Even with DeflateGate 2: Softer, Suppler and Unpumped, breaking minutes before kickoff (and unceremoniously concluding before halftime, strangely), the Pittsburgh Steelers defeated the Buffalo Bills 27-20. Despite the close score, the game itself was a bit of a, dare I say, “cakewalk.”
For the second week in a row, Pittsburgh’s offense managed to give an inferior opponent life, as three Ben Roethlisberger interceptions (two of which occurred in the red zone) allowed Buffalo to remain in contention long enough to attempt a meaningful onside kick with just over a minute remaining in the game.
Fortunately, Le’Veon Bell plays for the Steelers, and he carried Pittsburgh to its fourth straight win by setting franchise records in touches, rushing yards and yards from scrimmage in a single game. Bell also scored three touchdowns, much to the benefit of fantasy owners everywhere.
Bell’s 238 rushing yards are the most that a player has gained in a single game since 2012, and he tacked on 62 receiving yards, which is starting to become commonplace for him. This guy is on pace to finish the season with 1,370 rushing yards and 650 receiving yards in a 13-game season. His upcoming contract negotiations should be nothing more than Kevin Colbert handing him a blank check and saying, “fill this out, sport. See you in camp.”
The Pittsburgh Steelers have rightfully concluded that riding Le’Veon Bell to the postseason is a pretty prudent move. So yeah, his stock is up. As for the rest of the Steelers...
Stock up - The young defensive core
I don’t know what happened to Pittsburgh’s defense, but its general lack of suckiness seems to correlate pretty strongly with Sean Davis’ and Artie Burns’ recent success. Burn grabbed his third interception of the season against Buffalo, which places him just 11 behind Ike Taylor, who is the best Steelers cornerback of my lifetime. Davis, meanwhile, appears to have learned how to play strong safety, as the rookie defensive back contributed a pair of sack assists and seven tackles. I’m not a big fan of draft grades, but the Steelers nailed their first two picks of 2016 with Burns and Davis, at least in the short term.
The front seven appears to be in equally capable hands, as Bud Dupree played perhaps the best game of his career on Sunday. I don’t have snap counts in front of me as of writing, but Dupree appears to have played the vast majority (if not all) of Pittsburgh’s snaps at left outside linebacker. Like Burns and Davis, I can’t diagnose Dupree’s long-term value, but it does seem like he will give Pittsburgh’s pass rush a solid boost for the remainder of the 2016 season.
Stock up - Offensive line
They paved the way for Bell’s career day and allowed Roethlisberger to take just a single hit. If Pittsburgh’s line isn’t already on Dallas’ or Oakland’s level, they certainly aren’t far behind.
Stock up - Cobi Hamilton
I may be late to the party on this, but Hamilton is an excellent blocker, which I think might be why he has surpassed Sammie Coates on the depth chart.
Stock up - Chris Boswell
Have you ever tried to kick something in the snow? I played a good bit of soccer as a lad, so I can confirm that successfully kicking a ball in the snow is a praiseworthy accomplishment. Boswell nailed a pair of field goals and all three of his extra point tries just 10 days after injuring his oblique. His performance is more impressive than it seems.
Stock down - Tackling
The Steelers held the league’s best rushing attack to under 70 yards. Even more impressively, the Steelers held LeSean McCoy, one of the league’s most productive backs this season, to just 27 rushing yards. McCoy did, however, pick up 81 receiving yards, 41 of which came on a single play in which the Steelers missed several tackles. Missed tackles led to a 40-yard Charles Clay touchdown, as well. Yeah, I’m nitpicking a bit, but Buffalo only lost by a possession.
Stock down - Ben Roethlisberger
Three turnovers points your arrow downward, sorry. Ben has resided in the Rust Belt for the duration of his football playing career; he’s seen snow before.
Stock up - The road ahead
Fittingly, the Steelers must root for the producers of Deflategate Part 1, who host Baltimore Monday night. A Patriots victory would push Baltimore to 7-6, a full game behind Pittsburgh in the AFC North standings.
Even if Baltimore shocks New England at home, the Steelers finally look like the Super Bowl contender that many pegged them as prior to the 2016 season. The defense looks like a completely different unit, and the coaching staff has made Bell the focal point of the offense. The road ahead looks promising.