It took a while, but the Pittsburgh Steelers finally looked like, well, the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Sunday’s victory against the Buffalo Bills was just what the doctor ordered, albeit too little too late. The Steelers’ roller coaster season continued as fans now hang on to a glimmer of hope that their favorite team can right the ship and get back to winning again.
There was a great deal for Steeler fans to be excited about. The running game performed well, rushing for a combined 136 yards, and even though 25 of those came from Emmanuel Sanders, the team still rushed for over 100 yards combined.
Lets take a minute to talk about that running game. It took half a season, but the Steelers’ backs are finally starting to carve out a niche for themselves. Le’Veon Bell is the featured back and has shown great versatility in both the run and pass catching game. Felix Jones proves to be a player who can spell Bell if necessary, and Jonathan Dwyer has been explosive when carrying the ball.
Dwyer also handled short yardage situations with his no-nonsense, downhill approach to those pesky third-and-one plays and proved to be effective in that role.
With the success of the running game comes the success of the offensive line. This patchwork line did a phenomenal job against one of the best defensive lines in the AFC. It wasn’t always pretty, but when your starting tackle goes down and your starting guard leaves the game, you have to make do with what you have, and that group did their job. They gave up four sacks, but their play and the success of the running game overshadowed their deficiencies in pass protection.
There is no doubt who the game ball goes to in my mind, and that is the Steelers’ defense for hands-down the best performance of the season. Were they playing a rookie quarterback coming off injury in E.J. Manuel? Yes. Were they also facing a team that rushes for over 120 yards per game? Yes.
The defense did what Steeler fans expect. They made a rookie quarterback look like a rookie, and they shut down the running game of their opponent. The Bills rushed for 95 yards, and 17 of those came on Manuel scrambles. This defense isn’t apologizing for playing a rookie; they simply went out and did their jobs.
This game was soothing for Steeler fans, the organization and the players. To see Antonio Brown have himself a tremendous day in the return game as well as the receiving game was a sight for sore eyes. To watch Ben Roethlisberger make enough plays to win the game, and to see the defense stifle the opposition was a treat.
The question now remains, can the Steelers duplicate this performance? The word “playoffs” shouldn’t be in any Pittsburgh fan’s vocabulary at this point, but progress should. This game was a step in the right direction, and the Steelers have an uphill climb as the Detroit Lions travel to Heinz Field next Sunday. Beating the Lions will certainly be a more difficult task than beating the Bills, that’s for sure.
Jeff Hartman covers the Pittsburgh Steelers for RantSports.com and also contributes for the Penguins and Pirates. Follow him on Twitter @BnGBlitz