Objective: Slow down Steelers’ Bell
‘Unique’ RB patient, shifty; WR Smith practices again
The Ravens have had to craft defensive strategies to limit opposing running backs such as the Buffalo Bills’ LeSean McCoy, the Cleveland Browns’ Isaiah Crowell and the New York Jets’ Matt Forte. But the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Le’Veon Bell — who will visit M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday — presents a different challenge for the defense.
“He’s a unique, unique running back,” defensive coordinator Dean Pees said after Thursday’s practice. “One of the most patient guys I’ve ever seen. Just really exceptional. I think he’s one of the best backs we’ve ever gone up against. He’s a very patient runner. If you jump off the blocks too quick, he’s going to make you pay. And the thing of it is, there’s guys that are kind of patient runners and guys that are downhill runners. The difference with him is he’s patient, and then when he bursts, he bursts. He can hit the hole quick. He’s got great vision. The other thing is, he’s a problem out of the backfield in the passing game. He’s just a super-talented guy, and I think he’s different from most of the backs.”
Despite having sat out the first three games of the season for violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy, Bell already ranks fifth in the league in yards from scrimmage with 589. He has yet to reach the end zone this season, but his pass-catching ability (he ranks fifth among tailbacks in receptions with 30) makes him a threat on every down.
The Ravens have fared well in the past against Bell, who has reached 100 rushing yards just once and scored three total touchdowns in five career meetings. While declining to elaborate on the defense’s success against Bell, outside linebacker Albert McClellan said the key is to avoid being lulled by Bell’s shifty moves.
“He’ll make you commit to something you thought you saw, but he’s quick and he’s got such a good jump-cut that he’ll maneuver through a hole that really wasn’t there from the get-go that he created off of just one movement,” McClellan said. “You really can’t take too many chances with him because he’s a make-you-miss type of guy. So we really need everybody rallying to the ball.” Smith returns: Steve Smith Sr. practiced on a limited basis Thursday, offering the first sign that the veteran wide receiver could play Sunday.
Smith has not been on the field since he injured his ankle in the first quarter of a16-10 loss to the Washington Redskins on Oct. 9. He was not on the field at the team’s training Steve Smith Sr., catching a pass against the Raiders, returned to practice on a limited basis Thursday, signaling that he could be available to play against the Steelers on Sunday. facility in Owings Mills during the portion of practice open to the media, but was listed as a limited participant on the team’s injury report.
Smith’s return would be a significant boost for a passing attack that is ranked 18th in the NFL in average yards (246.1) and for quarterback Joe Flacco, who has not thrown a touchdown pass in his past 11 quarters. Smith still ranks third on the team in catches (27) and yards (310).
Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg did not shed much light Thursday on how Smith’s absence has affected the offense, saying only: “Steve is one of the great players in the game. When he is out, the next player steps up. When he can play again, we will utilize him.” Rookie Young off to fast start: Even for someone who ran the 40-yard dash in less than 4.5 seconds, Tavon Young thinks his rookie campaign has gone fast.
The 5-foot-9, 177-pound cornerback has started the past two games and might start again Sunday if Shareece Wright cannot go. The fourth-round pick from Temple conceded that he never imagined making his first start only six games into his first year.
“I thought I was going to be a nickel [cornerback], but things happen,” Young said. “Guys got hurt, and I had to step up and play outside.”
Young has already made a favorable impression on defense. His two interceptions trail only inside linebacker C.J. Mosley’s team-leading three, and he has made 17 tackles (15 solo) and recovered one fumble.
On Sunday, Young could be asked to cover Steelers wide receivers Antonio Brown, Sammie Coates or Darrius Heyward-Bey (Maryland, McDonogh). Young, 22, said he is not intimidated by the possible assignments.
“I’m just ready to go out there and compete and have fun with it,” he said. “I’m just a young guy out there learning and trying to play ball.” End zone: Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (torn meniscus in left knee) practiced on a limited basis for the second straight day. Starting right guard David DeCastro, who did not practice on Wednesday for non-injury reasons, was removed from the injury report. … Brown is also the Steelers’ primary punt returner. Although he has yet to score on a return this season, Brown has returned four punts and one kick for touchdowns in his career. “What concerns me is that he’s really good,” Ravens special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg said. “It’s remarkable how much offense he plays and then he goes out there as a punt returner and has great energy. He’s an impressive athlete. All the things you see him do on offense with the ball in his hands, he can do as a punt returner. It continues to be our job whenever we play this team to try to keep him under control because he’s a game-changer.” … Pees said one attribute of the 6-5, 240-pound Roethlisberger that gets overlooked is his deft touch on passes over defenders’ outstretched hands. “I watched a play this morning showing on film a touch on an over route where a guy had good coverage, and he didn’t try to drill it in there,” Pees said. “He laid it out exactly. That’s a skill.”