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Steelers Film Session: Sticking with what works

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Chaz Palla | Trib Total Media
Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell runs past Titans safety George Wilson during the fourth quarter Monday, Nov. 17, 2014, in Nashville, Tenn.
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NASHVILLE, TN - NOVEMBER 17: Markus Wheaton #11 of the Pittsburgh Steelers runs the ball against the Tennessee Titans in the first half of the game at LP Field on November 17, 2014 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

If you like something and if something is working, stick to it.

That was Todd Haley’s play-calling philosophy against the Titans on Monday night when it came to Le’Veon Bell and the Steelers running game.

Especially in the second half when Bell rushed for 132 of his career-high 204 yards in 27-24 come-from-behind win over Tennessee.

After trying different blocking schemes and personnel combinations in the first half, the Steelers found something that worked in the second half and stuck with it.

Actually, they found a couple things: the outside zone out of the pistol formation and the tight end power counter.

Haley called the outside zone run out of the pistol three consecutive plays in the third quarter that resulted in runs of 7, 27 and 11 yards.

Then, during the final drive of the game, the Steelers used the tight end power counter three straight times for runs of 6, 10 and 10 yards.

The tight end power counter, a play in which the backside tight end and guard David DeCastro pull, was the most successful for Bell.

The play was called seven times and resulted in 51 yards.

The outside zone also was successful for the first time as Bell ran eight times for 73 yards.

Other superlatives from Bell and the offensive line against the Titans include:

• With one tight end in the game, Bell rushed 12 for 83. With two tight ends, he rushed for 10 for 39. With three tight ends, he rushed 12 for 73.

• With six in the box, Bell rushed for 33 yards. With seven, he rushed for 44. With eight, he rushed for 44, and with nine, he rushed for 83.

• On first downs, Bell rushed 23 times for 111 yards.

• Out of Bell’s final 15 carries, 12 came on first down.

• Bell forced five missed tackles (two by Michael Griffin and one each by Cody Sensabaugh, Avery Williamson and George Wilson).

• Bell gained 78 yards after initial contact.

Other observations from the game:

• Titans defensive coordinator Ray Horton blitzed Ben Roethlisberger 18 times, including sending seven rushers five times. However, the majority of that came over the final 2 12 quarters. Through the first 22 plays, the Titans sent five rushers only twice. Over the final 51 plays, he turned up the pressure and blitzed 16 times, resulting in an interception and three sacks.

• Of the Steelers’ 73 offensive snaps, none was out of the no-huddle. It was the first time this year that they didn’t use the no-huddle at least once and the first time in 21 games dating to Week 7 against the Ravens in 2013. The Steelers went to the no-huddle 118 times through the first six weeks but have used it only 23 times over the past five games.

• The Steelers defense continued to struggle on first down. A week after allowing the Jets 6.6 yards per play on first down, they allowed 10.9 to the Titans, which included an 80-yard touchdown pass. Take away that 80-yard play, and the numbers still aren’t very good on first down: 7.1 yards per play. The struggles stoppping the run aren’t happening on first down as they held the Titans to 3.7 per play.

• The Steelers did well on first down, especially with the amount of opportunities they had with Le’Veon Bell. The Steelers ran the ball 22 times on first down and averaged 6.6 yards per play. They weren’t as successful throwing on first down, averaging 5.4 yards per first-down completion.

• Dri Archer’s role continues to diminish. Against the Titans, the rookie third-round pick was yanked off the kickoff return team as the up-back in favor of Justin Brown. On offense, Archer saw only two plays and caught one pass for minus-5 yards. Archer bobbled the ball before catching it, prompting Roethlisberger to scream, “Come on, Dri,” which was picked up by the on-field microphones. Archer still is an occasional participant on punt returns but as a blocker.

• The Steelers defense struggled tackling on the opening drive of the game. They missed six tackles — Brice McCain and Lawrence Timmons twice, Jason Worilds, Dan McCullers, Sean Spence — that resulted in an extra 18 yards and a touchdown. After that, the defense was nearly flawless with its tackling. The only missed tackle the rest of the game was William Gay in the third quarter, which resulted in a 36-yard catch by Justin Hunter, 22 of which came following the missed tackle.

• McCullers played 13 snaps in his first career start but rarely saw the field after the midway point of the second quarter. McCullers played in 10 of the first 16 defensive snaps but managed only two plays the rest of the way. Instead, the Steelers used Cam Thomas at nose and brought in Brett Keisel at end.

• Dick LeBeau is 19-2 against rookie quarterbacks for a reason: He likes to blitz them. And that’s what LeBeau did against Zach Mettenberger. LeBeau sent five or more rushers at the rookie quarterback on 14 of Mettenberger’s 24 pass attempts. LeBeau sent five rushers nine times, six rushers four times and seven rushers once. Mettenberger was not sacked in the game.

• Roethlisberger enjoys calling the plays. Against the Titans, he had changed the play on six occasions. All of them worked. Roethlisberger, using the word “alert” to alter plays, did it six times that resulted in 67 yards. His most successful switches came during a span late in the third on three consecutive plays that resulted in Bell runs of 27, 11 and 2 yards.

• Roethlisberger was sacked five times for the second time this year, but all the blame can’t be put on the offensive line. In fact, only two can be labeled the line’s fault. Roethlisberger’s first two sacks we the result of him holding onto the ball. Even though he was pressured, he wasn’t contacted by a defender after 5.9 and then 5.0 seconds. Also, Bell and Heath Miller missed blocks that created sacks. David DeCastro didn’t pick up a blitzing linebacker, and Marcus Gilbert got beaten cleanly by Shaun Phillips on the other sacks.

• The Steelers went to max protect (seven blockers) only five times out of 37 drop backs by Roethlisberger but kept either a tight end or a running back to help block 15 other times. Roethlisberger was sacked twice when a tight end stayed in and another when Bell and Heath Miller were kept in. Other than that, the offense worked well with extra blockers as Roethlisberger was 11 of 17 for 105 yards when at least one extra blocker was kept in.

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