Steelers fullback Nix paves way to bigger role
For old-school fans longing for the days of a fullback stationed in the Steelers backfield, what transpired in the second half Sunday must have been a welcomed sight.
There was 5-foot-11, 245-pound Roosevelt Nix lining up in front of Le'Veon Bell, crushing linebackers, opening holes and helping pave the way for a franchise-record rushing performance in a 27-20 win over the Buffalo Bills.
Watching Bell dart and dash for 159 of his 236 yards in the second half with Nix leading the way was reminiscent of the days when Jon Witman and Dan “The Bus Driver” Kreider blocked for Hall of Famer Jerome Bettis.
The effort didn't go unnoticed. Bell took the game ball he received and presented it to Nix.
“He deserved it,” Bell said.
Nix was on the field for a season-high 25 snaps, with 23 coming in the second half when the Steelers came out running and intent on building upon a 14-7 lead.
Nix's most imposing play came when he guided Bell into the left side of the end zone untouched on a 5-yard jaunt. The lone defender, cornerback Ronald Darby, had no chance to get a hand on Bell.
“That touchdown was really him,” Bell said. “Just leading out in front of me lead blocking, he did a great job all day. This is probably his best game since I've played with him, for sure.”
Until the Bills game, Nix had been the forgotten man on the Steelers offense. He was inactive for the first five weeks of the season with a back injury and was deactivated for the game at Baltimore. Most of his playing time came on special teams.
Nix played 15 games last season, his first with the Steelers, but he only exceeded 20 offensive snaps once until Sunday.
“Rosie easily could have been written out of the playbook as far as him playing fullback,” guard Ramon Foster said. “He's made himself come alive here. He was a big part of what Le'Veon did Sunday.”
Nix slowly emerged as part of the offensive game plan during the Steelers' four-game winning streak. After playing just five snaps against the Browns, he logged a combined 26 snaps against the Colts and Giants as the Steelers inserted Nix and/or Chris Hubbard as additional blockers for Bell.
“He's been great,” guard David DeCastro said of Nix. “He brings that downhill running style, and it's been working for us.”
Before the Bills game, Bell said Nix was called out in pregame warmups by Bills linebacker Brandon Spikes.
“Rosie kind of took it, embraced it and brought it to the game,” Bell said. “He was turned up.”
Nix, though, said Spikes didn't get into his head.
“Nobody can get me riled up but me,” he said.
Nix met Spikes face to face a few times in the second half. Given Bell's astounding rushing yardage, it's not difficult to tell who got the best of the matchup.
“It's the old Oklahoma drill,” quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. “One on one in the hole, low man or the guy with the more want-to is going to win. It's a nasty part of the job, but he embraces it and loves it, especially when Le'Veon is walking in to score a touchdown.”
Teammates say Nix is loud and boisterous in the huddle and that his energy is contagious.
“He's always talking, always going, you always know when he's in there,” DeCastro said. “He's a lot of fun.”
In interviews, though, Nix is the opposite: quiet and unassuming.
“Some guys are like that,” DeCastro said. “But get them on the field and emotions run high. Whatever works best.”
With the game plan working so well against the Bills, it's natural to expect Nix to be in the backfield frequently Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals, who have the No. 25-ranked rushing defense.
The Bengals will have linebacker Vontaze Burfict back for this game. He didn't play when the teams met in Week 2. Then again, neither did Nix.
“It's important for me to do my job whenever I get called,” Nix said. “Burfict is a good player. We'll try to game plan like we normally do.”
And despite his enthusiastic nature on the field, Nix said he won't let his emotions get the best of him against the Bengals.
“We are just focused on us,” he said. “Nobody can take us out of our game plan. We do what we do. We play Steeler football.”