Pittsburgh Steelers: C.J. Spiller

Rapid Reaction: Pittsburgh Steelers

November, 10, 2013
PITTSBURGH -- A few observations from the Pittsburgh Steelers' 23-10 victory against the Buffalo Bills at Heinz Field:

What it means: The Steelers kept their season from spiraling out of control by beating up on the Bills in a stadium that had more than a few empty seats. As cathartic as the victory proved to be a week after the Steelers were humiliated in New England, there isn’t anything to suggest it is anything more than a Band-Aid. The Bills (3-7) were awful, and the Steelers (3-6) need to string at least three victories together before there can be any talk of them as plausible playoff contenders, as mediocre as the AFC North and the conference is.

Stock watch: Yes, the Steelers weren’t exactly facing Jim Kelly and the K-Gun offense, but the defense needed to play well in the worst way, and it did for the most part during a cold, drab day at Heinz Field. The Steelers used a familiar formula -- stopping the run and not letting a young quarterback beat them -- a week after arguably the worst defensive performance in franchise history. C.J. Spiller never got out of neutral, and the Bills were just 3-of-14 on third-down conversions. The Steelers improved to 17-2 against rookie quarterbacks since 2004, the year Dick LeBeau returned for a second stint as the team’s defensive coordinator.

Walking wounded: It wouldn’t be a Steelers game without an injury sustained by at least one of the offensive linemen. Left guard Ramon Foster left the game with an ankle injury early in the third quarter and did not return to the game. Starting outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley (calf) and reserve safety Shamarko Thomas (ankle) also left the game with injuries.

Hardly a clinic: Somewhere Drew Butler is laughing. Zoltan Mesko, too. The punters ushered out of Pittsburgh by coach Mike Tomlin probably couldn’t have done worse than Mat McBriar in his first two games with the Steelers. McBriar, signed after Pittsburgh waived Mesko two weeks ago, had punts of 27 and 36 yards in the first quarter and was a major reason the Steelers were unable to flip the field.

No regrets: The Steelers were reminded that it could be worse when it comes to their punting situation. Brian Moorman couldn’t beat out Butler in training camp -- Butler was later dumped for Mesko -- and he didn’t do much of anything for Buffalo against the Steelers. Moorman nearly kicked a ball into the stands when the Bills were hoping they could down a punt deep inside Steelers territory. He later kicked a low line drive that Antonio Brown returned 24 yards and led a 4-yard touchdown run by Le'Veon Bell.

Next up: The Steelers and their defense face what should be a considerably sterner test next Sunday when the Detroit Lions visit Heinz Feld for a 1 p.m. ET game. Matthew Stafford is the kind of passer who can carve up the Steelers’ secondary if he gets time in the pocket. Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson, meanwhile, is a bigger matchup problem than polka dots and stripes.

Bills-Steelers: By the numbers

November, 10, 2013
A quick-hit look at the Bills-Steelers game at Heinz Field:

0: Games the Steelers have won this season when trailing after three quarters

0: Offensive touchdowns given up by the Bills in a 23-13 loss to the 9-0 Chiefs last Sunday

4: Former Steelers on the Bills’ 54-man roster (Corbin Bryant, Doug Legursky, Frank Summers and Kraig Urbik)

4: Runs of 40 or more yards by the Bills

5: 400-yard passing games by Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger, tied for fifth most in NFL since 2004

5.6: Bills RB C.J. Spiller’s average yards per carry since 2012, tied with Adrian Peterson for the highest in the NFL

7: Bills’ NFL rank in rushing offense

9: Receptions needed by Steelers WR Antonio Brown to set a new career high for catches in a season

11: Sacks by Bills DE Mario Williams, which is tied for second in the NFL

17.4: Points per game the Steelers have allowed at home since 2012, the lowest average among AFC teams

19: Steelers’ NFL rank in third-down conversions

24: Bills’ NFL rank in scoring defense

26.2: Point per game given up by the Bills

29: Sacks by the Bills, tied for third most in the NFL

37.4: Steelers’ conversion rate on third down

52: Receiving yards Heath Miller needs to join Elbie Nickel as the only tight ends in Steelers history with 5,000 receiving yards

62: Times Roethlisberger in on pace to get sacked this season

93: Receiving yards WR Emmanuel Sanders has averaged in the Steelers’ last three games

145.8: Bills’ rushing yards per game

197: Rushing yards given up the Steelers in each of their last two games

McLendon on a mission to stop the run

November, 7, 2013
PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers have given up almost 200 rushing yards in each of their past two games. They are No. 31 in the NFL in rushing defense, and Steve McLendon takes the Steelers' struggles in a part of the game they have traditionally owned personally.

“If you don't take it personal,” McLendon said, “what are you doing here?”

The disgust McLendon expressed over the way teams have run on the Steelers explains why he doesn't care who plays quarterback for Buffalo on Sunday though all signs point to rookie EJ Manuel returning to the starting lineup.

“I'm not really thinking about throwing,” McLendon said. “We gave up 55 points (at New England). People was running the ball on us. That's what we've got to worry about, stopping the run.”

That will be one of the keys to the Steelers beating the Bills.

Buffalo is averaging 145.8 rushing yards per game, second in the AFC, behind the explosive C.J. Spiller and the underrated Fred Jackson.

Inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons described Spiller as a “home-run hitter” and said Jackson will also challenge the Steelers' run defense.

“Jackson has those capabilities too but he's more of an in-between-the-tackles guy,” Timmons, the Steelers' leading tackler, said. “He's a balanced back and has good contact balance, too.”

“One's just a little faster than the other,” McLendon said. “They both can execute the same plays. We have to go out and just execute our game plan.”

The Steelers haven't done that nearly enough when it comes to stopping the run, and Dick LeBeau's defense is predicated on forcing teams into second- and third-and-long.

No player was more responsible for the Steelers' dominance in run defense over the last decade than Casey Hampton.

The mammoth nose tackle proved to be immovable from the middle of the line, and Hampton made five Pro Bowls while clogging running lanes and freeing up linebackers behind him to swallow up opposing running backs.

The Steelers opted to go with McLendon at nose tackle instead of re-signing Hampton, and he is well aware of the expectations that come with replacing the player affectionately known as “Big Snack.”

“You look at Casey, you look at Chris Hoke. Both of those guys did an excellent job of stopping the run, especially Casey,” McLendon said. “They didn't let anybody score 55 points on them. I've got to go out here and play better, play harder, play faster, play smarter.”

McLendon doesn't just take the Steelers' struggles in stopping the run personally. Like his teammates, he shakes his head at criticism of LeBeau.

“The way we can shut that up is to go out here and execute the game plan,” McLendon said. “Show that everything we do here does work.”