On the Steelers: Offense isn't running on empty

Faced with nearly a season full of statistics that say it is not so, coach Mike Tomlin still believes his Steelers can run the ball.

"I think we're capable of changing the pace on offense," Tomlin said Tuesday. "We're capable of running it, we're capable of passing it."

No, they are not, say the cold, hard facts. The Steelers rank lower than they have in their history at 31 in the 32-team NFL with an average of just 77.4 yards rushing per game. Their 3.4-yard average per carry ranks 30th. They have not had a 100-yard rusher in the past 21 games, the longest active draught in the NFL.

Steelers Report: Preview of the Bengals, round 2

The PG's Ed Bouchette and Gerry Dulac look at the division-leading Cincinnati Bengals, who come to Heinz Field for a Sunday night game. The Bengals prevailed 20-10 in the first matchup. (Video by Andrew Rush; 12/12/2013)

Players still hopeful Steelers can improve

Ben Roethlisberger, Jarvis Jones and Cam Heyward talk about improvement as the Steelers prepare to play the Cincinnati Bengals at Heinz Field. (Video by Lake Fong; 12/11/2013)

Yet halfback Le'Veon Bell, who missed the first three games this season with a sprained foot, could set a team record for rookies. His 927 yards combined rushing and receiving rank third in history among their rookies. Franco Harris had 1,235 yards in 1972 and Bam Morris had 1,040 in 1994.

Bell has 589 yards rushing on 174 carries, a 3.4-yard average. He has 338 yards on 38 receptions. John L. Williams set the Steelers record for receptions by a back with 51 in 1994, and Merril Hoge had 50 in 1988. With 12 catches in his past two games, Bell certainly is within range of setting the team record there.

The Steelers believe they have a better running game than the stats show because they consider many of their short passes runs.

"A lot of teams are going to stack the box and stop the run," quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. "If you can get the ball in a receiver or a tight end's hands quickly and they can get four to five yards, then you count that as a good run play."

Bell has become their most versatile back since Amos Zereoue, who in 2002 led the team with 762 yards rushing and also caught 42 passes. They believe Bell has more staying power, though, because Zereoue was effective in only two of his four seasons with them.

"Largeley, we are capable of running it and throwing it," Tomlin said for a second time. "Le'Veon is going to be a big part of what we do, whether we do one or both."

Bell, who had 78 receptions in his career at Michigan State, said he enjoys catching the ball maybe even more than getting a handoff.

"As a runner, when you get the ball handed to you there's not always open space that much," the rookie said. "In the passing game, you catch the ball, you have some space to run. You don't have to worry about all the defensive linemen and linebackers. With open space, you have the ability to run and make guys miss. So, I love catching the ball out of the backfield and splitting out at wide receiver."

They've split him out more often the more they have used the no huddle over the past handful of games. Like Tomlin and Roethlisberger, Bell does not believe the Steelers are the next-to-worst running team in the league because of how they use the pass.

"We run a lot of screens, which are extensions of our running game. We run a lot of screens to get playmakers involved, get the balls in their hands early, kind of like an extended handoff in a way. That stat can be misleading a little bit."

Wallace's predicament

Cody Wallace's first NFL start came with many interesting twists, but none like the tape that has gone viral on the Internet showing him shoving his left hand between the legs of Miami defensive tackle Randy Starks during a scrum for a Roethlisberger fumble Sunday.

Starks, who recovered the loose football, said this week that he did not know which Steelers player was doing that to him. Players have told tales of many an abuse that goes on in pileups for loose footballs, including the one the cameras caught Wallace doing to Starks.

"I heard of stuff like that happening,'' Starks said back in Miami Tuesday, via USAToday. "It's the first time it happened to me. If I knew exactly who it was at the time, I probably would have got thrown out."

Wallace proclaimed innocence when it came to intent.

"I was trying to get under the pile and get a hand on the football," he said several times. "Unfortunately, I didn't get low enough As soon as I realized what was happening, I definitely stopped.

"It's unfortunate it looks that way and came out that way."

Wallace said he has taken some good-natured ribbing from teammates over the video.

"I thought I was going to be able to get under there and I wasn't able to and I wasn't able to get a hand on the football."

He said he realized what he actually was doing "when he kind of started kicking around, I realized I wasn't going to make it there."

Wallace said as to whether he will be fined, "we'll see what happens with that, I guess."

He also was penalized for a late-hit personal foul on the infamous fourth-and-10 play near the end of the game. As for his overall play as the team's third starting center this season, Wallace said "I think I did all right, overall."

He allowed a sack on the game's second play and said playing in the snow for the first time was tricky.

"I had some mistakes, obviously, getting used to being out there and the speed and getting to play in the snow for the first time. I kinda learned as the game went on you can't be as aggressive in the snow."

NFL giveth, NFL taketh away

First, the NFL took $100,000 away from Tomlin, now it takes a sack from Jason Worilds.

Worilds lost one of his two sacks Sunday because the official league statisticians called it an aborted play by Miami and not a planned passing play. So, he now drops back to seven sacks, which still leads the team.

And after reviewing all those laterals on the last play of the game, they adjusted the receiving stats. Adding yards: Antonio Brown 1, Emmanuel Sanders 8, Roethlisberger 5. Losing yards: Bell 9, Jerricho Cotchery 5.

It's the first time Roethlisberger has had positive receiving yards. He caught one of his own batted passes in a 2008 game in Cleveland for minus-seven yards, his only official catch (he does not get a catch for the play Sunday).

Beachum might return

Offensive lineman Kelvin Beachum, who missed the game Sunday with a knee injury, went through a full practice Wednesday.

Those not practicing: offensive tackle Marcus Gilbert (ankle), defensive linemen Ziggy Hood (ankle), Brett Keisel (foot) and Steve McLendon (ankle) and safety Troy Polamalu (shoulder).

Ed Bouchette: ebouchette@post-gazette.com and Twitter @EdBouchette.

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