The Buffalo Bills entered their game against the Steelers on Sunday with the top ground attack in the NFL, but it was LeVeon Bell and the the Steelers who showed them how it’s really done. The Bills, who had been averaging 161.9 yards per game on the ground, were held to 67 yards on 18 carries, while the Steelers rolled up 240 yards on 42 carries. The one man wrecking crew for the Steelers was LeVeon Bell, who rushed for a franchise record 236 yards and scored 3 touchdowns, leading the Steelers to a 27-20 win over the Bills. Bell fell just two yards shy of having 300 total yards from scrimmage for the game. The win put Pittsburgh a half game up on the Baltimore Ravens, who will try to keep pace, in the AFC North, against the Patriots tonight in Foxboro.
Opening running lanes up for Bell, when he wasn’t creating his own, was a Steelers offensive line that was more than ready to pave the way once the game plan was tweaked to do so. Ben Roethlisberger came out throwing the ball early, but once it was established that the Bills defense had nothing for Bell, the Steelers kept pounding away at the Bills front seven. The success that the Steelers had running the ball allowed the offense to overcome three Ben Roethlisberger interceptions, and to dominate in time of possession by a ratio of almost two minutes to one.
The Steelers fourth straight win on Sunday represents more than just putting a “W” in the win column, it’s further proof that the team, as a whole, is coming together at just the right time. As they get healthier, the Steelers will only become more dangerous. The defense was just as dominant on Sunday as LeVeon Bell was on offense, holding LeSean McCoy to just 27 yards on 12 carries, and sacking Tyrod Taylor 5 times. Taylor, the Bills second leading rusher behind McCoy, was shut down as well, limited to just 2 yards on 3 carries. Rookie cornerback Artie Burns came up with his third interception of the season and, along with the rest of the secondary, provided solid coverage throughout the game. With the exception of the 40 yard touchdown pass to Charles Clay, where Burns gambled and lost, going for the interception, and a second quarter where they got sloppy with their tackling, the defense played their most complete game of the year by far.
The Steelers are developing into the complete and balanced team they need to be, just in time for the three remaining divisional games left on the schedule. The win over Buffalo is a culmination of their belief in themselves and the hard work they have put in to correct their deficiencies. When the defense gave up 204 yards to Dolphins running back Jay Ajayi, many wondered what a back like Shady McCoy would do to them. When the secondary was carved up by rookie Carson Wentz for 301 yards and 2 touchdowns, many feared what Eli Manning would do to them. When the defense had only 8 sacks after the first seven games, the big question was will the Steelers ever generate any kind of consistent pass rush? Especially after Cam Heyward was lost for the season. In the last six games, the defense has answered that question with 23 sacks.
On offense, during the four game skid, the big question was when will the Steelers start handing the ball off to LeVeon Bell? It’s no coincidence that during this four game winning streak, Bell has four straight 100+ yard games. Over the last four games, Bell has averaged 5.25 yards per carry, rushed for 620 yards and scored 5 touchdowns on 118 carries, proving why he is the best running back in the game. His 298 total yards from scrimmage against the Bills ranks 11th in NFL history. He became just the 5th player in history to have 30 games of 100+ total yards over his first 45 games, joining Eric Dickerson, Marcus Allen, Edgerin James, and Arian Foster. If not for Bell’s three game suspension, his average of 161.9 total yards from scrimmage per game would have him on pace for an NFL record 2,509 yards during a 16 game season, but as it is, he is on pace for 2,105 total yards from scrimmage for 13 games.
For all the weapons the Steelers possess in the passing game, it is still LeVeon Bell who will determine how successful the Steelers will be. Not only does he do it all on offense, but when he is grinding out yards on the ground, he helps to preserve the defense by keeping them off the field. Over the last four games, yesterday especially, Bell showed why he is worth every penny of a long term investment by the Steelers front office. Not only does his presence on the field help protect Ben Roethlisberger by slowing down a pass rush, but he also has the Steelers back on top of the AFC North and in total control of their post postseason destiny. While he may not be mentioned in the conversation for NFL MVP, there is certainly nobody in the league more valuable to their team than LeVeon Bell is to the Pittsburgh Steelers.