Steelers Film Session: Base defense key in stopping the run
After allowing 197 yards rushing in back-to-back games, the Steelers felt the only way they could rectify their problems was to get back to basics.
Or maybe it was to just get back to the base — as in the base defense.
The Steelers went into Sunday's game against one of the top rushing teams and running back duos in the league ranked 31st in stopping the run, then had one of its best days defending the run.
The Steelers held the Bills to 95 yards rushing in a 23-10 victory, snapping a two-game losing streak and improving to 3-6.
They did it by playing their base defense (three defensive linemen, four linebackers, four defensive backs) for the majority of the game — something the Steelers haven't done much this year.
The Steelers have used their sub-package defense a lot since inside linebacker Larry Foote was lost for the season midway through the first game of the season
The Steelers played their base in 28 of Buffalo's first 48 plays and held the Bills to 147 total yards.
The big difference was in the run game.
The Steelers allowed 59 yards on 17 carries while in their base defense. The longest run they gave up was a 9-yard scramble by Bills quarterback EJ Manuel.
C.J. Spiller ran eight times for 23 yards against the base and Fred Jackson 8 for 27.
The Steelers were able to use the base defense more because of the lack of a dynamic passing game by the Bills. Manuel threw for only 155 yards, with 81 of those yards coming on the final drive of the game.
The Steelers didn't allow a run longer than 11 yards for the first time this season.
• Mike Adams might have lost his job, but he saw a lot of action against the Bills. Adams was on the field as a third offensive linemen/second tight end for 27 (40 percent) of the Steelers' 67 offensive plays. Adams spent the majority of the snaps — 20 — on the right side of the formation next to Marcus Gilbert. Despite the Steelers running for 76 yards with Adams in the game, only 23 yards (on 12 carries) came when they ran toward Adams' side.
• Buffalo's Mario Williams wanted no part of the Steelers' strong formation with Adams as the extra tackle. Williams, who is among the NFL leaders in sacks, was held without a sack, pressure, hurry, tackle or assist, and it wasn't because of Adams. The first 15 times Adams was on the field (right or left side of the formation), Williams flipped to the opposite side. It's not unusual for Williams to flip to the weak side of the formation, but even when there was a two-tight formation, Williams went where Adams wasn't. The Bills switched up in the second half; Williams stayed on Adams' side eight of the last 10 times both were on the field.
• The Steelers went to the wildcat on two different occasions — early in the first quarter and Emmanuel Sanders' 25-yard run — and in both instances, the Steelers went with an unbalanced line to the play side. Gilbert bounced to left side outside of tackle Kelvin Beachum. The weak side had only one offensive lineman — David DeCastro — with Heath Miller being the de facto right tackle.
• Todd Haley always says balance is what he strives for with his offense, and balance is what he got against the Bills. Not only did he achieve balance in play selection (34 drop backs, 33 runs) but also in first downs (eight rush, nine pass). However, one of the hidden stats that showed the offense was balanced was play selection on first down. After the Steelers took a 17-3 lead near the end of the third quarter, they ran 23 first-down plays — 12 runs and 11 passes. The Steelers ran every first down in the fourth quarter to run the clock and finished with a 17-11 run advantage on first downs.
• Le'Veon Bell's yards-per-carry average wasn't spectacular (2.6), but there was good reason. Out of Bell's 22 carries, 12 came on first down when defenses are in their base and anticipating the run. Bell rushed for 29 of his 56 yards on first down. The Steelers rushed for 79 of their 136 yards on first down.
• The Steelers moved some personnel against the Bills. Cornerback William Gay played the slot receiver in sub-packages instead of Cortez Allen, who moved outside. Tight end Michael Palmer replaced David Paulson as the second tight end.
• Jerricho Cotchery should win an Oscar for his acting during the Steelers' first touchdown. He beat Buffalo cornerback Stephon Gilmore with his fake as much as he beat him with his move at the line of scrimmage. With the ball on the 5-yard line, the Steelers lined up in a power formation with two tight ends and an extra offensive lineman. Gilmore didn't bite on the play-action by Ben Roethlisberger, but he did bite on the lackadaisical blocking attempt by Cotchery on the outside. Gilmore figured the play was over when Cotchery went through the motions on his block attempt.