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Steelers need to win battle along D-line

| Friday, Nov. 8, 2013, 11:42 p.m.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco is sacked by Steelers linebacker LaMarr Woodley during the second quarter Sunday, Oct. 20, 2013, at Heinz Field.

Linebacker LaMarr Woodley has said “everything has to start up front” for the Steelers' defense to be successful.

The defensive line and linebackers will be challenged when the Steelers host the Buffalo Bills at 1 p.m. Sunday at Heinz Field.

The Bills will have rookie quarterback EJ Manuel back in the starting lineup, but one of the league's best ground games will get the Steelers' attention.

The Bills haven't disguised what they intend to do.

They intend to feed the Steelers a steady diet of running backs Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller, mostly because the Steelers are next to last in defending the run.

It's a stark contrast to where the Steelers have been. New England quarterback Tom Brady last week enjoyed success, in part, because running back Stevan Ridley hammered the Steelers for 115 yards on 26 carries.

In their past two games, the Steelers have allowed the opposition to rush for 197 yards. What the Bills have seen on Steelers game film against Oakland and New England is a defense that has been manhandled up front and not fast enough to seal the seams.

“If we aren't playing good up front, then we count on our secondary to make tackles and make plays, and we shouldn't put them in that position,” said Woodley, who followed a zero-tackle performance against Oakland with two solos and six assists in a 55-31 loss to the Patriots.

“We have to do a better job stopping the run. We haven't done that all year. It's about everybody doing their job.”

The job has been difficult, mostly because the defense has lost a step or two.

It isn't simply a matter of speed but rather an inability to swarm the ball.

That was evident when Raiders quarterback Terrelle Pryor encountered no resistance in finding daylight through the middle of the defense.

“It doesn't matter if they are fast or strong,” defensive end Ziggy Hood said. “It comes down to playing together. We hurt ourselves when we're not on the same page. Some teams scheme against us because of it.

“Everyone is moving fast but not fast enough as a unit.”

“The game as a whole is getting faster, so the defense has to adjust,” linebacker Jason Worilds said.

“We are pretty fast, athletic group. So that's why it's frustrating when we don't play to our abilities.”

The Bills are averaging 145.8 rushing yards per game, second in the AFC.

The Steelers would rather the Bills lean on an erratic passing game that's ranked 14th in the conference.

But Manuel will present a similar challenge to the one they faced against Pryor.

Manuel lacks Pryor's speed, but elusiveness is a concern for a defense that has only 13 sacks.

While defensive ends Cam Heyward and Brett Keisel have a team-high 21 quarterback pressures, they have combined for only three sacks.

Ralph N. Paulk is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at rpaulk@tribweb.com or via Twitter @RalphPaullk_Trib.

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