Bell says he is still a work in progress

PITTSBURGH -- A vote of confidence from coach Mike Tomlin didn’t change Le'Veon Bell's view on how he played last Sunday against the New York Jets.

The rookie running back gave himself a below-average grade -- D-plus -- after rushing for 34 yards on 16 carries against the No. 2 run defense in the NFL.

“I’m just hard on critiquing myself,” Bell said. “I just know what I’m able to do and I don’t feel like I did everything I was able to do.”

The Pittsburgh Steelers haven’t traditionally had a lot of success running the ball against the Baltimore Ravens, who visit Heinz Field on Sunday.

But the last time the Steelers rushed for 100 or more yards came against the Ravens last November. And Baltimore, while tied for seventh in the NFL in rushing defense (98.2 yards per game), got gashed last Sunday by rookie running back Eddie Lacy (120 rushing yards) in a 19-17 loss to the Packers.

The biggest reason for optimism that the Steelers will be able to run the ball with some success Sunday is Bell himself.

He is admittedly still adjusting to the NFL game after missing six weeks with a midfoot sprain, and Bell will make just his third start Sunday.

“NFL and college holes are way different, different sizes,” said Bell, who has rushed for 91 yards and a pair of touchdowns in two games. “The NFL (openings) are smaller so you’ve got to get in there when you can. The more and more reps I get the better I’m going to get. The game’s going to start slowing down for me.”

What is refreshing about Bell’s candid assessment of his play -- and his approach -- is he is not just assuming that experience is all he needs to become a successful running back in the NFL.

“There’s a lot of things I can work on and get better at,” Bell said. “If I feel like I missed a hole or didn’t finish a block I’ll always do my best to work on it and fix it in practice. I’m the toughest judge on myself.”

Perhaps that attribute is why Tomlin and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger haven’t been hesitant to praise the Steelers’ 2013 second-round draft pick.

And of the running game that is now led by Bell, Roethlisberger said, “It’s almost there. I know the numbers aren’t where we want them to be but it’s being effective enough that it’s opening up play-action passes for us.”