PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers haven't led the NFL in rushing since 2001 and were a seriously low 27th last season, but thanks to the LeBackfield combo of Le'Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount and a dominant performance Sunday at Carolina, the franchise is back on top of the league.
The Steelers (2-1) average 163.3 yards per game to top the New York Jets by just 17 yards (157.6). Bell is third overall with 105 yards rushing per game (315 total yards). He trails DeMarco Murray from the Dallas Cowboys (128.3, 385) and Arian Foster from the Houston Texans (120.5, 241).
"That's what our goal was, to improve our rushing numbers,'' Bell said Thursday. "That's what we wanted to do when we brought LeGarrette and Dri (Archer) in here. LeGarrette is another No. 1 running back, and Dri is a very explosive. (And) we're very confident that we can run the ball."
"So, it feels good, and we're definitely taking strides in the right direction, but we know we're not done yet. We still feel that we can get better, especially after watching the game tape. So, we still need to continue to get better and grow as a team.''
The Steelers have led the NFL in yards rushing two other times since 1990 -- 1995 and 1997 -- but the franchise has had just three individual rushing champs. Byron "Whizzer'' White led the league for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1938, while "Bullet'' Bill Dudley accomplished the feat for the Steelers in 1942 and 1948. Both played in the era of 11-game seasons and are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
"For me, it would be a great honor to lead the league, but I'm not really worried about rushing titles and other individual accolades,'' Bell added. "I'm only in my second year now, so I'm just trying to help this team win games.''
Bell believed the Steelers utilized a good game plan and stuck to it to be successful against the Panthers, as they ran for 264 yards. It didn't hurt that, while the club's offensive line played its best game in awhile, the game plan utilized two tight ends -- Heath Miller and Matt Spaeth -- as well as fullback Will Johnson to aid in blocking for the running game.
"Le'Veon is a very patient runner who sets his gaps up and hits them,'' Johnson said. "So, what happened Sunday night doesn't surprise me at all. And I think that style makes you a better blocker. He can set your guy up and go outside, and you can finish him off. So, he just makes your job easier.''
Even though Bell finished strong last season, after missing the opening three games with a foot injury from training camp, some are surprised at how successful he's been this season. Don't count center Maurkice Pouncey among that group's members.
"Nah, I saw it the day that we drafted him,'' Pouncey said. "(But) it's early, so there's no need to be talking about him being the greatest running back ever or leading the league or anything like that. But he continues to keep putting up games like he has back-to-back-to-back, it'll all work itself out.''
One change for Bell this season is a weight difference. He trimmed about 20 pounds off his powerful body, and that has made a noticeable difference.
"I definitely feel a lot quicker and more explosive,'' Bell said. "I feel like I can get to the hole, and I'm a lot faster than last year and in prior years when I was running the ball. So, I definitely feel the difference.''
So, that 81-yard burst against the Panthers would not have happened before?
"Yeah, I don't think that probably would have happened,'' Bell said. "That probably wouldn't have happened in past years.''
Fortunately for the Steelers, Bell and the running game are finely tuned so far this season.
Notes: The Steelers already have ruled out ILB Ryan Shazier (right knee) and CB Ike Taylor (right forearm) for this week, but every other previously injured player -- WR Darrius Heyward-Bey (illness), RB Dri Archer (left ankle) and OG Ramon Foster (right ankle) were full participants Thursday in practice.