PITTSBURGH – A rule that stops a play as soon as a helmet comes off took a touchdown away from Le'Veon Bell last Thursday night. But the Pittsburgh Steelers running back scored in just about every other way imaginable near the end of a loss to the Ravens.
Some Ravens players have wished Bell well on Twitter and expressed their respect for the rookie embracing a head-on collision that left him with a concussion. And his teammates surely respect Bell for lowering his head at about the same time as Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith because of his determination to get into the end zone.
At 6-foot-1 and 244 pounds, Bell is built for a rivalry that is as violent and nasty as ever. He is built for Pittsburgh, too, and is the running back who most reflects the city’s blue-collar sensibilities since Jerome Bettis suited up for the Steelers.
“He’s bigger than I think people really understand,” Steelers safety Ryan Clark said of Bell. “He’s been extremely tough all year. He’s going to be a star here, I believe.”
Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley agreed with Clark. Sort of.
“I’m not going to start carving the bust for Canton, but at the same time, we've been excited from Day One [about] the things that he’s shown us, the attitude, his development, and he had some setbacks and he handled those in a positive manner,” Haley said. “He’s not there yet but he’s gotten better every week and definitely has the skill set and things you’re looking for.”
Bell is as important in the passing attack as he is in the ground game because of his reliable hands and the trust he has already earned from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger for his ability to identify and pick up blitzing linebackers.
Running the ball appears to be the last part of Bell’s game to truly come together, and part of that can be attributed to the Steelers’ season-long difficulty to consistently open holes for the backs. Despite averaging 3.3 yards per carry, Bell has shown promising glimpses. He averaged 4.7 yards per carry in his first two games against Baltimore.
Bell also matched the Ravens’ physicality in both meetings, and he said the extreme example of that – the collision with Smith while also taking a shot from Ravens linebacker Courtney Upshaw – won’t change his running style.
“As a running back you can’t think about getting hit because you’re going to get hit regardless,” Bell said. “That’s not the hardest I've been hit, and I’m sure I’ll get harder. I was just trying to do whatever it took to win. I really just wanted to get into the end zone.”
That mindset is one of many things for the Steelers to like about Bell. Here is another reason: Bell has completely transformed the Steelers’ running game, and he is still just scratching his potential as a runner.
“You’ve got a guy back there that’s a big dog, so to speak. It gives you a chance to be multidimensional and helps a lot of people out,” Haley said. “He gets it.”