By Tim Graham
NEWS SPORTS REPORTER
» Grading the Bills
RUNNING GAME: C+
The most exciting part of Buffalo’s offense was watching EJ Manuel smartly protect himself on the run in his return from a four-game absence because of a knee injury. Manuel had an emphatic slide on an early scramble and slipped out of bounds on a late dash. Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller combined for 20 carries and 78 yards, not enough to have an impact.
PASSING GAME: F
Maybe Manuel was rusty. Perhaps it was Nathaniel Hackett’s game plan. Doesn’t matter. Buffalo was atrocious in the air. Manuel was off the mark and easily had his worst game. He padded his stats against Pittsburgh’s prevent defense on the final drive. He was sacked three times. Tight end Scott Chandler was nearly invisible and didn’t get his first target until there was 6:47 left in the third quarter.
RUN DEFENSE: D+
Pittsburgh’s running backs have been woeful all year, but they didn’t look like it Sunday. Pittsburgh ranked 28th in running offense and 27th in yards per carry. It had broken 100 yards only twice. Buffalo was trampled for 99 yards by halftime and allowed Pittsburgh to dominate with 20:04 time of possession in the first half.
PASS DEFENSE: B-
Jairus Byrd snagged his first interception, the Bills’ first takeaway in three games. Jerry Hughes had two of their four sacks. Marcell Dareus recorded a strip-sack. But the Steelers picked on cornerback Stephon Gilmore, whom the Kansas City Chiefs targeted the Sunday before. The Steelers netted only 164 passing yards, but three receivers each had a play of at least 26 yards.
SPECIAL TEAMS: D-
Although the Heinz Field wind was abominable, Brian Moorman should’ve been better. He netted 24.2 yards on nine punts. They gave up punt returns of 50 and 24 yards. Dareus jumped offside on a Steelers field-goal attempt in the third quarter, giving them a first-and-goal at the 6-yard line. Dan Carpenter made his only attempt, a 20-yarder in the first quarter.
The Bills continue to flail away in the red zone and on third downs. They had a glorious opportunity to bolt ahead with their first three possessions at the Steelers’ 29, Steelers’ 44 and the Bills’ 44. The Bills turned all that into three points. Down by two touchdowns with 14 minutes left, Doug Marrone chose to punt on fourth and 5 from the Steelers’ 36-yard line.
» Grading the Steelers
RUNNING GAME: A-
Despite previous deficiencies and failing to break 50 yards in three of their eight games, the Steelers ran a season-high 33 times. Le’Veon Bell had 22 carries for a modest 57 yards and a touchdown, but he routinely put his team in short-yardage situations that helped it convert six of its first nine third downs. Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders gained 25 yards on a Wildcat play.
PASSING GAME: B-
Ben Roethlisberger started the game with a bad interception, but he played a solid game. He doesn’t fail to find wide open receivers too often. He spotted a few Sunday, connecting with Antonio Brown for 24 and 40 yards and Jerricho Cotchery for 26 yards. He made a beautiful throw to Cotchery for a 5-yard touchdown. The Steelers did, however, allow four sacks.
RUN DEFENSE: B
For only the third time this year (albeit the third week in a row), the Bills were held to under 120 net rushing yards. The Steelers held them to 39 rushing yards in the first half and 95 for the game, 50.8 yards below the Bills’ average. The Steelers neutralized Spiller, who averaged 2.9 yards a carry.
PASS DEFENSE: B
Manuel’s inaccuracies helped Pittsburgh plenty. Buffalo netted just 43 passing yards in the first half. Pittsburgh tied a season-high with three sacks and registered five quarterback hits while tallying five pass breakups. The pass defense was crucial to Buffalo converting only three third downs.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B
Shaun Suisham made field goals from 36, 37 and 23 yards. Mat McBriar botched a 27-yard punt that was spotted on Pittsburgh’s 44-yard line in first quarter. Buffalo’s return game was moot. Suisham notched four touchbacks, but one kickoff went out of bounds. Leodis McKelvin averaged 3.8 yards on three punt returns. Brown was sensational on his punt returns, averaging 37 yards.
One week after yielding a club-record 55 points to New England, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin got his team refocused. Pittsburgh dealt with several notable injuries throughout the game, losing starting outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley, cornerback Shamarko Thomas and starting left guard Ramon Foster.