If Le’Veon Bell’s 144-yard day was not bad enough, how the Pittsburgh Steelers running back compiled a significant portion of those yards in Sunday’s 26-9 victory over the Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore was a point of frustration for the defense.
Bell’s three longest runs of 21, 17 and 16 yards occurred off left or right tackle as he took advantage of the Ravens’ inability to set the edge and funnel him back to the interior of the defense. Outside linebacker Matthew Judon pointed out that the unit would contain Bell to short gains or even losses before he would take off for a big gain.
“He’s very versatile and he’s very patient,” said Judon, who made three tackles. “He had four or five carries for zero yards or 1 yard or even [negative] yards, and he would just be patient and bust a big one. You’ve got to keep your eyes on him and you’ve got to contain him because if not, he can hurt you.”
Bell carried the ball 35 times, the second-highest total ever against the Ravens. (Only the Miami Dolphins’ Ricky Williams had more with 36 attempts Nov. 16, 2003.) Bell, who had averaged 60 yards and 17.3 rushes through the first three games, appreciated offensive coordinator Todd Haley’s commitment to the running attack.
“The offensive line kept digging at it,” said Bell, who added two rushing touchdowns and four catches for 42 yards. “They really blocked well, and our wide receivers blocked really well. The holes got bigger as the game went on.”
Judon, Za’Darius Smith and rookies Tyus Bowser and Tim Williams struggled at times set the edge against Bell. Bowser said the players have to remember to stay in front of Bell.
“Anytime you’re one-on-one against that guy, you have to put your best foot forward,” he said. “With his quick feet and the hard cuts that he makes, you’ve just got to go out there and make a play.”
The TD that wasn’t
In a perfect video replay world, Eric Weddle would have had a pick-six on the Steelers’ first possession of the third quarter, but the strange play was whistled dead while the strong safety was jogging into the end zone.
The reason: It looked to the naked eye as if Pittsburgh wide receiver Antonio Brown had caught the pass from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and was down by contact before the ball squirted up into the air and Weddle picked it off in stride.
In reality, Brown never completed the catch and the ball did not hit the ground, so the call was reversed when Ravens coach John Harbaugh threw his challenge flag, but — by rule — the play ended at the whistle even though there was no one near Weddle as he took the ball home.
“It’s just unfortunate with the way the game was going,’’ Weddle said. “We need every play, every point we can get. That could have got us going. It did. I think we ended up getting a field goal with that, but a touchdown is such a huge momentum [changer].”
Starting left tackle Ronnie Stanley avoided what appeared to be a serious right knee injury early in the fourth quarter when Steelers outside linebacker Bud Dupree rolled up on the back of Stanley’s legs after sacking Flacco. But after limping slightly off the field with some assistance, Stanley returned for the next offensive possession and finished the game at his usual position.
“It’s doing all right,” said Stanley, whose knee was heavily wrapped during the final period. “It’s in a little pain and whatnot, but I went out and finished the game which is a good sign.”
Stanley said he never considered taking off a few plays, saying: “I think the only thing I wanted to do was make sure that it was structurally intact. … [The trainers] didn't think it was torn or anything. So as soon as I heard that, I kind of got back out there.”
With Brent Urban out for the remainder of the season because of a Lisfranc foot injury, Bronson Kaufusi not only was active for the first time in his young NFL career, but he made his first start at Urban’s defensive end spot.
The organization’s third-round draft pick in 2016 who missed all of last season because of a broken left ankle suffered during training camp did not record a defensive statistic, but was looking forward to reviewing film of his play.
“I’m the hardest critic of myself,” Kaufusi said. “I’m always hard on myself. I always want to be perfect with every rep that I get. I’ll go back and look at that film and critique it.”
The team deactivated defensive tackle Brandon Williams (left foot), rookie defensive end Chris Wormley, guard Tony Bergstrom, rookie cornerback Jaylen Hill (hamstring), offensive tackle Dieugot Joseph, wide receiver Chris Moore and tight end Maxx Williams (left ankle).
Jacoby Jones, who retired Friday as a Raven, attended Sunday’s game. … Tight end Benjamin Watson, who practiced Friday after sitting out Wednesday’s and Thursday’s sessions because of a left calf ailment and was deemed questionable, finished second on the team in receiving yards (43) and tied for third in catches (five). … The Steelers played without a pair of starters in free safety Michael Mitchell (hamstring) and right tackle Marcus Gilbert (hamstring) — both of whom were listed as questionable. J.J. Wilcox started for Mitchell, and Chris Hubbard replaced Gilbert. Pittsburgh also deactivated quarterback Josh Dobbs, outside linebacker James Harrison (illness), offensive tackle Jerald Hawkins, defensive tackle Daniel McCullers and wide receiver Eli Rogers. … Quarterback Joe Flacco, cornerback Jimmy Smith and free safety Tony Jefferson represented the Ravens for the pregame coin toss.
Baltimore Sun reporter Peter Schmuck contributed to this article.