Grading the Bills
RUNNING GAME: F
LeSean McCoy, who has looked so good so often this season, gained just 27 yards on 12 carries, an average of 2.3 yards per rush. Quarterback Tyrod Taylor gained 2 yards on three carries. A third of Buffalo’s team output of 67 yards came on a garbage-time 22-yard run by Mike Gillislee. But, hey, Reggie Bush gained 4 yards on his only carry, taking his season total from 1 to 5! Yes, it was that kind of day.
PASSING GAME: F
McCoy has been the Bills’ leading receiver the past two weeks. That’s less than ideal. Nobody should question Sammy Watkins’ toughness. He continues to play through his foot injury, and was rewarded with his first touchdown of the season. Charles Clay also found the end zone for the first time this year. With just 55 net passing yards through the first three quarters, however, it was far too little, far too late. On the bright side, a pass that bounced off receiver Robert Woods’ helmet into the arms of Steelers cornerback William Gay for a pick-six was called back on a penalty. So at least that play will stay off the blooper reel.
RUN DEFENSE: F (times infinity)
The Bills set a franchise record for most rushing yards against by a single player, letting Le’Veon Bell carve them up for 236 yards. That sentence neatly sums up what can only be described as one of the worst performances in team history. “It looks horrible for us as a defense,” inside linebacker Preston Brown said. “That is disgusting when you say that stat out loud,” Jerry Hughes said. Preach it, guys. The loss of Kyle Williams hurt, but shouldn’t come close to explaining this abomination.
PASS DEFENSE: B-
Rex Ryan said in his postgame news conference that the Bills “would have signed up” for Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger registering a 37.8 quarterback rating. That’s a bizarre time to be gloating, but Ryan does have a point. Stephon Gilmore, Zach Brown and Lorenzo Alexander all recorded interceptions, with Gilmore’s setting up Buffalo’s first touchdown and making a game of it. Ronald Darby broke up what might have been an interception for Corey White. The pass rush was non-existent, registering just one quarterback hit.
SPECIAL TEAMS: F
Colton Schmidt had a punt go off the side of his foot in the first half, continuing what has been a miserable past few weeks. Just one of his six punts was downed inside the Pittsburgh 20-yard line. Dan Carpenter doinked another extra point off the uprights and made what was possibly the worst attempt at an onside kick in Bills history. Brandon Tate’s long kick return was just 19 yards on three attempts.
At this point, it feels like a matter of when, not if, Rex Ryan will be fired. In a must-win game, his team looked woefully unprepared at the start. The same issues with communication and late substitutions on defense that have been a Ryan trademark since he arrived were on display again. At this point, the coach is out of answers and looks to be a dead man walking.
Grading the Steelers
RUNNING GAME: A+ (times infinity)
Le’Veon Bell stated his case as the best running back in the NFL by setting a Steelers’ single-game rushing record. This isn’t the Jaguars we’re talking about, so that’s darned impressive. Pittsburgh’s offensive line, as well as fullback Roosevelt Nix, all deserve game balls. Bell had an amazing 38 carries, the most for any player in the NFL since 2009, with 25 of them coming after halftime. Bell now averages 128.5 yards from scrimmage per game, the most in NFL history among those who have played a minimum of 40 games.
PASSING GAME: C-
Mike Tomlin’s message to offensive coordinator Todd Haley must have looked something like this “Run the (expletive) ball.” Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger played like he had money on the under, with three interceptions. It’s only the second time in his career that the Steelers have won when he’s done that. Antonio Brown showed why he might be the best receiver in the NFL with a spectacular 40-yard catch over Ronald Darby in the first half. The Steelers’ offensive line made sure Roethlisberger wasn’t sacked, and generally had enough time to get a cup of coffee before throwing.
RUN DEFENSE: A
Inside linebacker Ryan Shazier is a beast. He had eight tackles, a sack and a pass defended. He’s one of the very few linebackers in the NFL who looks to have the speed to keep up with players like McCoy and Taylor. The absence of nose tackle Javon Hargrave turned out not to be much of a problem, as the Steelers limited the Bills to 3.7 yards per carry. Bud Dupree and L.T. Walton each registered a tackle for a loss.
PASS DEFENSE: A
Old friend Ross Cockrell had four tackles and a pass defended, while rookie Artie Burns got one of the easiest interceptions he’ll ever come across in the third quarter. Lining up Sean Davis one on one in the slot against Sammy Watkins turned out as you might expect it would. He was in the game because free safety Mike Mitchell suffered a knee injury. Davis did have 1.5 sacks, though, while Bud Dupree got two sacks and generally played an excellent game.
SPECIAL TEAMS: A
Chris Boswell was perfect on two field goals and three extra points in the snow. Punter Jordan Berry averaged 40.5 net yards on two punts, placing one inside the 20-yard line and the other going for a touchback. Brown, who looks like he might score every time he touches the ball, had a 17-yard punt return. The coverage units were rock solid.
Throwing as much as they did in the first half was a classic case of NFL coaches out thinking themselves. Tomlin was all over a ruled complete pass to Watkins, quickly challenging the play and getting the call reversed, which forced a Buffalo punt. Tomlin earned his 100th victory, but deflected any praise by saying all it means is he’s been around a long time. Gee, a coach being humble? What a refreshing change of pace.