It only took 10 weeks, but the Pittsburgh Steelers defense finally delivered four quarters of quality football.
Dick LeBeau and Co. quieted the retirement storm by holding the Buffalo Bills to just three points until late in the fourth quarter, riding out with a 23-10 victory. Recently named starter Cameron Heyward, along with LaMarr Woodley and Lawrence Timmons, led a ferocious, hard-hitting Steelers defense to downright domination of the Bills.
Maybe most surprising was the way the Steelers defense limited one of the NFL’s top running offenses to just 134 rushing yards. The Buffalo backfield tandem of C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson had 78 combined rush yards and no touchdowns. Not exactly the stats of fantasy football players of the week.
The Steelers secondary also came alive after the 404-yard, four-TD shellacking from Tom Brady in New England. Bills wide receiver Steve Johnson and his fantasy football owners predicted big points but woke up to the Monday morning reality of three catches for 48 yards.
Seems secondary coach Carnell Lake and Lebeau’s decision to switch William Gay and Cortez Allen proved to be quite fortuitous. Gay led the team with 11 tackles primarily out of the slot corner position, while Allen slipped to outside corner on his defensive snaps (Gay got 67 snaps, Allen 41).
Even Ryan Clark got a bit of a reprieve on his lackluster season. With Troy Polamalu returning to safety instead of the linebacker-safety hybrid position he has played for most of the season, Bills quarterback EJ Manuel was unable to find the open pastures Brady exposed. Clark also caught his second interception of the year late in the fourth quarter, scampering for 37 yards on the return.
Rookie linebacker Vince Williams got a few extra snaps thanks to Polamalu’s return to the secondary in the Steelers’ base defense. Williams continues to grow into a decent 3-4 LB. He plugged the gaps against two dangerous backs and had a couple tackles for minimal gains. Both Timmons and Williams left their mark with a couple violent tackles — none better than Timmons’ tackle for a loss on Jackson. Timmons also clobbered Manuel for a five-yard loss on the Bills’ first possession in the second half
Even the lowlights had some highlights. After promising rookie safety Shamarko Thomas exited with a high ankle sprain, Will Allen stepped up nicely. His presence up front allowed Polamalu and Clark to stay deep. Allen’s quick exit from the Dallas Cowboys worked out for Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert. Dallas could have used him the other night.
LeBeau added a few new personnel groupings in order to pump up the pass rush. Until the injury to Woodley in the third quarter, the Steelers used a blitz package of Woodley, Jarvis Jones, and Jason Worilds. Jones then replaced Woodley at right OLB and recorded his first sack of the career.
Due to Woodley’s injury, the Steelers had to rely more on Worilds, and he delivered with a sack, a QB pressure and two tackles. He was more aggressive. Ziggy Hood also recorded a couple hurries and a tackle.
Now the error-free defense of Week 10 finds themselves facing Detroit’s Calvin Johnson, Matthew Stafford and Reggie Bush. It could be death by fire or the heavens of redemption. At least the stage is in Pittsburgh.