By Christina Rivers
Sunday’s 23-10 win over the Buffalo Bills gave the Pittsburgh Steelers the emotional boost they needed. Their return to fundamentals, something stressed by Pittsburgh’s coaching staff after the New England loss, especially from their base defense, appeared to put wind into their sails. With the Detroit Lions (6-2) leading the NFC North, the Steelers will be expecting big plays from Calvin Johnson, Reggie Bush and Matthew Stafford. Bruised, but not broken, Pittsburgh looks to build on lessons learned and continue to move forward this season.
After two games against teams with lower rushing averages, the Steelers faced a Bills team that has used such a scheme to demoralize opponents. Pittsburgh, ranked 31st in the league for stopping the run, instead held the Bills to 95 yards on the ground. The longest run allowed was a nine-yard scamper by Buffalo quarterback E.J. Manuel. Once the Steelers had C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson contained, the defense moved cornerback William Gay inside to cover the slot receiver while allowing Cortez Allen to cover the outside. With the change in personnel, the Steelers got pressure from their defensive front and linebackers and held Manuel to 155 yards passing.
“I felt like we were challenged,” said rookie inside linebacker Vince Williams after the game. “There was a lot of talk about the Patriots game, there were people questioning Coach [Dick] LeBeau. We just wanted to go out there and put those questions to rest.”
Defensive end Cameron Heyward’s strong play logged him six tackles and a sack of Manuel. “I put a lot of pressure on myself to be ready for every game I step onto the field,” said Heyward. “We just have to do it as a collective team to get these wins.”
Preparation for Detroit
The Lions traditionally have an opposite offensive approach from the Bills, using the run to set up big passing plays instead. While Stafford isn’t as elusive when escaping the pocket as Manuel, he and Johnson have a rapport that can be deadly to opponents.
In his Tuesday presser, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin focused on what he believes the Steelers need to do to be ready for Detroit. “I like the approach we take day-to-day in terms of how we come to work. I like the energy. But what we need is results,” said Tomlin. “It’s not like I am throwing a pep rally because the attitude is appropriate [within the team]. We have a lot of challenges in front of us.”
Tomlin admitted that the Steelers defense will have one of the toughest situations in trying to bring down ‘Megatron’. “[Johnson] needs no endorsement from me,” said Tomlin. “You can talk about ways to minimize his impact on the game. We are going to take our swing at it … We’ll do the best we can.”
Offensive coordinator Todd Haley continues to reference balance on offense, and against the Bills the Steelers not only had better play selection, but took charge of the clock and were able to run on first-downs eight times versus nine passes. While Le’Veon Bell was utilized against the Bills base defense, Jonathan Dwyer provided what Tomlin called a “spark plug” for the offense in different sets. Dwyer converted on three third-down carries against Buffalo. Antonio Brown continues to be a valuable receiver and as the third receiver, Jerricho Cotchery has become a flashy alternative with attitude and results.
Injuries and Insinuations
Ian Rapoport’s alleged report that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was seeking a trade from the Steelers heated up the news wire, but was rapidly rebuffed by Roethlisberger and the Steelers organization. “I don’t know where that came from,” said Roethlisberger. “It is one of the most BS stories that I’ve ever heard of. I’ve always said that I want to be a Steeler for life.” He added that his family, camp and agents have never said anything about him desiring a trade. “Wherever this was made up from is totally false,” said Big Ben. False or not, Rapoport sticks by his source and his story.
The fact that Roethlisberger would be fodder for trade rumors isn’t surprising, as many NFL insiders recognize that his pay could hurt the Steelers significantly in regards to the salary cap. However, the Steelers are unlikely to shop their franchise quarterback unless they had another in mind, which the organization has denied. Franchise quarterbacks aren’t shopped around and are few and far between.
As for injuries, the Steelers are expected to be without Shamarko Thomas who suffered a high ankle sprain against the Bills on Sunday. Defensive end Brett Keisel (plantar fasciitis in foot), guard Ramon Foster (right ankle sprain), center Fernando Velasco (right knee contusion) and linebacker LaMarr Woodley (left calf strain) are expected to be limited early, but not miss playing time against the Lions.
Tackle Mike Adams (ribs), tackle Kelvin Beachum (hip flexor), guard David DeCastro (ankle) and tackle Marcus Gilbert (ankle) show that the offensive line continues to deal with getting banged up, but all are expected to be able to participate in practice and play Sunday.
For more Steelers news and updates, visit Steelers Central.
Christina Rivers has covered the Pittsburgh Steelers and National Football League professionally as a reporter and photographer for over a decade. Rivers studied exercise physiology and sports psychology at Brigham Young University as a student-athlete. Christina is a freelance writer covering all things NFL. Her work can be found on