Steelers Smash Mouth Football Dominates Bills Game Ball Winner Voting

Steelers Smash Mouth “3 Yards and a Cloud of Dust” football reigns supreme in the game ball winner voting following Pittsburgh’s 27-20 win over the Buffalo Bills.

Le'Veon Bell, Roosevelt Nix, Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers vs. Bills

Le’Veon Bell rushes as Roosevelt Nix paves the way in Steelers 27-20 win over Bills. Photo Credit: Steelers.com

2016 Steelers vs. Bills, Steelers bills game ball winners, le'veon bell, roosevelt nix, steelers offensive line, bud dupreeAs expected, Le’Veon Bell was the top individual vote getter, pulling in a total of 19 votes between his ballot slot and the write in for #26 L.Bell. However, the second highest vote getter was for the Steelers offensive line who had 15 votes, and Roosevelt Nix came in with 14 votes of his own, quite an impressive showing in this age where the fullback is supposed to be a dying position.

  • Those three were the only vote getters on the offensive side of the ball.

Not surprisingly, Ben Roethlisberger didn’t get any votes on a day where he clearly struggled, but Antonio Brown also garnered zero votes. While Brown didn’t have a strong game statistically, he did make one field flipping catch that set up a touchdown, and he made a few shorter key catches that set up other scores.

Bud Dupree led the defensive voting with 9 votes, followed by Ryan Shazier who earned the support of 8 of our voters. Sean Davis was the next highest vote getter on defense netting 5 votes, and he was followed by Stephon Tuitt and a write in for the entire defensive line, who both got 4 votes a piece.

  • Artie Burns notched his third interception of the season, and that was good enough to earn him 3 game ball votes.

Another minor surprise comes on special teams, as Chris Boswell, who had a perfect day kicking in some horrendous conditions, yet only earned the support of one of our voters.

As always, Steel Curtain Rising thanks all of you who took time out to vote. Now it is on to the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium.

 

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Rushing with Flying Colors – Pittsburgh Steelers Report Card for Win over Bills

Taken from the grade book of a teacher who is pleased to see his freshman and sophomore setup up, even if his star senior struggled, here is the Pittsburgh Steelers Report Card for the win over the Buffalo Bills.

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Bud Dupree sacks Tyrod Taylor in the 4th quarter of the Steelers 27-20 win. Photo Credit: Chaz Palla, Tribune-Review

Quarterback
After playing one solid and another spectacular game away from Heinz Field, road rust hit Ben Roethlisberger, and hit him bad. Against the Bills, Ben Roethlisberger went 17 of 31 for 220 yards and 3 interceptions. Two of those interceptions came in the Red Zone, which is particularly troubling. Ben Roethlisberger was efficient at other times, but his mistakes in the Red Zone made this game far closer than it needed to be. Grade: C-steelers, report card, steelers grades, steelers vs. giants, coaching, special teams, unsung heroes, steelers bills

Running Back
236 yards on the ground. 62 yards through the air. 3 touchdowns, no fumbles and a 6.2 yards per carry average on a day when his longest run was 33 yards. Le’Veon Bell set the Steelers single game rushing record, came just a hair below breaking 300 yards from scrimmage and threatened that record as well. Le’Veon Bell took over the game vs. the Bills in a way that only a true great back can. Fitzgerald Toussaint had one carry for 6 yards. Grade: A+

Tight Ends
Ladarius Green 2 passes for 25 yards including an 18 yarder which helped set up Bell’s first touchdown. Green was targeted 6 times, although given Ben Roethlisberger’s erratic passing, those four non-catches might not have been his fault. David Johnson got open and caught a 15 yard pass on 4th and one and provided excellent blocking for Le’Veon Bell on a number of occasions. Jesse James caught one pass on 3 targets for 5 yards. This game was won in the trenches, and the tight ends did their part. Grade: B+

Wide Receivers
It was a quiet day, all things considered, for Antonio Brown. Brown caught 5 passes for 78 yards and no touchdowns, although long receptions of 9, 29 and 40 yards setup to scores. Cobi Hamilton had a 15 yard catch that helped set up another Le’Veon Bell touchdown, and Eli Rogers 3 catches for 20 yards. It is clear that this point that the Steelers really need someone to complement Antonio Brown, and while Rogers and Hamilton have been serviceable, they haven’t stepped up. Grade: B

Offensive Line
This is the type of offensive line play that Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin had in mind when they authored contract extensions of Maurkice Pouncey, Marcus Gilbert and David DeCastro. B.J. Finney again played in relief of Ramon Foster, and clearly the offensive line didn’t miss a beat. Chris Hubbard also saw extensive time as a third tight end. A running back doesn’t average 6.2 yards without good blocking. What’s more, Ben Roethlisberger didn’t get sacked and was only hit once. Grade: A+

Defensive Line
No Cameron Heyward, no Javon Hargrave? No problem. The Steelers defensive line played in what was clearly its best game of the season. Stephon Tuitt had a half sack, a pass defensed, a quarterback hit and one and a half tackles behind the line of scrimmage. And that probably wasn’t his best play, which came when he chased down Shady McCoy 30 yards down the field while the Steelers held a lead. L.T. Walton saw his first significant action and registered a tackle for a loss. Ricardo Mathews had one tackle. Daniel McCullers name didn’t show up on the stat sheet, but if he hadn’t been doing his job. LeSean McCoy wouldn’t have been doing his Walter Abercrombie imitation so well. Grade: A

Linebackers
Welcome Back Bud Dupree. The Steelers sophomore linebacker had two sacks, but his best play came when Tyrod Taylor evaded him, broke a few other tackles, only to have Bud Dupree come from across the field and stop him for a one yard game.

  • It should tell you something that Bud Dupree wasn’t the best linebacker on the field.

Ryan Shazier earned that honor, who led the team in tackles, sacked the quarterback once, defensed a pass on third down, and had a tackle for a loss. Whenever McCoy or Taylor threatened to run, Shazier was there. Lawrence Timmons and James Harrison had quiet days, although Harrison’s efforts in sealing the edge on the run game should not be overlooked. Grade: A

Secondary
With each game Sean Davis continues to improve. You know a safety is doing his job well when in on two tackles in the backfield. Davis also had a sack and a half. And it was Davis play in coverage that helped set up Artie Burns interception, which prevented Ben’s costly pick from morphing into a momentum changer. Ross Cockrell also had a solid day, as did William Gay who saw a pick six get called back on a penalty. Grade: A

Special Teams
Chris Boswell knocked in three field goals and three extra points – all on a cold, snowy windy afternoon alongside Lake Eire, all after coming off an injury. Fitzgerald Toussanit had two respectable kick returns, and Antonio Brown made noise as a punt returner. The Bills got nothing in their kicking game. It was a strong game for the special teams, although penalties drop their grade a bit. Grade: B

Coaching
Was Todd Haley hearing echoes of the Dolphins game on Sunday afternoon? Mike Tomlin wouldn’t tell, but the fact is that unlike his trip to Miami, Haley realized he had a back looking to take over the game while his franchise quarterback struggled, and he put the game in the hands of the best player on the field.

  • Both Haley and Mike Munchak must earn credit for the outstanding performance of the offensive line which dominated all afternoon long.

The Steelers defense perhaps gave up a little more than you’d like to see in the 4th quarter, but Keith Butler’s crew negated two of Ben Roethlisberger’s 3 turnovers. More importantly, they directly attacked the Buffalo Bills strength, succeeded in neutralizing their running game.

Mike Tomlin would unquestionably be the first person to insist that he has accomplished nothing yet here in 2016, and far be it for Steel Curtain Rising to take issue with him. But the fact is, with 2 games of December football in the bank, the Steelers are positioning themselves to participate in January football. That’s not something that seemed likely just four weeks ago. Credit Tomlin for that. Grade: A

Unsung Hero Award
Next summer the Steelers Media Guide will read, “Most Rushing Yards, Game” 1. Le’Veon Bell, 236 (12/11/2016 vs. Buffalo). Willie Parker and John Fuqua’s names will follow.

  • But there’s another name that should be mentioned there, but won’t. So we’ll mention it here.

No running back dominates like Le’Veon Bell did without quality blocking. Bell got that from his offensive line and the tight ends. But he also had a herald in the form of Roosevelt Nix, who cleared the way for Bell time and time again. Nix also had a specular special teams tackle that prevented a return, and for those contributions Roosevelt Nix wins the Unsung Hero Award for the Steelers win over the Bills.

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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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Speak Out Steelers Nation: Vote Steelers Game Ball Winners for Bills Game

Its that time again Steelers Nation. For the fourth straight week invite this corner of Steelers Nation to vote Steelers game ball winners for the Steelers 27-10 win over the Buffalo Bills.

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Le’Veony Bell and Maurkicey Pouncey during the Steelers 27-10 win over the Bills

As the question suggests, there is little doubt that Le’Veon Bell earned a game ball for his historic performance against the Buffalo Bills, that saw him run for a franchise record 236 yards and add 62 yards through the air. For those of you at home, Le’Veon Bell fell just 2 yards shy of 300 yards from scrimmage.

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Antonio Brown had a modest day by his standards, but still led the Steelers in catches, with 5 catches for 78 yards. Ben Roethlisberger had a rough day completing below 55% of his passes and throwing 3 picks, each one seemingly uglier than the last. It might seems strange to include Roethlisberger’s name on the ballot, but Ben did make some nice plays at key moments.

  • If you don’t think he deserves a game ball however, by all means vote with your silence.

Rounding out the offensive ballot positions are Roosevelt Nix and the entire Steelers offensive line.

On the defense, Ryan Shazier earns a ballot slot, as Number 50 had a monster game all around and played a key role in containing LeSean McCoy. So did Sean Davis, who likewise has a ballot slot. Bud Dupree showed that he can make an impact, dropping Tyrod Taylor twice.

Stephon Tuitt gets a ballot slot thanks to his overall strong performanceand the half sack he shared with Sean Davis. Finally, Artie Burns gets a nod, thanks in large part to his interception which obliterated any momentum the Bills might have gained from intercepting Ben Roethlisberger in the Red Zone.

  • Chris Boswell also earns a ballot slot for going 2-2 on field goals, and 3-3 on PAT’s in less than optimal conditions.

Remember, as always, you are not limited to these ballot choices. Think that David Johnson, William Gay and/or Ross Cockrell deserve a game ball for their play vs. the Bills? Write their names in and, better yet, leave a comment stating your case.

Thanks in advance for voting and click here for our full analysis of the Steelers win over the Bills.

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LeSean McCoy and Rex Ryan’s Buffalo Bills Promise to Provide Litmus Test for Steelers Defense

Going into their match up with Rex Ryan’s Buffalo Bills, Steelers Nation is wondering if the Pittsburgh Steelers defense is either coming into its own, or it’s just on a hot-streak.

So, which is it? With three rookies now starting and playing at a high-for-rookies level, Keith Butler‘s crew has allowed just 30 points in the last three games (23 if you don’t count garbage time last week against the Giants).

And, what about all of those fourth down stops–including two fourth and goals stands against the Colts on Thanksgiving night and three fourth down stymies last week against Eli Manning and Co.?

  • I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling pretty darn good about the Steelers 2016 defense these days (not to mention, confident).
sean davis, ryan shazier, james harrison, william gay, mike mitchel, steelers 2016 defense

Steelers defense vs. the New York Giants. Photo Credit: Steelers.com

But, it is real or it just a byproduct of facing three compromised offenses over the past three weeks? (Even the Giants offense isn’t exactly a juggernaut these days, despite the presence of a franchise quarterback and an all-world receiver.)

If the 2016 Pittsburgh Steelers defense has arrived, I think we’ll find out this week against Buffalo. Why do I say that? Pittsburgh is going  back to the place where, as head coach Mike Tomlin put it following the all-important next-to-last preseason game of 2015 in-which Bills coach Rex Ryan kept the peddle to the mettle most of the afternoon, many of his youngsters were walking dead and yielded  542 total yards in a 43-19 loss at Ralph Wilson Stadium.

  • So, why is that preseason game relevant now?

After all, a lot of the zombies in question from that defense, such as cornerback Antwon Blake, aren’t with the Steelers any longer. Also, one of Mike Tomlin’s current starting corners–Ross Cockrell–was on Buffalo’s roster at that point, just days away from being cut and picked up by Pittsburgh.

It has a lot to to do with now. For starters, the Bills might be dead-last in passing, behind quarterback Tyrod Taylor (just 181.5 yards per game), but they’re number one in rushing, averaging a shade under 162 yards a week.

  • Running back LeSean (Shady) McCoy, a Pitt Panther football product, leads the way with 949 rushing yards, but Taylor (469 yards) is certainly a threat when using his legs as a weapon.

And, let’s not forget about Charles Clay, a tight end who isn’t exactly on the same level of a Rob Gronkowski (or even Travis Kelce), but who has given the Steelers trouble in the past, when he was a member of the Dolphins.

Speaking of the Dolphins, this Sunday’s game is kind of similar to Pittsburgh’s October 16 visit to Miami, which turned out to be a 30-15 loss. In that game, not only was defensive end Cameron Heyward out with a pulled hamstring, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger played the majority of the day with a torn meniscus.

  • It was a horrible day for  the Steelers defense, which yielded 222 rushing yards–including 204 by running back Jay Ajayi.
  • Many players–including youngster and first round pick Artie Burns–screwed up assignments in the running game.

But, after winning three games in a row, Pittsburgh’s defense is in a different place than it was, some seven weeks ago. For one thing, Artie Burns has earned the trust of the coaching staff enough to be a starting corner. The result: nine passes defensed and two interceptions, not to mention better attention to detail in the run department.

While third round pick defensive lineman Javon Hargrave is probably out this week with a concussion, the fact is, this Steelers defense appears to be in a different place than it was, even a few weeks ago, when the Cowboys registered 422 yards in a 35-30 loss at Heinz Field on November 13.

Will the end-result be similar to the past three weeks or to the Dallas game three weeks ago, or even the Buffalo preseason match-up of 2015? After all, the Eagles have had Pittsburgh’s number in the preseason in recent years (remember when Troy Polamalu had an emotional outburst during a game in the summer of 2014?) and kept that ball rolling in a 34-3 regular season beat-down in Week 3 of this current regular season.

The Bills seem to be built in a similar fashion to the Eagles, Dolphins and Cowboys, and  despite Buffalo’s  rather modest 6-6 record, Rex Ryan’s Bills certainly promise to put the Steelers defense to the test this Sunday.

  • Will Keith Butler’s crew ace this exam?

Steelers Nation will have its answer soon. If it does, the Steelers might be on their way to an epic playoff run.

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Steelers Report Card vs. Bills @ Heinz Field

Taken from the grade book of a teach who thinks he just saw his student take a very important first step – winning back some self respect, here is the Pittsburgh Steelers Report Card for the victory over Buffalo.

steelers-report-card-bills-heinz-field-2013

Quarterback
On a day when rumors flew about his plans to ask for a trade, Ben Roethlisberger had a so-so day. Given the play selection in the Red Zone, its hard to hang the Steelers 3 field goals on him. And the Steelers did go 8 for 17 on third downs. But Roethlisberger was careless with the ball at times, and Ben missed a good number of open receivers. Overall, a solid performance, but not one without its flaws. Grade:  B-

Running Backs
Numbers don’t lie but statistics mislead. Learning that Le’Veon Bell only averaged 2.5 yards a carry was a minor shock, because he ran well – when not hit behind the line of scrimmage. Bell’s 4 yard rush was a thing of beauty, and one of the season’s rare examples of the Steelers “Imposing their Will.” Jonathan Dwyer’s back to back 3rd and one conversions cut from the same cloth. Felix Jones did a respectable job with his four carries. Dwyer was effective in the passing game, and Bell showed for the second week in a row that he can make something out of a throw away play. Grade:  B+

Tight Ends
Heath Miller’s return bought a much needed boost to the entire offense, and the defense clearly has to account for him. But with each week his role continues to diminish. Perhaps he came back too soon from injury. Either way he was not a factor in this game. Michael Palmer caught one pass for eight yards, his first as a Steeler. Grade:  C

Wide Receivers
Word was early in the week that Mike Tomlin had benched Antonio Brown late in the week vs. the Patriots. If Tomin was trying to light a fire under Brown, he succeeded, as Brown had 6 catches for 104 yards with a Wallacesque 17 yard average. For the second straight week Jerricho Cotchery struck gold in the end zone. Emmanuel Sanders was less effective in the passing game, but took what looked to be a broken reverse 25 yards. Markus Wheaton didn’t have a catch, but showed a lot of heart and hustle in making the tackle on the interception. Grade:  A-

Offensive Line
The good news is that when the lineup when Beachum, Foster, Velasco, DeCastro, and Gilbert things went, well, although Kelvin Beachum did not have a good day. The bad news is that when Guy Whimper was in, be it at guard or tackle, the Steelers struggled. Still, the offensive line played well enough to win, and their blocking on the third and short conversions as well as the rushing touchdown was something to behold – Mike Adam’s play was particularly encouraging, as he pancaked his man. David DeCastro’s flash of a nasty streak was also encouraging.  Grade:  C+

Defensive Line
The Bills came into the game rushing the ball. The Steelers saw to it that they did not leave it that way. The Steelers shut down Buffalo’s rushing attack. Cameron Heyward was a man on fire, leading the group in tackles, sacking E.J. Manuel, recovering a fumble that erroneously got called back. Grade:  B

Linebackers
Lawrence Timmons KOed Manuel when he tried to take off and run. LaMarr Woodley was excellent in run support. Jason Worilds had a strip sack that was taken away form him in error. Jarvis Jones had his first NFL sack, one that helped end a drive. Beyond simply stopping the run, the defense added emphasis to each tackle, throwing the runners backwards. It might have been symbolic, but it was emblematic of the unit’s play. Grade:  A-

Secondary
Ryan Clark had his second interception and returned it deep into Bills territory. Troy Polamalu, Ike Taylor, and Cortez Allen all defended passes. Shamarko Thomas looked good until he got injured. The Bills were a woeful 3-14 on third down, and that only happens if the secondary is doing its job. Grade:  A-

Special Teams
Mat McBriar might want to consider renting in Pittsburgh, as he will not be there long if the 25 and 36 yard punts continue. Shaun Suisham was 3-3, given the Steelers a comfortable margin of victory. What’s more his kickoffs were deep, even if he did land one out of bounds. However, the real star of the show was Antonio Brown, who electrified with punt returns of 24 and 50 yards, both of which set up scores. A mixed bag from special teams, but the positives outweighed the negatives. Grade: B+

Coaching
Any discussion of coaching must begin with a nod to Mike Tomlin. The Steelers loss vs. the Patriots was embarrassing on multiple levels. Tomlin, to his credit, dove on a grenade for both his players and the front office during his weekly press conference. But a loss like that can send a already reeling team such as the Steelers into full fledged meltdown, making them easying pickings for fellow bottom feeders like the Bills. The Steelers instead were the ones doing the feeding, and that goes to Tomlin’s credit.

Dick LeBeau likewise gets credit for ensuring that his unit bounced back. YES, they were dominating a rookie quarterback on a team that is in perpetual rebuilding. But winning the ones you’re supposed to and doing it in dominating fashion represents and accomplishment when you’re 2-6. Todd Haley however must accept blame for the Steeler 3 field goals in 5 Red Zone attempts. Likewise, the decision to continue playing with 30 seconds remaining in the first half was a good one. The 5 and 6 yard play calls were not a good move. Overall, however, a solid effort from the coaches.  Grade:  B+

Unsung Hero Award
C.J. Spiller might have entered the game thinking he was going to have a good day. His first two runs went for 3 yards a piece, not bad but not too good either. His next two went for losses. The tackler on both was William Gay. Gay in fact led the Steelers in tackles, tackles for losses, and he also defended a pass. Others might have gotten the “Splash” plays, but it was Gay’s down in and down out consistency that characterized this defense’s dominate performance, and for this he wins the Unsung Hero Award.

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Bouncing Back! 2013 Steelers Bills 23-10, Rallying from Patriot’s Defeat

The Pittsburgh Steelers entered the game vs. the Buffalo Bills with something on the line. Forget “Contender vs. Pretender” status. Ditto playoff considerations. This wasn’t even about relevancy. No, this was about something else.

The Pittsburgh Steelers started the season 0-4. After a two game respite, they lost to the Oakland Raiders – a feat that takes a tremendous effort. They followed that by helping Tom Brady rekindle is 2004 form. The Steelers, it seemed, had become the kind of team that other NFL franchises look to when in need of a rebound.

The Buffalo Bills came to town with an 2-6 record of their own. They run the ball well and sack the passer; the Steelers can neither defend the run nor protect their passer. Buffalo was also getting its quarterback back. The Steelers, it seemed, were just what the Dr. ordered.

In other words, the Steelers entered the Bills game fighting for nothing less than their self-respect.

Steelers vs. Bills, 2013 Steelers beat Bills, Le'Veon Bell

Le’Veon Bell advances the ball in the 2013 Steelers 23-10 win over the Buffalo Bills. Photo Credit: Getty Images, used on USA Today Billswire

SOS – Same Old Steelers in the First Quarter

Self respect would not come easy for the Pittsburgh Steelers, who began the game by moving the ball down the line in workman like fashion, until Ben Roethlisberger threw a horrible pass that Jarius Byrd picked off and return 57 yards to the Steelers 29. (Kudos the Markus Wheaton for the hustle he showed in making the stop.)

  • Yes, Steelers Nation, we have seen this movie before.
  • The Bills moved the ball swiftly to the 1 yard line, and for the first seven minutes Pittsburgh looked destined to be Buffalo’s punching bag.

But the Steelers defense dug in, and forced the Bills to settle for 3.

The script however changed little from there. Not only did the Steelers go 3 and out on their next two drives, these were bookended  by Mat McBriar punts of 27 and 36 yards. Yes, the Steelers defense held on each of them. But it was a familiar refrain, Steelers offense can’t move the ball, giving the opponent short fields and forcing the Steelers offense to work with longer ones.

If Style Points Only Counted…

The performance of the Steelers offense in the next quarter, and the rest of the game for that matter, can hardly be termed “dominant.”

  • Dominant offenses do not settle for 3 field goals in 5 trips to the Red Zone.

But if the Steelers didn’t win any points for artistic merit or technical execution, there was something present vs. the Bills that had been missing in previous weeks.

Both execution errors and simple talent deficiencies have plagued the Steelers in their six losses. Yet the Steelers woes have gone deeper. With each passing week, the Steelers appeared to find new ways to hand opportunities to their opponents while failing to take advantage of chances handed to them.

  • The Steelers offense, flawed as it was, managed to break from that rut vs. the Bills.

The Steelers converted 2 consecutive 3rd and 1 situations on their first drive of the second quarter. This is hardly monumental feat but such plays have been in short supply thus far. On the same drive, Emmanuel Sanders took what looked to be a broken reverse and ran 25 yards down the field. That drive netted the Steelers first field goal.

On the Steelers next drive, with Ben Roethlisberger about to be sacked from the Steelers 16 yard line, Le’Veon Bell took a broken play 34 yards right up the middle. That play, and a 24 yarder to Antonio Brown, set up Roethlisberger’s touchdown pass to Jerricho Cotchery.

  • The Steelers special teams also showed they could do their part.

Pittsburgh’s second drive of the 2nd half opened with a 24 yard punt return. Later, when things looked to stall, the Steelers field goal unit used a hard count to draw Buffalo off sides. Two plays later the Steelers rammed the ball down the throats of the Bills defenders to score the final touchdown of the afternoon.

Despite the flawed execution and sloppy style, the Steelers offense achieved something simple vs. the Bills – they managed to find ways to make plays in critical situations to set up the win.

Steelers Defense Defends Honor

Unlike its counterparts on offense, the Steelers defense not only turned in a strong performance, but it played with attitude that had been absent vs. the Patriots in what would be franchise’s defensive worst-performance.

Fortunately, each an every member of the defense took it personally. And that’s evident in both ways that do and don’t show up on the stat sheet.

  • William Gay, a cornerback led the team with in tackles, with two for losses
  • Nearly every running play, regardless if it gained yards, ended with the defender moving backwards
  • EJ Manuel looked dazed and confused, as the Steelers held him to 3-14 on third downs

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The 4th quarter vs. the Patriots was a nightmare for the Steelers defense that Steelers Nation will never forget. Yet, vs. Bills the Steelers defense wrote a different tale, as this sequence suggests:

And for the record, Antonio Brown returned the ensuring punt for 50 yards.

Granted, they weren’t defending Tom Brady or Calvin Johnson, but the Steelers defense dominated, to the point of securing two turnovers on the Bills final drive only to lose both due to poor officiating.

Road From Here for the 2013 Steelers

In spite of all the positives, the 2013 Pittsburgh Steelers are 3-6, and they “improved” to this mark at the expense of a 2-7 team. Their weaknesses still outweigh their strengths. They’ve mastered several lessons in the art of learning to lose and the burden of proof is on them to prove otherwise.

Defeating the Bills didn’t change any of that, but the victory did allow them to win back some self respect, a necessary step to winning anything else.

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Two Bills Starters Highlight Steelers Personal Mishaps

Ike Taylor left the Patriots game with a concussion. The Steelers, having doubts about his availability for today’s game vs. the Bills, did what they have done all year long:

  • They signed someone they’d cut previously and cut Isaiah Green

In this case that was DeMarcus Van Dyke. To be fair to management, unlike Stevenson Sylvester and Jonathan Dwyer, Van Dyke was waived-injured, so his is not a case of bi-polar disorder infecting Steelers personnel decisions.

But the fact that the Steelers are facing the Buffalo Bills adds irony to Pittsburgh’s latest spin of the personnel merry-go-round. And news that broke late Friday night – that offensive lineman Marcus Gilbert and Mike Adams were listed as questionable for the game – only deepened the irony.

That’s because like Arizona before the, the Buffalo Bills have become sort of Pittsburgh Northeast. Look at the Bills roster and practice squad and you’ll see Steelers castoffs like Frank “The Tank”Summers, Corbin Bryant, and Dennis Dixon. But those men are just role players. The Bills have two men starter at a position area where the Steelers need the most help (from a health stand point):  Offensive line.

Urbik of course is not well known to Steelers fans, coming to Pittsburgh in 2009 Draft as one of the team’s 3rd round draft picks. Urbik didn’t play or dress in 2009. Urbik had and “under the radar” training camp in 2010 and seemingly had secured himself a roster spot, having rose above Justin Hartwig on the depth chart at center.

But then Byron Leftwich injured his leg in preseason, and the Steelers needed to carry Charlie Batch, in addition to Dixon, on their depth chart (’10 was the year of Ben Roethlisberger’s suspension.)

  • Someone had to go, and that was Urbik, whom the Steelers thought they could sneak on to the practice squad. Alas, Bills General Manager, Doug Whaley, snatched him up.

Legursky’s story with the Steelers is more well known, having established himself as one of Kevin Colbert’s undrafted rookie free agent steals.

Legursky went on to start 13 games at center or guard over three years, including Super Bowl XLV. He even did spot duty at fullback. Yet in spite of that versatility and despite no established depth at center (remember, Kelvin Beachum vs. Tennessee?), the Steelers let Legursky go to Buffalo with only a whimper (pun intended, Guy Whimper). Not only was Legursky lightly regarded by Steelers management, the Steelers press corps. didn’t even bother to note his departure.

To be fair, the Urbik and Legursky play guard, and tackle is the area where Pittsburgh needs help at this weekend and has needed help at all year long. But the fact is that more quality offensive lineman, especially versatile ones, give a team extra agility to manage injury situations.

  • The Steelers don’t have that now, in part because the Bills saw something in their personnel cast offs that Steelers management missed.

Remember that today as Mario Williams is tossing Roethlisberger around like a rag doll.

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Ray Anderson’s Blind Spot Obscures NFL Justice

Take a look at the sequence below:

Image courtesy of www.assets.sbnation.com

Do you see any problem with what happened? Good so do I.

Ray Anderson, however does not, and that is an issue.

This is no “Roger Goodell’s out to get the Steelers” piece. Yes, the Steelers have fallen on the short end of the NFL’s kangaroo justice system with startling frequency.

But Goodell stood foursquare behind Dan Rooney and Art Rooney II in 2008 when Tim, John, Pat and Art Rooney Jr. flirted with selling out to Stanley Druckenmiller. In stark terms, Goodell made clear that the NFL was intent on keeping team under Rooney control.

So save your “Goodell Hates the Steelers” speech. For whatever his faults are, Roger Goodell has no axe to grind with the Black and Gold.

  • Mounting evidence suggests something quite different about Ray Anderson.

Steelers Nation:  Meet Ray Anderson, NFL Discipline Czar

Is there any reason to like Ray Anderson? OK, hopefully he’s a fine man, nurturing father/husband and upstanding citizen, because his administration of justice in his role as NFL Executive Vice President of Football Operations is far from impartial.

In October 2008 Hines Ward delivered a devastating hit to Cincinnati linebacker Keith Rivers (video available as of 10/6/12).


At the time, Hines block was perfectly legal. But the incident nonetheless drew a visit from Ray Anderson.

After meeting privately with the Steelers Anderson proclaimed: “We are going to look at that, but under the current rules as written now, it was a clean hit. It was a legal hit.” The Post-Gazette counted the term “under the current rules” four times in Anderson’s press briefing.

At the time, Steelers Digest lambasted Anderson, honing in on Anderson decision to single Hines Ward out with a very public non-accusation accusation and asked, if the hit was legal, then why “look into it”?

  • That was the first time Steelers Nation heard the name “Ray Anderson.” Unfortunately, it was not the last.

A year later Steelers Digest editor Bob Labriola praised, of all people, the Baltimore Ravens Ray Lewis. It issue was Lewis’ tirade denouncing a flag that had been thrown on Terrell Suggs after he’d barley touched Tom Brady. The worst part about it? The referee only threw a flag after Tom Brady’s request.

While Labriola made no bones about his disdain for the coddling the NFL was showering on Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, he took it as a hopeful sign that Ray Anderson declined to fine Ray Lewis and Jim Harbaugh for berating the officials. Perhaps a corner had been turned, the Steelers Digest editor suggested….

The NFL was turning a corner, unfortunately it wasn’t the one Labriola wanted it to turn.

2010 – Welcome to the National Fine League

Steelers Nation is well versed in this narrative. Suddenly, six weeks into the season, the NFL decides to get tough on helmet to helmet hits especially ones involving quarterbacks. Player safety is important, but uniform enforcement of the rules is an essential requirement to player protection.

Alas, Anderson and Goodell are anything but consistent:

See any sort of trend there?

Philip Wheeler Gets a Pass for Illegal Hit on Ben Roethlisberger

Image courtesy of www.assets.sbnation.com

As the GIF image above so clearly illustrates, Philip Wheeler hits Ben Roethlisberger:

  • After he releases the ball (illegal)
  • Below the knee (also illegal)
  • From behind (not illegal, but hardly justifiable given the points above)

Behind the Steel Curtain’s Neal Coolong analyzed this play right after it happened, and predicted that Wheeler would not be hit because he was blocked towards Roethlisberger by Kelven Beachum.

Wheeler could argue, reasoned Coolong, that his momentum carried him into Roethlisberger.

While Wheeler was clearly blocked towards Roethlisberger and I respect Coolong’s objectivity, there is no way momentum was responsible for that hit.

Wheeler tired to play it off, but he clearly kept himself moving, and with Roethlisberger’s lower leg in sights.

  • Clear to everyone it would seem, but Ray Anderson.

Justice is supposed to be blind.

  • But Ray Anderson simply as a blind spot when it comes to illegal hits suffered by Steelers.

In other words, can anyone imagine James Harrison or Ryan Clark escaping punishment had they taken out Carson Palmer the way Wheeler took out Roethlisberger?

I don’t think so either.

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James Harrison Should Just Punch the Quarterback

Ed Bouchette stole my thunder on PG Plus Wednesday.

With all that is going on, I had mind to let the La Toalla Terrible run wild with another post about how the NFL was encouraging Harrison to sucker punch quarterbacks.

But La Toalla Terrible already ranted about how the NFL had legalized holding of James Harrison and about how the NFL would only announce when the league was not fining Harrison. But La Toalla plays a comic relief role, and the James Harrison situation has ceased to be funny…..

No Conspiracy Theories Here But…

The NFL does not “have it in” for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Two years ago, the league bent over backwards to ensure that the Rooneys retained ownership of the Steelers. Had the league harbored any ill will, or even neutral will, toward the Steelers, they would have acted differently.
But that certainly does not make their actions toward James Harrison logical or just.

The Power of the Free Market

Free market principles dictate that the value of something is defined by the amount that someone is willing to pay.

Normally we think of this in terms of goods and services, but the same principle applies to fines. I can remember the “One Will Cost You a $100” signs when they first banned smoking in the Boston Subways.

With this mini economics lesson in mind, let’s consider the how severly the NFL values deviant. Let’s begin by conceding that infractions will occur, and that the more serious the infraction, the higher the cost.

In other words, pass interference draws an automatic first down and movement of the ball to the spot of the foul, while the cost of a false start is far lower by comparison.

Now watch for yourself:

Let’s dissect Richard Seymour’s transgression. This Oakland Raider:

  • Punched a player, something he is never supposed to do
  • And did it outside the normal course of play
  • Did so deliberately

His actions were illegal, intentional, and totally outside of a play. Taking all of that into consideration, the league fined him $25,000

Now, watch the latest play by James Harrison that drew a fine (you’ll get to see all of his fineable hits, the last one is at the end):

In contrast to Seymour, James Harrison’s sack of Ryan Fitzpatrick (and arguably the others):

  • Occurred as he was executing the responsibilities of his position
  • Occurred during the normal course of play
  • Was unintentional and within the rules

NFL rules prohibit helmet to helmet contact, and prohibit a defender from leading with the crown of his helmet.

While James Harrison’s helmet (the facemask perhaps) might have make contact – with Fitzpatrick’s chest, it is impossible to argue that he led with the helmet.

Taking all of this into consideration, the NFL fined James Harrison… $25,000.

NFL in “Transition” to… What?

Terry Long, Justin Strzelczyk, and Hall of Famer Mike Webster serve as reminders to Steelers Nation that the importance of protecting players for head trauma is paramount.

The NFL’s new “get tough” policy on hits that involve helmets goes beyond protecting players.

  • In effect, if not because of intent, it is an attempt to neuter defenders.

There is no other way to explain the fact that flagrantly violating the rules in an attempt to hurt someone carries the same price an unintentional hit that perhaps violates the letter of the law.

The Steelers as an organization might not be unfairly targeted in this endeavor, but James Harrison as an individual certainly is.

So the next time James Harrison gets blatantly held with no flag thrown, or he gets penalized for brushing up against a quarterback a second too soon, he might as well haul off and upper cut the quarterback.

It will not cost him any more than he is already paying for simply doing his job.

Oh yes, punching the quarterback would also get James Harrison thrown out of the game…

…But perhaps that’s just what the NFL wants to see happen.

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