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Ravens defense pounded by rookie Le'Veon Bell, Steelers' running game

Behind a suddenly punishing running game, the Pittsburgh Steelers grinded out yards Sunday to provide their offense with plenty of manageable third-down situations.

The Ravens defense was vulnerable throughout a 19-16 loss at Heinz Field, allowing 141 yards rushing as the Steelers averaged 4.9 yards per run.

"Not a good feeling," Ravens defensive tackle Arthur Jones said. "They outplayed us. I have no idea what they were doing. We are going to have watch film and fix our mistakes. We got outplayed on our side of the ball. They did a good job of running the ball."

The workhorse was rookie running back Le'Veon Bell, an imposing 6-foot-1, 244-pound power back from Michigan State drafted in the second round in April.

Bell gained a career-high 93 yards on 19 carries as Pittsburgh rushed for more than 100 yards for the first time since last November.

"It was what I thought he was capable of doing," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said of Bell, who was limited to 34 yards a week earlier against the New York Jets.

The Steelers entered the game ranked 31st in rushing, averaging only 62 yards per game.

They hadn't run for this many yards since Nov. 18 against the Ravens, when they rushed for 134 yards. Although he finished with four tackles, it wasn't one of Pro Bowl nose tackle Haloti Ngata's particularly strong games as he often got stuck to blocks.

Middle linebacker Daryl Smith had a team-high nine tackles and a forced fumble, but he often got caught up in the flow of the play and was unable to scrape past blocks to make the tackle in time.

The Steelers pounded away at the heart of the Ravens defense, denting the middle with physical runs.

"We didn't do a good enough job," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "To me, the fact that they were able to run the ball the way they did was the thing that allowed them to extend those drives.

"There were way too many third-and-ones, twos, threes, fours, and those are going to be tough to defend. We've got to get in there. We've got to put people up to defend the run. It's just tough. That's a credit to them."

The Steelers utilized the wildcat formation for a change of pace four four plays as quarterback Ben Roethlisberger lined up at wide receiver with Bell operating as the quarterback.

Bell handed off to wide receiver Antonio Brown once for three yards and ran it himself three times for runs of six, seven and two yards out of that package

"It was a nice little wrinkle," Tomlin said. "If we want to continue to use it, it needs more layers, more depth. We'll look at it. We'll evaluate it and kind of move on from there. We'll do anything to win football games."

They also ran particularly well on first down as Bell gained 62 of his yards on first down where he averaged 5.6 yards per carry.

The Steelers converted 7 of 12 third downs, a 58-percent success rate.

"We wanted to run at those guys," Bell said. "They have great guys on the edge. [Terrell] Suggs is a monster. We wanted to run at those guys, wear those guys do wn. Eventually, we ended up doing that and the runs kept turning from four yards to eight yards. And that's what we want."

And that spelled doom for a Ravens team that dropped to 3-4 and has reached a crossroads as they enter their bye week.

Bell made a big difference for the Steelers, serving notice for what kind of factor he could be going forward.

"He did a great job," Roethlisberger said. "He was patient when he needed to be. He was physical when he needed to be. He used his speed and did a great job. The credit goes to the offensive line. They did such a good job of opening holes."

awilson@baltsun.com
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