Why Le’Veon Bell’s Record Game Isn’t Biggest Story of Steelers 27-20 Win over Bills

Le’Veon Bell’s record game led the Pittsburgh Steelers to a 27-20 win over the Buffalo Bills on a snowy afternoon at Orchard Park. Much of the game’s coverage will center around Le’Veon Bell’s record setting performance.

Le’Veon Bell deserves all the praise his 298 yards from scrimmage will earn him. But his monster individual game shouldn’t overshadow a larger, team accomplishment that Pittsburgh displayed in beating Buffalo: The Steelers relied on teamwork to excel in the face of adversity.

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Le’Veon Bell in route to is 236 rushing performance vs. the Buffalo Bills. Photo Credit: Christopher Horner, Tribune Review

Bills Offer True Challenge, Steelers Respond as Team

The true leaders on any team rise to their position because they both excel at a level above everyone else in a way that allows others to elevate their performances.

For a long time now, Ben Roethlisberger has served as the leader of the Steelers offense. And, for the past two or three seasons, Cameron Heyward has stood as the leader of the Steelers defense. When both men are playing at the top of their games, everyone else tends to follow.

  • But the true test of teamwork comes when the leader is absent or unable to perform up to standard.

Going into the game, it was clear that LeSean McCoy and the Buffalo Bills were going to test the Steelers. The Bills have the NFL’s toughest rushing attack, and worst outings of the season for the Steelers rushing defense came with Cameron Heyward either out or playing injured.

  • Knowing the Steelers would be without Cam Heyward AND Javon Hargrave, doubtlessly left Rex Ryan licking his chops as he viewed game films of Pittsburgh’s losses at Miami, New England and Dallas.

Mike Tomlin and Keith Butler knew exactly what Rex Ryan would try to do and had a week to plan. Todd Haley wasn’t so lucky. Haley certainly didn’t plan for his franchise quarterback to have one of his worst outings in recent memory. But he did.

The die was cast: The Buffalo Bills would be putting both the Steelers offense and defense to the test.

As Ben Stumbles, Bell Rumbles

Sometimes good players have bad days. Count the Bills game as a bad day at the office for Ben Roethlisberger. It wasn’t that Ben Roethlisberger was simply out of sync the entire day. At times, Ben made adjustments to convert 3rd downs. At others, he exploited weakness in the Bills defense to find Antonio Brown and set up scores.

  • But at other moments, particularly in the Red Zone, Ben Roethlisberger was way, way off.

The interceptions he threw were of the Mark Malone or Kordell Stewart variety. Interceptions are bad. Throwing interceptions in the Red Zone is worse.

  • This season alone, we’ve watched Roethlisberger’s struggles signal stumbles by the rest of his offense.

That was certainly the case in Philadelphia and Miami and at home vs. the Ravens at home. Fortunately, it was not the case on the road against the Buffalo Bills. Given the weather, Rob and Rex Ryan had to have expected a steady diet of Le’Veon Bell. Todd Haley didn’t disappoint.

  • The Bills knew Le’Veon Bell was run at them, and they still couldn’t stop him.

Le’Veon Bell has taken over games before, his performance against the Titans in 2014 springs to mind. However, he has perhaps never dominated as he did against the Bills. Bell didn’t do it alone. Once again, the Steelers offensive line imposed its will.

  • But the line wasn’t the only contributor to Le’Veon Bell’s record game.

David Johnson had an unheralded day blocking, and Roosevelt Nix provided the best fullback play the Steelers have seen since the days of Dan Kreider. To be sure, Cobi Hamilton and Eli Rogers each made a critical catch.

But this game belonged to Le’Veon Bell and the road graders who paved his way.

Steelers Defense Puts on Shut Down Performance When It Counts

LeSean McCoy might not be get the ink Ezekiel Elliott gets, but if you reach your 11th game in the National Football League with a 5.5 yard rushing average, you’re an elite back. Both elite and less than elite backs have tormented the Steelers defense too often this season.

  • The Steelers defense shut down LeSean McCoy in a way that would make the Steel Curtain or Blitzburgh defenses proud.

Time and time again, LeSean McCoy’s number got called only to see the Steelers defense stone him at or behind the line of scrimmage. In fact, the Steelers defense made 7 tackles for a loss. There was simply no place for McCoy to go; he finished with a partly 27 yards rushing.

Stopping LeSean McCoy wouldn’t have mattered if Tyrod Taylor had been allowed to gouge the Steelers defense with his legs, or put the Bill’s wide receivers in position to burn the Steelers secondary.

  • Keith Butler’s defense didn’t allow either event to occur.

Taylor had 3 scrambles for 2 yards, while Ryan Shazier, Bud Dupree, Sean Davis and Stephon Tuitt sacked him 5 times. The Steelers defense wasn’t perfect. An Artie Burns holding call negated a William Gay Pick Six, and a collision in the secondary set up a the Bill’s last non-garbage time touchdown.

  • But the defense showed it could step up when it had to.

Artie Burns immediately answered the Bills final interception with one of his own, and which set up a Steelers field goal. This Steelers defense still has its flaws, but with each passing week a new player steps up, elevating the performance of the entire until.

Steelers Have Grown Much in a Month

Just one month ago the Pittsburgh Steelers had lost their 4th game in a row, and the key take away was that this team simply wasn’t that good. Since then the Steelers have won two road games in 5 days, and stopped a streaking NFC playoff contender at home.

  • This week the Steelers defense directly attacked and neutralized the strength of Buffalo Bills offense.
  • Equally important, the Steelers offense relied on physical football to overcome a poor performance by Ben Roethlisberger.

The Bengals and Ravens will offer tougher tests in the next two weeks, but the level of difficulty has risen for the Steelers in each of the last four weeks. The cream rises  in December football and, Mike Tomlin has his team stepping it up a notch each new week.

And that’s exactly what must continue happening.

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