PITTSBURGH (AP) Trailing lowly Tennessee by 11 points in the third quarter on Monday night, Pittsburgh Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley did something curious.
He stuck with the run.
Rather than abandoning the gameplan and relying on quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to bail the Steelers out - again - Haley remained confident that if Roethlisberger kept turning around and giving the ball running back Le'Veon Bell, good things would keep happening.
They did, and then some.
Legs churning relentlessly behind an offensive line that relished the chance to simply put its head down and mash forward, the Steelers rode Bell to a pair of fourth quarter touchdowns and an even more impressive game-ending drive in which they chewed up the final 6:58 behind their budding second-year star.
Bell ran for 128 of his career-high 204 yards in the second half, including 49 on Pittsburgh's final possession.
''We want to go out there and stay aggressive, and the line did a great job opening holes,'' Bell said. ''And the entire offense executed, so we were able to move the chains. We wanted to run the clock down as far as we could, and we were able to run it down all the way. It was a great drive.''
Even if good friend LeGarrette Blount didn't stick around for all of it.
Blount jogged to the locker room in the final seconds, annoyed that he failed to register a carry for the first time all season. Pittsburgh responded by cutting Blount on Tuesday. While Bell said he was ''surprised'' at the decision he understands Blount's misstep would have made it hard for him to re-establish trust in the locker room as the Steelers (7-4) try to emerge from the crowded AFC North.
''There were some things that you can't do, and that was one of them,'' Bell said. ''When you push those buttons, that's what happens.''
The Steelers signed Blount last spring to help take some of the burden off Bell. It might not be necessary. The 22-year-old Bell doesn't seem to be phased by one of the NFL's heaviest workloads. He has 252 combined touches through 11 games, including 57 receptions, already a club record for the most catches in one season by a running back.
''Oh, to be young again,'' Haley joked. ''When everybody else was dragging around, he had a bounce in his step after the game. So, he's got energy, and we'll give him what he can take.''
That's fine by Bell, who now finds himself the most experienced back left on the roster ahead of rookies Dri Archer, Josh Harris and LaDarius Perkins, signed Wednesday.
''I really don't feel any additional pressure,'' Bell said. ''This is what I've trained for all along. I'm ready for whatever they need me to do. I worked hard in the offseason and training camp to prepare myself for this time.''
Bell delivered a series of punishing blows while lowering his broad shoulders into Tennessee defenders Monday night while recording the NFL's highest single-game rushing total this season.
Two weeks after Roethlisberger set a league record by throwing for six scores in consecutive games, the pendulum swung back the other way. With Roethlisberger under heavy pressure from the Titans, Haley decided to instead force Tennessee onto its heels by having Bell careen into gaping holes.
''We put a lot on him going into the game, and that was part of the plan offensively,'' Haley said. ''We all knew it, and he knew it. And he took it and ran with it, pardon the pun. He ran hard and got a lot of yards after contact.''
The Steelers ran for 206 yards and passed for 207 against the Titans, the kind of balance head coach Mike Tomlin was sure would come when the moment required.
Pittsburgh gets a week off before a five-game sprint to end the regular season. Despite losses to the Jets and Tampa Bay, the Steelers find themselves surging behind a back that considers himself a workaholic, albeit a pragmatic one. Bell insists he will always run hard. Now he's learning how to run smart too.
''You've got to find a way to get to the ground,'' Bell said. ''That's really the biggest thing. Instead of getting hit by 2-3 guys, just get hit by one. If you can't get away, just go down. Or don't get hit at all. Step out if you get a chance, once you've gained all the yardage you need. If I can minimize the hits, I'll be fine.''
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