Tuesday, November 18, 2014
Le'Veon Bell again pulls Steelers back from the brink
By Scott Brown
November 18, 2014
Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell (26) scores a touchdown on a 5-yard run against Tennessee Titans defenders Mike Martin (93) and Derrick Morgan (91) in the second half of an NFL football game Monday, Nov. 17, 2014, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Zaleski)
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Running back Le'Veon Bell has now saved the Pittsburgh Steelers twice on "Monday Night Football," and the second-year man was a little less subtle about it this time.
Bell's 43-yard catch-and-run against the Houston Texans in Week 7 served as the catalyst for 24 unanswered points that propelled the Steelers to their first of three consecutive wins.
On Monday, Bell simply pounded the upstart Tennessee Titans into submission when the Steelers again found themselves on the precipice.
The Steelers were trailing by 11 points in the third quarter when offensive coordinator Todd Haley finally got out of his own way and called one run after another for Bell.
Recommitting to the run, which the Steelers got away from when they blew an early 10-point lead, allowed them to rally for a 27-24 win and avert what would have been a disastrous loss.
The timing of Bell's 204-yard outburst, which came courtesy of the block party the Steelers' offensive line threw at frosty LP Field, couldn't have been better, for several reasons.
The Steelers go into their bye week with a 7-4 record and in pretty decent position in both the AFC North and AFC playoff picture, despite their maddening propensity to play down to their competition.
They did that again against the Titans, before Bell and the offensive line grabbed control of the game, while Steelers offensive line coach Mike Munchak watched with what had to be a most satisfied smile.
Munchak spent more than 30 years with the Oilers/Titans as a player and a coach before he was fired as the team's head coach this past January.
The play of the line, after a shaky stretch in which they could not keep the Titans off quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, showed why the hiring of Munchak was considered one of the Steelers' most significant offseason acquisitions.
The Steelers turned to the run after falling behind 24-13, and the Titans couldn't stop them, even though they knew it was coming.
That proved to be the case when the Steelers drove 72 yards in eight plays and scored a touchdown at the beginning of the fourth quarter to cut the Titans' lead to four points. That proved to be the case midway through the final quarter, when the Steelers got the ball back while nursing a three-point lead.
They ran 10 plays, eight of them runs by Bell, before Roethlisberger took a couple knees to end the game.
"Maybe two or three different plays we were running, but we were executing at a high level," Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey said. "I heard a couple of guys say, ‘They keep running the ball over here. We've got to stop it.'"
They couldn't because Bell and the offensive line worked so well together that they produced the football equivalent of finishing each other's sentences. The line provided a consistent push and openings for Bell, even when Tennessee started stacking players close to the line of scrimmage.
Bell, meanwhile, exploited any cracks that surfaced in the Titans' defense.
The 196 yards he gained between the tackles were the most by any NFL back this season, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
"I love running the ball, but those guys love running the ball more than me -- that's the craziest part," Bell said of the Steelers' offensive line. "Those guys kept moving guys off the ball and making my job easy."
Rushing yards had not come easy for Bell recently, even during the three-game win streak. He rushed for a combined 169 yards in those games. Add in the 36 yards he managed in a 20-13 loss to the New York Jets, and Bell averaged 51.3 rushing yards in his previous four games.
That stretch seemed like a distant memory when right guard David DeCastro talked about what a "blast" it was for the Steelers to impose their will on the Titans -- just when it seemed their season would get away from them.
Bell couldn't stop smiling as he talked about an offensive line that allowed him to record just the fifth 200-yard rushing game in Steelers history. That was one of many superlatives the 2013 second-round draft pick produced on a night when the Steelers had to win any way possible but ultimately did so on their terms.
"We don't have enough time to talk about what [Bell] did tonight," Roethlisberger said. "I'm so proud of the way he bounces back. Catches the ball, runs the ball, power, finesse. When he runs, it's like poetry in motion."