Optimism for ground game belies numbers

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The state of the Pittsburgh Steelers' running game is abysmal if you go strictly by the numbers.

The Steelers are averaging 3.1 yards per rush and 61.0 rushing yards per game. Only the lowly Jaguars are getting less out of their ground game on a weekly basis.

Felix Jones still leads the Steelers in rushing with 92 yards even though he has eight less carries than rookie Le'Veon Bell (91 rushing yards).

And the last time the Steelers rushed for 100 yards in a game -- as a team, not an individual -- came 11 months ago when the Ravens visited Heinz Field.

The Steelers will try to break a streak of 11 consecutive games of rushing for fewer than 100 yards Sunday when the Ravens return to Heinz Field. As grim as the early results have been there appears to be a growing sense of optimism surrounding the rushing attack.

Start with Bell.

The Steelers’ second-round pick in April gives Pittsburgh some much-needed stability at the position and he has the skill set to play every down and also be a factor in the passing game.

True Bell mustered just 34 yards on 16 carries against the Jets, but no one has run against Rex Ryan’s defense this season. In addition, it was only Bell’s second NFL game, and it showed several times as he appeared to miss cut back lanes created by the Steelers’ offensive line.

The former Michigan State star will only get better with experience, and offensive coordinator Todd Haley has enough faith with Bell that he stuck with the running game in the second half.

The Steelers ran the ball 17 times after halftime and threw it just 12 times. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger wanted to run the ball near the end of the Steelers’ first win of the season so the offensive could get a “mindset” of running out a clock.

The Steelers moved the chains once during a final drive in which they ran the ball six consecutive times before punting.

Hey, it’s something to build on, no matter how baby the step.

So is the fact that Roethlisberger’s 55-yard touchdown pass to Emmanuel Sanders was set up by a play-action fake to Bell.