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Rex Ryan's run defense has sunk to depths he's never seen before

Given a day to look at the film, Preston Brown came up with the same answer.

The Buffalo Bills’ defensive effort against the Pittsburgh Steelers was putrid.

“They always say it was never as bad as it was, and it was never as good as it was, but it was as bad as it was,” Brown said after reviewing tape of the Steelers’ 27-20 victory Sunday at New Era Field. “Any time you give that many yards to one person, it’s never a good day.”

That one person would be Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell, who outgained the Bills by himself from scrimmage, 298-275. That had not happened in the NFL this season before Sunday. Bell’s 236 rushing yards set a Steelers’ record for a single game, and is also the most ever by a Bills opponent.

Call it a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

“You never want to have a 100-yard rusher, but now we’re giving up 200-yard rushers,” Brown said. “Every running back in the league is probably like, ‘can we play the Bills next?’ They’re like, ‘wow, everybody gets 200 yards against those guys.’ It’s going to be a tough challenge for us the next couple weeks. … We’ve got to find ways to get off the field and stop the run.”

Bell became the second 200-yard rusher against the Bills this season, joining Miami’s Jay Ajayi in Week Seven. In less than two months, the Bills have given up two of the three biggest rushing days in franchise history and become just the sixth team in NFL history to allow two 200-yard rushers in the same season.

“That is disgusting when you say that stat out loud,” outside linebacker Jerry Hughes said. “We understand that’s not what you can do to get to the playoffs. We got to be better.”

With just three games left in the season, the Bills rank 28th in the NFL against the run, allowing 125.8 yards per game. In 12 seasons as either a defensive coordinator or head coach, a Rex Ryan-led defense has never finished that poorly against the run.

The 2013 New York Jets under Ryan finished 26th in the NFL allowing 133.6 yards per game, but that season looks like an anomaly on his resume. In eight of the other 10 years, not counting this season, Ryan’s defenses have finished in the top 10 of the league eight times, including six times in the top five.

“They obviously really took it to us, especially in the second half on the ground,” Ryan said of the Steelers. “That area, we have to get a lot better at because Cleveland is going to give us, obviously, a lot of similar plays.”

Ryan explained after the loss that the Bills used “seven-man spacing” against the Steelers in an effort to slow down quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and receiver Antonio Brown.

“Seven man, eight man we got to stop the run,” Brown said. “Coaches decided what they had to do. We had to stop 84 outside, so you have to be in some seven-man spacing and they took advantage of it and they found holes in the running game. It was something we knew was probably going to happen. We had to man up in seven-man spacing and we just didn’t do it.”

That’s been the story far too often this season. The Bills are on pace to have their worst finish against the run since 2013, when they were also 28th in the league and averaged 128.9 yards per game against. The defensive coordinator that year, Mike Pettine, is a Ryan disciple.

“I think we’ve been inconsistent,” Ryan said. “I don’t think there’s any doubt about that. At times, we look absolutely terrific on either side of the ball and there’s other times we look – we play poorly. That’s it. I don’t think we’ve yet to put a full 60 minutes together of playing a game that I think we’re capable of playing.

“That’s also what drives you as a coach – trying to get that performance out of our group. There are a lot of circumstances, always, that can affect things, but to me that’s the biggest thing. We’ve got to be more consistent and play at a high level.”

Ryan did promise the Bills’ defense would be better this season than a year ago, and in a way, it has been. After ranking 19th in total yards allowed in 2015, the Bills are 18th with three games left this season.

To borrow a word from the coach’s vocabulary, that’s obviously not what fans had in mind.

The Bills made a pair of changes to their 53-man roster Tuesday, promoting safety Shamiel Gary and offensive tackle Michael Ola from the practice squad. To make room, safety James Ihedigbo was placed on injured reserve and linebacker Bryson Albright was released.

Gary, a 6-foot-0, 217-pounder, has six games of NFL experience, all of which came with the Miami Dolphins in 2015. He originally entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent with the New England Patriots in 2014 after finishing his college career at Oklahoma State.

Ola played in three games earlier this season with the Bills.

Ihedigbo suffered an ankle injury in the loss to Pittsburgh. Albright was promoted from the practice squad last week.

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