quarterback in high school and ran some wildcat at Michigan State?
"I told him I'm going deep," Roethlisberger said, grinning again. "I told their DB" -- Lardarius Webb -- "I was going deep. He laughed at me, of course."
Roethlisberger was having fun now.
"I think I'll save the pass to me until we get in the red zone. I'm an old basketball player. I'll go up and get the ball."
It was easy for all of the Steelers to laugh after this win. It was against the hated Ravens, for one thing. It also helped keep the Steelers "relevant" -- Tomlin's word -- for at least another week. They are 2-4 and play at Oakland against the Raiders Sunday.
"Every week, we've got to win," Bell said. "That's the mindset of the guys in here. We can't win four games in a week. We just have to win the game we're playing each week."
The Steelers are so much better when they can run the ball. It had been a serious flaw for them before Sunday. Their best rushing total as a team was 80 yards in a 40-23 loss to the Chicago Bears. Their best individual rushing game was Bell's 57 yards in a 34-27 loss to the Minnesota Vikings.
Bell easily passed that number by halftime against the Ravens. His 93 yards were the most by a Steelers back since Ike Redman went for 147 yards in a win against the New York Giants Nov. 4 of last season. The Steelers' 141 yards were their most since they had 158 in that Giants game.
Backup Felix Jones also ran hard, fighting for 3 yards on a third-and-2 play and 6 yards on a second-and-3 call. Third-stringer Jonathan Dwyer ran hard on his one carry, gaining 4 yards on a third-and-1 play.
But it was Bell who stood out. This was the first time he showed why the Steelers drafted him in the spring with their No. 2 pick.
"He did a great job," Roethlisberger said. "He was patient when he needed to be. He was physical when he needed to be ...
"Sometimes, when I hand it off and I carry out my fake, I turn around and it's almost like he's standing still in the hole. 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's going. He's a good runner and he knows his surroundings and what's going on."
Bell was pleased but clearly wasn't satisfied.
That C-minus, remember?
Better is still to come, Bell said.
Ron Cook: firstname.lastname@example.org. Ron Cook can be heard on the "Vinnie and Cook" show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan. First Published October 20, 2013 8:00 PM