Despite aerial success, Steelers don’t want to abandon run game
It’s been all about quarterback Ben Roethlisberger the past two weeks.
He has thrown touchdowns in bunches, which has enabled the Steelers to perch atop the AFC North with Cleveland.
But it isn’t lost on Roethlisberger that the Steelers have to keep their running backs engaged, particularly for when the team makes a postseason push.
Le’Veon Bell, whose 711 rushing yards rank third in the NFL, has one of the Steelers’ three rushing touchdowns. Bell, though, has 47 receptions and two touchdown catches.
“Even though he’s not getting 100 (rushing) yards a game, he’s making such critical plays in the passing game,” Roethlisberger said. “He finds a way to contribute and help us no matter what.”
The Steelers will need Bell as they did at cold and icy Lambeau Field late last season when he rushed for 124 yards. They manufactured a 38-31 victory that kept alive their faint postseason aspirations.
“The run game, even it doesn’t show in the numbers, teams have to respect it,” Bell said. “It opens up the passing game, and the passing game is helping the run game. For defenses, it’s about picking your poison.”
The Steelers may have to lean on Bell and LeGarrette Blount when they travel to East Rutherford, N.J., on Sunday to face the Jets, who conceded they will go after Roethlisberger in hopes of defusing one of the league’s most explosive passing attacks. The Jets also will send pressure to cover for an injury-plagued secondary.
In short, the Jets are daring the Steelers to run.
“We still have to do a better job of running the ball,” guard Kelvin Beachum said. “But we would be stupid to run it if they have nine men in the box.”
It’s a necessary tactic for the Jets, considering their defensive backs have been picked apart during an eight-game losing streak. While they rank 12th in pass defense (231 yards), the Jets have allowed a league-high 24 touchdown passes.
“They have to respect the run game because we have one of the top rushers in the league,” Blount said. “They are going to have to respect me, too — everything about offense that’s been getting us all these points.
“We have to get on top of them early. Hopefully, we can operate our offense the way want to and take the crowd out of the game.”
The Jets have issues in the secondary, but Rex Ryan is concerned about Bell and Blount dictating the tempo.
Blount, who compiled 172 rushing yards during last year’s playoffs with New England, knows a more balanced attack is required as teams jockey for playoff position.
“You have to run the football to set up our play-action,” Blount said. “It’s also how we’ve been able to get our deep balls.
“Our being able to run the ball is a key to how effective our offense can be.”
Added guard David DeCastro: “We’re taking what’s there offensively. We want Le’Veon to get 100 yards every game, but we’ll take six touchdown passes a game. At the same time, we want everyone to respect our run game.”
The Steelers didn’t run well Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens. However, they were good enough to make the play-action effective.
“We came in with a plan to run the ball the last two games,” Blount said. “We had some plays that worked well and others that were stuffed, but we continued to run the football.
“In the meantime, Ben was throwing touchdown passes. We don’t have a problem with that.”
Ralph N. Paulk is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at [email protected].