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Nix: 'We just jelled together'

Posted Oct 26, 2017

Fullback, tight ends delivering for Bell, running game.

Running back Le’Veon Bell has piled up a combined 313 rushing yards on a combined 67 carries over the past two Sundays, but he’s had help beyond what the offensive line traditionally provides.

The Steelers’ victories over Kansas City on Oct. 15 and Cincinnati last Sunday have included more of fullback Roosevelt Nix on the field and a healthy reliance upon two-tight ends sets.

The two developments are not unrelated.

“A lot of times, the two-tight ends (formation) brings ‘Rosie’ in the game, as well,” quarterback Ben Roethlisberger explained after the Bengals had been tamed, 29-14. “And I don’t think he gets nearly the credit that he deserves.

“It’s a thankless job that he’s doing very well.”

Bell called Nix “the best fullback in the world” after Nix had spent much of last Sunday running into Bengals linebackers Vontaze Burfict, Vincent Rey and Nick Vigil, Bengals defensive end Michael Johnson, and anyone else in a tiger-striped helmet that dared get in the running game’s way.

“We just jelled together as an offense,” Nix assessed. “We did well, we just clicked a little bit.

“We still have some work to do, tough.”

Bell averaged 3.8 yards while rushing for 134 yards on 35 attempts against the Bengals.

The average rose to 4.4-yards per carry when Nix was on the field, to 4.8 yards per attempt when two tight ends were in the game and to 5.3 yards per tote when Nix was deployed along with multiple tight ends.

Nix played a season-high 17 offensive snaps at Kansas City, then surpassed that by playing 22 against Cincinnati.

Tight end Vance McDonald played a season-high 32 snaps against the Chiefs and was on the way to eclipsing that when he sustained a knee injury against the Bengals.

And tight end Xavier Grimble played 28 offensive snaps against Cincinnati after having played a combined 27 in the Steelers’ first six games.

“When you have (multiple) tight ends on the field, sometimes a defense will put a safety or a nickel (cornerback) in there because of the threat of a pass,” Roethlisberger explained. “If you run the ball, you can count on your tight end to block a safety or a nickel (cornerback) better than a linebacker or a big guy.

“I think we’ve done some good play-action out of that, out of the two-backs, two-tight ends (formations). And having extra tight ends gives you fast pullers, too. Running that counter, misdirection stuff, tight ends are pulling quick and getting around the edge a little quicker than sometimes tackles or guards can.”

Involving McDonald more often when healthy _ he missed practice for a second consecutive day today due to the knee injury suffered against Cincinnati _ may have coincided with his getting adjusted to the offense in the wake of being acquired by the Steelers in a trade with San Francisco just before the conclusion of the preseason.

“I think that’s over,” Roethlisberger said. “Whether it’s no-huddle or just calling plays there’s no, that looking at me, kinda quizzical, ‘What is this? What do I have on this?’ I even hear him telling some other guys, ‘I have this, you have that.’

“I think we’re past that.”

McDonald has three catches for 63 yards with the Steelers.

All three have come in the past two games, including a season-long 28-yard reception against the Bengals.

McDonald has also proven to be a willing blocker after arriving with a reputation as more of a pass-catching tight end.

“One of the first days I said something to him about it, I’m like, ‘Rumor has it you’re not really a blocking guy,’” Roethlisberger said. “He goes, ‘Oh, I wish someone would try me.’ I think he’s really accepted that role. I think it kind of hurt him a little bit, ‘Wait a second, I want to be a well-rounded tight end.’ And if you watch him, he’s blocking as well as any tight end we have right now.”

Bell considers himself “probably the biggest Rosie fan there is.”

But Bell is an even bigger fan of plays that gain yards, no matter the call or the personnel group entrusted to gain them.

“We find different types of runs that work over the course of the game,” he said. “Whatever run is working, personnel, we want to stick with it.

“We don’t shy away from running the same runs continuously. We’ll run whatever’s working and that’s what I like.”