PITTSBURGH — “Nickel-and-diming” is how Buffalo Bills defensive tackle Marcell Dareus described the Steelers’ run game Sunday.
All that loose change, however, added up to 136 yards on the ground in a 23-10 Pittsburgh victory at Heinz Field, a loss that dropped the Bills to 3-7 on the season.
Pittsburgh attempted a season-high 33 carries, averaging 4.1 yards per carry. Receiver Emmanuel Sanders gained 25 yards on a reverse, but outside that, Pittsburgh had only one other rush of more than 10 yards.
“They stuck with it … 4 yards here, 3 yards there. It really made a big difference,” Dareus said. “That was their game plan. They ran pretty effectively. I didn’t think they would, but they did.”
Pittsburgh came into the game having attempted only 167 rushes, second fewest in the NFL. The Steelers had gained only 589 yards, which ranked 28th in the league.
“We said coming into this game that we were going to run early and run it a lot,” Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. “We did that and did a good job rushing.”
The Steelers were led on the ground by rookie Le’Veon Bell, who carried 22 times for 57 yards, including a 4-yard touchdown run in the third quarter to put his team up, 17-3.
“That was the most patient running back that I’ve played against this season,” Dareus said of Bell. “He just kind of sat back and picked holes to run through.”
The Steelers finished just 5 yards from their season high of 141 rushing yards recorded in Week Seven against Baltimore. They frequently brought in an extra blocker in Mike Adams as a “tackle eligible” player along the line.
The Bills’ run defense had taken positive steps forward in the past two weeks, limiting both New Orleans and Kansas City to fewer than 100 rushing yards. But overall, the Bills are still in the bottom quarter of the league against the rush, allowing 1,173 yards on 296 carries through the season’s first 10 games, an average of 117.3 yards per game. While that’s a big improvement from last season’s monstrosity against the run – that team allowed more than 145 yards per game – results like Sunday’s show that the run defense remains a work in progress.
“You’ve got to tip your hat to them,” Bills defensive end Jerry Hughes said. “We have to look at the film and see what we can correct.”
As a result of their run game, the Steelers dominated time of possession, holding the ball for 35:16 compared to 24:44 for the Bills.
“We’ve got to figure out a way to get off the field faster and get the ball back to our offense,” Hughes said.
The Bills’ already faint playoff hopes were pretty much extinguished with Sunday’s loss, but Dareus said the team can’t afford to look at the rest of the season through that lens.
“We can’t let this tear us apart,” he said.