Le'Veon Bell helped set up the Steelers' only touchdown Sunday with his best three plays of their game against the New York Jets, all on consecutive downs to lead off and polish off their first offensive series of the second half.
He ran for 7 yards on first down, 2 on second down, then carried out quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's handoff fake to perfection on third down as Roethlisberger pulled the ball back and whistled it downfield to Emmanuel Sanders for a 55-yard touchdown pass.
It was how they draw it up on the board Wednesdays. The rest of the run game did not go as planned.
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For the fifth consecutive game, the Steelers did not run for more than 80 yards, managing a mere 73 and a 2.8-yard average per carry in their 19-6 victory against the Jets. Granted, it came against the NFL's No. 2-ranked run defense, but the Steelers remain next-to-the-bottom of the NFL with an average of only 61 yards rushing per game. Only Jacksonville is worse. The Steelers are 30th with an average of 3.1-yards per carry.
An opportunistic defense and a passing game that was efficient and did not lose the football were the reasons the Steelers won their first game this season. But if they are to pull out of their 1-4 predicament and eventually climb back in the race for .500, they will need their feet to help them.
That job will fall on Bell, a back drafted in the second round this year to revive their sagging ground attack. He has 91 yards rushing on 32 carries in the two games he has played after missing the first three with a sprained right foot. Against the Jets, he managed 34 yards on 16 carries, a 2.1-yard average.
Yet coach Mike Tomlin saw it differently.
"I thought he ran very well," Tomlin said. "I thought the Jets provide some challenges in terms of run defense. They're number two in the league, and they lived up to that. They've got some talented people up front. There weren't many holes.
"I thought he did a great job of picking vision and putting the ball where it was supposed to be and running with the type of demeanor that we desire."
The bar of expectations may not be set as high for this rookie, or his coaches see things that others do not. Besides the black-and-white stats, Pro Football Focus, which analyzes every player and every play, counted one time in Bell's 16 carries where he broke a tackle.
"Obviously, the numbers don't exhibit great success," Tomlin said. "But I thought it allowed us to have the type of balance necessary to complete splash plays like the third-and-1 play action to Emmanuel Sanders and so forth.
"We're going to continue to be a group in evolution there. We don't run away from that, but I was not displeased with Le'Veon Bell and his performance in any way this past weekend."
It can be understandable that Bell is off to a slow start. A knee was bruised in training camp, and that caused him to miss practice time and the first preseason game. He carried four times in the second preseason game, then left with his sprained foot. He did not return until two weeks of practices leading up to a game in London.
His timing might not be quite there yet, and that became apparent when he ran into some crowds Sunday rather than some holes that opened for him.
Felix Jones actually still leads the team with 92 yards rushing after he picked up 18 Sunday on five carries.
Another problem that has clipped their running game is their blocking scheme. They planned to supplement their power-blocking with some outside zone-blocking this season. That pretty much went out the window with the injury to Maurkice Pouncey on the first series of the first regular-season game.
"Outside zone is something we spent a lot of time working on in the offseason," Tomlin said, "but we had Maurkice Pouncey in the offseason. That's just the reality of the NFL.
"We're going to lean to the strength of the men that we work with. If it means that we're not going to run things that we've executed and spent time executing, then so be it. We're going to live and work in the now with the people that we have and work to their strengths and work to minimize our collective weaknesses that we're dealing with in the present time."
Tomlin unfazed by Clark
If fans, media or even teammates have a problem with Ryan Clark speaking out about the Steelers in his ongoing gig with ESPN, Tomlin is not among them.
Clark's comments that Roethlisberger should "tone down" his improvisation have been widely debated, and those debates have drawn the ire of the Steelers safety and co-captain for what he perceived as others twisting his words and intent.
"These guys are professional and to cooperate with the media is not only something that I think they're capable of doing, it's something that they're required to do," Tomlin said when asked Tuesday about Clark's comments.
"Some do it better than others. Ryan is a very seasoned communicator, particularly with the media. I don't spend a lot of time worrying about those interactions. I assume that they're going to say appropriate things and represent us in the manner in which we need to be represented professionally. I focus on the variables that matter. Obviously, the preparation and play of the men on the football team, not what they do in their off hours."
By placing tight end David Johnson and tackle Levi Brown on injured reserve and signing tight end Richard Gordon and cornerback Isaiah Green, the Steelers have four tight ends on their roster and 3 1/2 offensive tackles, counting guard-tackle Guy Whimper.
Tomlin said they added Gordon to replace tight end David Johnson because "he's a strong run performer and he's healthy and ready to go and performed in a workout for us [Monday].
"Isaiah Green is a useful corner/special-teams player that we're very familiar with. Maybe he can help us this weekend. The emphasis was about helping ourselves this weekend and not necessarily numbers."Steelers - homepage
Ed Bouchette: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @EdBouchette. First Published October 15, 2013 8:00 PM