Steelers, Bell look to continue running against Jaguars
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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Pittsburgh Steelers star running back Le'Veon Bell quieted concerns about his offseason groin surgery and training camp holdout with his biggest game of the season during a victory over Baltimore last week.
The All-Pro's follow-up performance could be even better.
Coming off a 144-yard, two-touchdown effort, Bell looks ready to roll for the Steelers, who host the Jacksonville Jaguars and the league's worst run defense Sunday at Heinz Field.
"Our defense got stops, our offense was able to maintain possession of the ball because we took care of the ball, and that allowed us to continually snap it and produce the run total," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said.
Bell, who averaged 105.7 rushing yards per game last season, got off to a slow start through three games. The 25-year-old rushed for just 32 yards in the season opener against Cleveland and followed with 87 yards against Minnesota and 61 against Chicago.
Not since his rookie season in 2013 had Bell failed to run for at least 100 yards in any of his first three games.
But he looked like his usual self against the Ravens.
Bell was patient while scanning for running lanes and explosive when he found them. He powered into the end zone for a 1-yard score in the second quarter and another in the fourth during a 26-9 victory.
Jacksonville (2-2) ranks last in the league in rushing yards allowed per game (165.5) and per attempt (5.7), so limiting Bell will be a main focus -- and a big challenge -- against the Steelers (3-1).
"There is a reason why he is a Pro Bowl running back," Jaguars coach Doug Marrone said. "You can see that on tape. He is very consistent. It will be a challenge, obviously, after what we have been doing and our rush defense."
A loss to the New York Jets last week showed how far the Jaguars have to go to become a solid run defense.
Coming off a decisive victory over Baltimore in London, the Jaguars were gashed for 256 yards on the ground. Two plays in particular stood out.
One came when Jets running back Bilal Powell ran for a 75-yard touchdown during the first quarter. Powell initially ran for a short gain before he fell to the ground, realized he wasn't touched and won a long race to the end zone.
That play might have been a fluke, but the Jaguars were just as bad later in the game when running back Elijah McGuire ran for a 69-yard touchdown. McGuire made one cut on a run to the left and ran right by Jaguars safety Barry Church.
"That's discipline," Jaguars linebacker Paul Posluszny said. "Everybody has the physical abilities to do what we need to do on the field. We have to be disciplined to the point where we're not trying to do too much. We just need to focus on our responsibilities and make sure we handle it."
The Jaguars also have some questions to answer about their own running game.
Leonard Fournette, the fourth overall pick, scored a touchdown in each game this season but is averaging just 3.5 yards per carry. (Even with his slow start, Bell is averaging 3.7.)
Opposing defenses continue to stack the box and dare Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles to beat them, likely a major factor in Fournette's low average.
But that's a problem the Jaguars will probably face all season. So far, Bortles has thrown seven touchdowns with three interceptions, but he is completing just 54.5 percent of his passes with a quarterback rating of 81.7.
How Bell and Fournette run will be intriguing considering the Steelers and Jaguars boast the league's two best pass defenses.
The Jaguars have allowed just 147 passing yards per game this season. The Steelers are second at 154 per game.
With neither team appearing to suffer any serious injuries last week, Sunday should be an entertaining battle behind two of the league's best young tailbacks.
"September is kind of a feeling-out process," Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. "You're kind of just jabbing around, dancing around, feeling your opponent out, your team out. Now you kind of have an understanding of where you are and where you want to get to."
Updated October 5, 2017