By David Todd
The Steelers kept their slim playoffs hopes alive Sunday at Heinz Field with a solid all-around performance, comfortably handling the Buffalo Bills 23-10. Again the Steelers got off on the wrong foot as Ben Roethlisberger turned it over on the Steelers opening drive for the second week in a row, but the defense held the Bills to a field goal and the Steelers were able to shut down E.J. Manuel and Buffalo’s offense most of the day, bouncing back strongly from the record-setting blowout they suffered in New England the week before. Ben Roethlisberger was the story going into the game as the NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported that he was “incredibly frustrated” and would seek a trade in the offseason. Rapoport also suggested the Steelers had fielded offers for Ben last offseason. The Steelers quickly issued a statement calling the report erroneous and saying they had no plans to trade Roethlisberger. After the game Roethlisberger called the report “b.s.” and adamantly refuted any suggestion that he wanted to leave Pittsburgh, saying he wanted to finish his career as a Steeler. The win raises the Steelers record to 3-6 and with the Bengals losing to the Ravens, they are now two back in the loss column with seven games remaining, including four in the weak AFC North.
In what is a weekly occurrence, the Steelers suffered another injury to the offensive line as Ramon Foster left with what appeared to be a right ankle injury. Foster, hurt on the team’s first offensive play of the second half, left the Steelers bench area on a cart and was in a walking boot after the game. Safety Shamarko Thomas suffered a left ankle that also had him in a walking boot after the game. Linebacker LaMarr Woodley left the game with a calf strain and did not return.
*Antonio Brown continues to put up impressive numbers on a weekly basis and has been the Steelers MVP to this point in the season. Brown had six catches for 104 yards and five first downs and also returned two punts for 74 yards. He made big plays on both of the Steelers touchdown drives and set the team up with great field position on each punt return. He leads the NFL in catches with 67, is fifth in first downs and eighth in yards/game.
*Last week: “Jon Dwyer continues to do impress in limited duty. He only had one carry but he ripped off 30 yards, the team’s longest run from scrimmage this season and he had one catch for another 23 yards.” This week Dwyer had six carries for 38 yards, including a 17 yard burst. Again, he is only seeing limited action, but it is hard to argue that he hasn’t been the team’s most impressive back.
*Manny Sanders gained 25 yards on a jet sweep where it looked like that there might have been a gadget aspect to the play that was blown up. Either way it was a good job by Sanders to keep the ball and get up field.
*Ben’s touchdown pass to Jerricho Cothchery, his fourth red zone TD in two games, was perfectly executed on both sides.
*After converting three of four red zone chances last week, the Steelers offense struggled this week. They converted 2/5 opportunities, but weren’t effective moving the ball in the red zone. The fascination with the fade is perplexing as the Steelers ran it multiple times with various receivers again this week. Sure it is low-risk in terms of turning the ball over, but it hasn’t been an effective play all season. The Steelers seem hesitant to throw over the middle of the field in the red zone.
*After going up 17-3 in the middle of the third quarter the offense completely stalled. For the remainder of the game they had drives of 3 plays, -9 yards; 7 plays, 22 yards; 3 plays, -5 yards; 3 plays, 6 yards, with the last two resulting in short field goals. They recorded only two first downs in their last four drives as they tried to put the game away.
*The Steelers allowed four more sacks for 40 total yards. While the offensive line did a great job keeping Mario Williams off the stat sheet, they still have not been consistent in protection and Kelvin Beachum had his hands full with Jerry Hughes who had two sacks.
*Heath Miller has not been a visible part of the offense the last month with only 10 catches for 85 yards in the last four games. Miller was targeted five times against Buffalo but had only one catch for six yards.
*The defense had a big day shutting down the Bills run game and forcing E.J. Manuel to beat them through the air, something he was not capable of doing. They held the Bills to 227 yards of total offense, with 80 of those coming in the last drive of the game. The Bills came into the game seventh in the NFL averaging 145.8 yards/gm and the Steelers held them to 95, with only 39 in the first half. The defense also limited the Bills to 3/14 on third down conversions.
*Last week it didn’t make a ton of sense to single out bad performances when the defense was so poor across the board. They week the whole unit played well. Cam Heyward continues to come on, playing the best football of his career and registering back-to-back sacks for the first time and Jarvis Jones got his first career sack.
*After a tough week in NE, William Gay led the Steelers with 11 tackles and did a very good job on Bills wideout Stevie Johnson when matched up with him.
*Lawrence Timmons also had a big day and put the hit of the game on E.J. Manuel with he sacked him for a five yard loss.
*The Bills offense was so ineffective there isn’t really anything to point to.
*Antonio Brown set up two Steelers scoring drives with returns of 24 and 50 yards. He is sixth in the NFL with a 13.7 yard average.
*The Steelers coverage units were very good and Shaun Suisham continues to impress with four touchbacks in six attempts.
*The field goal unit did a great job adjusting the cadence and drawing the whole Bills defense offsides leading to a first down and eventually a touchdown.
*Their was a very strong, apparently swirling wind, particularly in the first half of this game. Mat McBriar did not look good on his opening punt of 27 yards only out to the Steelers 44.
*Suisham did kick one kickoff out of bounds which is a severe penalty. He has know done that a few times this season.
*Jarvis Jones got a 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty on the opening kickoff of the second half and Mike Tomlin let him no he was not pleased.
*Dick LeBeau continues to dominate rookie quarterbacks. A combination of scheme, wind and rust from a four week layoff meant Manuel was unable to throw the football and the Bills offense was impotent as a result.
*Other than red zone offense there isn’t much to point to here.
Big Officiating Calls:
*If this story is true about the refs not calling a penalty at the end of the game because of the score and the time remaining, someone is going to be severely fined/reprimanded. Obviously the only impact is on the scoresheet, but it is inexcusable. Here is a GIF of the play in question.
Up Next: The Steelers will take on the Detroit Lions next week at Heinz Field. Kick-off is scheduled for 1:00 EST.
Reminder: You can hear me and Tom Bradley on the postgame show on the Steelers Radio Network after every Steelers game. You can listen on the Steeler Gameday app, the Steelers Nation Radio app on iHeart Radio or DVE or 970 ESPN in Pittsburgh. You can hear me weekdays on 970 ESPN from 4-7 pm and you can follow me on twitter @DavidMTodd.