Every time an opposing player has a career day against the Bills, it's amusing to recall Rex Ryan’s introductory news conference at One Bills Drive.
“You mentioned how well we played on defense last year. Fourth in the league is probably a little disappointing, to be honest with you,” Ryan said, “because that’s not where my expectations are. I know we’ll lead the league in defense.”
The Bills have instead taken a slide down the defensive rankings since Ryan took over the team, and Sunday’s performance marked yet another sad milestone for his defense.
The Bills absolutely could not stop Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell on a snowy New Era Field. He gained an incredible 236 yards rushing in their 27-20 win, setting the Steelers’ single-game rushing record and breaking Ricky Williams’ mark for the most rushing yards the Bills had ever allowed to one player in a single game.
When factoring in the 214 yards Miami running back Jay Ajayi piled up against the Bills earlier this season, Ryan’s defense has allowed two of the three highest individual rushing games in Bills history over the last month and a half.
Players understood how bad their performance looked on their coach, whose future with the team is in doubt.
“They just outplayed us on every level,” middle linebacker Preston Brown said. “That’s something you never want to have happened, but it has happened. We definitely need to adjust. They keep finding holes, finding seams. It looks bad. You never want to see anybody get 200 yards. Now two (players have), that looks horrible for us as a defense.”
“Even if he wasn’t a defensive guy, if somebody runs for 236 on your team, it should piss you off,” defensive lineman Leger Douzable said. "It (makes me angry). ... There’s no way we should’ve gave that up.
“In both games it was bad tackling,” he added. “In the Miami game with Jay Ajayi, there were too many missed tackles. Guys didn’t wrap up. Something that we’ve always preached is guys have to wrap up. … I don’t think that was the effort thing today, because guys were getting to the football, he was just making two or three guys miss. Tackling is a want-to thing.”
Bell deserves plenty of credit, too. He’s one of the league’s premier running backs and he demonstrated a wide variety of skills during his career day, which finished at 298 yards from scrimmage.
“He is amazing,” safety Corey Graham said. “There is no other way to look at it. He is definitely, to me, the best running back in the league. I don’t think there’s any doubt, any question. (He’s) patient like I have never seen any back in my life. Strong, just like the strongest back I have seen in my life. He’s just the real deal, man. Like, we tip our hat to him. He is flat-out amazing.”
Bell scored three touchdowns while earning 38 carries, the most for any NFL player since 2009.
“Near the end of the season, I just think you have to get more fired up,” Bell said. “I mean, we know what’s at stake here. We can’t have any time for setbacks.”
The Bills did not seem to share that mentality. They became only the sixth team in NFL history to give up 210 or more rushing yards to multiple opponents in the same season.
“You have a choice,” Ryan said, “eight-man spacing or seven-man spacing. And we did a lot of seven-man spacing to help in pass defense against (Ben) Roethlisberger and company. We did go to some eight-man and quite honestly he burned us quite a few times when we did that, but that’s kind of it. You’re playing a chess match with him and that’s what (we) did. Obviously it’s disappointing when you get the ball run at you like that, there’s no question about it.”