The Pittsburgh Steelers entered this game riding an impressive streak in terms of their defensive performance against opposing offensive rushing games over the course of their three previous wins. But those three performances came against struggling teams or weak rushing games. And beyond that lay the specter of games such as those that they had against Miami, New England, and Dallas.
The Buffalo game was supposed to be the test, pitting the seemingly revived defense—down not just Cameron Heyward for this game, but also rookie defensive tackle Javon Hargrave—against the most potent rushing game in the league, between the impressive LeSean McCoy and the mobile quarterback, Tyrod Taylor.
The Bills offense entered the day with a commanding lead in all the statistically relevant categories with respect to running the ball, averaging 161.9 yards on the ground per game—six more than Dallas—at 5.4 yards per carry–.6 yards more than Dallas—and 23 rushing touchdowns—again, three more than Dallas.
But it was the Steelers’ offensive ground game that headlined on the afternoon, as Le’Veon Bell tore through Buffalo’s defense for the best rushing day in Steelers history, and the worst in the history of the Bills’ defense. Bell rushed for 236 yards on 28 carries, averaging 6.2 yards per carry, and he scored three touchdowns on the ground.
McCoy, in the meantime, managed just 27 yards on 12 carries, although he did manage to get one into the end zone. Taylor had just two yards rushing on three carries. The bulk of the Bills’ rushing yardage came from Mike Gillislee, who on two carries at the end of the first half on essentially meaningless plays, he picked up 34 yards.
All told, the Bills picked up just 67 yards on the ground, which is nearly 100 yards fewer than they average per game, and they did so at just 3.7 yards per carry. If you take out Gillislee’s two runs that meant nothing in the scheme of the game, then Buffalo gained just 34 yards on 16 carries, averaging just 2.1 yards per carry.
The run defense has been impressive of late, and yesterday was their big test. They handed McCoy, who entered the day leading the league with 5.5 yards per carry, very well on the ground, though he did have 81 yards on six receptions through the air, including a 41-yard reception.
The Steelers entered the day with the sixth-ranked rushing defense in terms of total yards allowed, averaging 92 yards allowed on the ground per game, but they did allow 10 rushing touchdowns, tied for 13th, and were giving up 4.2 yards per carry, which also ranked tied for 13th.
While they did allow a touchdown, the other numbers will continue to improve as the defense appears to be solidifying down the home stretch. They were tested at times by an offense that turned the ball over three times, but the young unit appears to be coming into its own, at least to a degree, at a critical point in the season.