Gene Collier: Hard to see this defensive gem coming


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Two weeks in a row, three weeks in the past five, someone had gone galloping gleefully through the formerly prideful Steelers defense for 100 yards and more.

None of them were named C.J. Spiller or Fred Jackson, the dynamic running back tandem of the Buffalo Bills, but Spiller and Jackson were to get their turn on Pittsburgh's wide-open six-lane highway Sunday, a lane for every rushing touchdown it had allowed in just the past two games.

Meanwhile, a whole herd of Buffalo had just thundered for 241 yards against the ferocious defense of the unbeaten Kansas Chiefs, so you didn't exactly have to be one of those impeccably overdressed NFL analysts (or even the other kind) to see where this was going.

But that's the beauty of a league that has long-since gone hard toward the seriously unbeauteous.

Nobody can see where anything is going.

The St. Louis Rams beat the Indianapolis Colts by 30 points Sunday. The winless Jacksonville Jaguars dropped the modifier against Tennessee. In the paper and on the air and all over cyberspace 24/7, we pretend to know enough about the NFL to at least project the general direction of its gameday politics, and it's a joke, right?

The Steelers crushed Buffalo's running attack Sunday like an upright piano toppling onto an arrangement of mums.

Anyone see that coming?

How and why that happened was still anyone's guess in the hours after a 23-10 Steelers victory that wasn't anywhere near that close, an end-to-end bore-fest that bumped the Steelers' overall 2013 success rate back to -- let me just calculate it here -- yes, one win per month.

"Everybody stayed in their gap," said the once-demoted defensive end Ziggy Hood, who suddenly reappeared as part of a frantic front seven that held Spiller and Jackson to 78 yards. "Everybody worried about their own responsibilities. Everybody was doing their own thing, allowing each other to make plays.

"After last week we knew we had to adjust some things. We let our offense down last week [allowing 55 points at New England, 31 of them in the final 18 minutes] and, as a Steelers defense, we don't do that around here."

Hood wasn't the only one with the gaps explanation. LaMarr Woodley said it too. But for whatever reason, the Steelers got decorous performances from Lawrence Timmons (eight tackles, a sack, another tackle in the backfield, a pass defended, a quarterback hurried) William Gay (a team-leading 11 tackles, two in the backfield), Cameron Heyward (six tackles, a sack, a hurry, a tackle for loss), and from every last defensive component charged with rendering the Bills' ground game moot.

"It's what they're capable of; it's the type of men we have," said coach Mike Tomlin. "I'm not talking about the past. I'm just talking about what happened today, evaluating this performance. They tackled well. It's fundamental. You maintain your ground, you shed blocks, you make tackles, and you are where you are supposed to be."

As it happened, the Bills figured out the degree of difficulty pretty quickly. The Steelers smothered five of their first six running plays, so when Buffalo found itself looking at third-and-goal at the Steelers 1 after a Jairus Byrd interception, a run was apparently off the table.

Rookie quarterback EJ Manuel threw harmlessly toward Ike Taylor's coverage of Stevie Johnson in the end zone.

After a field goal, the Bills punted on their next nine possessions. So on a day when Steelers wideout Antonio Brown would account for 178 all-purpose yards, he actually caught as many punts as passes. That's how effectively Dick LeBeau's defense rebounded from its New England annihilation.

"We didn't capitalize on everything we thought we could have," said Manuel, the latest notch in LeBeau's belt regarding rookie passers, who are 2-17 against the Steelers' defensive coordinator. "Obviously we wanted to get the running game started, but we couldn't really do that. But I don't want to use that as an excuse. It would have helped because then you can run play-action and get the linebackers to jump up a little more, but it wasn't there today."

Particularly in the case of Spiller, whose 5.24 yards-per-carry for his career is a better Buffalo figure than O.J. Simpson's (4.80), better than Cookie Gilchrist's (4.52). Spiller averaged 2.9 Sunday on eight carries. Jackson had 55 on 12.

"I take my hat off to Buffalo," Hood said. "They came in here with the right game plan, to try and knock us off the ball."

Of course, why wouldn't they?

Against a defense that had allowed a league-leading eight plays of 50 yards or more, the longest Buffalo run was 11 yards, the longest pass 23.

You saw that coming, right?

Me too.

Gene Collier: gcollier@post-gazette.com.


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