PITTSBURGH — Le’Veon Bell isn’t worried about Ben Roethlisberger. The Pittsburgh Steelers game plan is another matter.
The Pro Bowl running back wasn’t offered any explanation on why he carried the ball just 15 times against the NFL’s worst run defense in a stunning 30-9 loss to Jacksonville on Sunday, a loss hallmarked by a career-high five interceptions by Roethlisberger that left the winningest quarterback in franchise history somewhat facetiously wondering aloud if he can still play at an elite level.
Bell chalked Roethlisberger’s postgame comments that set social media on fire up to frustration, nothing more.
“I’m not ever going to sit here and say Ben is on the downgrade or anything,” Bell said Monday. “He just had a bad performance and it wasn’t all his fault. A lot of us made it hard on him.”
Including, perhaps, the play calling. Jacksonville came in with the best pass defense in the league, but only because teams were so successful running it against the Jaguars passing wasn’t required. Jacksonville allowed an NFL-high 165 yards per game over the ground during the first four weeks. Yet Bell ran it just 15 times for 47 yards on Sunday just seven days removed from lighting up Baltimore for 144 yards on the ground in a lopsided victory over the Ravens.
“I don’t think we got enough attempts,” Bell said.
Instead, Roethlisberger put it in the air 55 times, including 31 over the first 2½ quarters — versus 12 rushes for Bell — while building a slim 9-7 lead before the bottom fell out. Asked if he was given an explanation on why there wasn’t an emphasis on the run, Bell simply said “no.”
“I felt like it was warming up,” he said. “I felt it was there. The stats don’t really show what really happened. Certain runs we lost yards but I felt like we were running the ball effectively.”
The Roethlisberger threw pick-sixes on consecutive possessions and the complexion of the game changed completely. He ended up throwing four interceptions over a five-possession span in the second half as the Steelers were held without a touchdown at home for the first time since beating Miami in a Monday night monsoon in 2007.
Searching for rhythm: Five weeks into a season that began with the Steelers stressing the importance of a fast start, Pittsburgh (3-2) still finds itself searching for any sort of offensive rhythm.
The Steelers are averaging just 19.8 points per game and have scored 30 points or more just three times in their last 19 games. That’s less than Jacksonville, Miami, Tennessee and Houston over the same span. Not exactly the company an offense making a combined $92 million expected to keep.
“Look at the statistics,” said wide receiver Martavis Bryant, who caught five passes for just 21 yards against the Jaguars. “I don’t know what’s going on. Got to fix it. If we don’t fix it, the same thing is going to continue to happen.”
Similar funk last season: Pittsburgh fell into a similar funk last season but broke out of it by relying heavily on Bell over the second half on its way to the AFC North title. Bell averaged 27.5 carries during an eight-game stretch that saw the Steelers surge from 4-5 to the conference championship game. The run included a 30-carry, 175-yard performance against Kansas City in the division round of the playoffs, an 18-16 Pittsburgh victory . The Steelers travel to face the unbeaten Chiefs (5-0) next Sunday.
Bell, who is playing on a one-year franchise tender, declined to speculate on whether he’ll get the ball more going forward. Then again, he doesn’t see why not.
“You can see over the course of a game just wearing down the defense,” he said. “It just kind of happens. Run the ball, it kind of shortens the game. It kind of opens up the offense. It makes passing the ball easier. It gets you in third and manageable downs. It just happens. I think just over the course of the season you’ll see the teams that run the ball heavy are the teams that will win games.”
Losing stings: Bell stressed he wasn’t “displeased” with his role. It’s the losing that stings. Yet for as ugly as it looked at gloomy Heinz Field on Sunday, it’s still early October. The pieces to succeed are still in place. Now in his fifth year, Bell understands it’s far too early to make broad conclusions or start assessing blame.
“Can’t nobody point the finger at anybody,” Bell said. “We’ve all got to accept what happened yesterday. I have to accept what happened yesterday. Everybody do. We move forward from there.”