Le’Veon Bell is the most patient elite running back in the NFL.
The Pittsburgh Steelers showcase his talent by alternating straight-ahead zone blocking plays with gap-scheme runs in which he brilliantly follows pulling blockers for big gains.
It added up to a Steelers franchise-record 236 yard rushing performance in a 27-20 victory over the Bills. Here were the Ten Plays That Shaped the Game.
1. Now you see him? Bell turned a 5-yard pass into a 32-yard gain on the opening drive. It didn’t lead to points, but it was a perfect example of his uncanny patience and a sign of bad things to come for the Bills. The Bills dropped eight men into coverage and had Bell boxed in as soon as he caught the ball. He came to a full stop to let the pursuit flow to his left, then he bolted to the right sideline. He and LeSean McCoy probably are the only two backs in the NFL who make that play.
2. Bully ball. The Steelers played mostly three-receiver sets in building a 14-7 first-half lead. To start the third quarter, Pittsburgh powered up with two backs, two tight ends and one receiver. They drove 82 yards for a TD, and 67 of it was on the ground. Bell ripped off a 24-yard run to the Buffalo 35. Fullback Roosevelt Nix took out Zach Brown, and Preston Brown couldn’t scrape over the top of a block in time to catch Bell.
“I made sure I gave him that game ball because he deserved it,” Bell said of Nix. “I think this is probably his best game since I’ve ever played with him for sure.”
Bell said Bills linebacker Brandon Spikes “called out” Nix in warmups. “Rosey kind of took it, embraced it and brought it to the game,” Bell said.
3. Walk-in TD. The Steelers broke the game open, 21-7, five plays after the 24-yard run when Nix led Bell off left end for a 5-yard TD. Nix blocked out Ronald Darby, and David DeCastro took out Spikes. Bell walked in untouched.
“I just kind of let Rosey do his thing in front of me,” Bell said. “That touchdown was really him.”
4. TD saver. Bills linebacker Zach Brown resisted the urge to get fooled by a play-action fake and dropped into coverage to intercept a Ben Roethlisberger pass in the end zone intended for tight end David Johnson. It was a third-and-6 play early in the fourth quarter.
“I’d throw that ball the same way 10 out of 10 times,” Roethlisberger said. “That linebacker made one heckuva play. That was just truly spectacular.”
5. Rally killer. On the next play after Brown’s interception, Tyrod Taylor made a bad read down the left sideline and underthrew Marquise Goodwin. Artie Burns intercepted and returned it to the Buffalo 48. Goodwin ran a go route. Taylor apparently thought he was breaking it off.
“Bad play on my behalf,” Taylor said. “I was trying to force a play that definitely wasn’t there.”
6. Confusion 101. The Bills’ are having enough problems in the defensive red zone without creating more of their own. Two plays before Pittsburgh’s first touchdown, linebacker Bryson Albright had to race onto the field to give the Bills 11 defenders just before a first-down snap at the Buffalo 11. The Bills weren’t set when Bell ran 8 yards off left tackle to the 3. So much for holding them to a field goal.
7. A gift from Ben. The Bills got an easy first touchdown after Stephon Gilmore intercepted an off-target Roethlisberger pass intended for Antonio Brown and returned it 31 yards to the Steelers’ 7.
“I should have just called time out,” Roethlisberger said. “We didn’t have the personnel on the field. We tried to rush it, and I threw it a little early before AB could slide out of it. So that’s on me.”
8. Power. Bell’s second TD was a 7-yard, zone-blocking run that made it 14-0. Bell made a jump-cut to the left behind guard B.J. Finney, who knocked Marcell Dareus to his knees.
9. Early hope. Bills linebacker Lorenzo Alexander took advantage of a misunderstanding between Roethlisberger and tight end Ladarius Green on the first drive of the game. Alexander was sitting in an underneath zone and stepped in front of Green at the Buffalo 12 to thwart a scoring drive.
“It thought Ladarius might work a little more,” Roethlisberger said. “I thought he was going to break under. He kind of stopped.”
10. Clay TD. Taylor threw a 40-yard pass to tight end Charles Clay in the fourth quarter. Burns, the Steelers’ safety, went for the interception and missed.