The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Pro

November 10, 2013

Rush defense key for Steelers

PITTSBURGH — EJ Manuel. Thad Lewis. Jeff Tuel. To be honest, Pittsburgh Steelers nose tackle Steve McLendon does not really care who the Buffalo Bills start today.

A week after the worst defensive performance in the franchise’s 81-year history in a 55-31 loss to New England, McLendon just wants to get back on the field and find a way to restore some sense of normalcy to a team getting pushed around in the midst of a 2-6 start.

“I’m not really thinking about the throwing,” McLendon said. “We gave up 55 points. People was running the ball on us. That’s what we’ve got to worry about, worry about stopping the run. Don’t worry about no quarterback, worry about who’s running the ball.”

That’s been one of the few constants for the Bills (3-6), who have one of the league’s better 1-2 punches in Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller. They’ve helped keep Buffalo competitive even as a knee injury to Manuel forced Lewis and Tuel – an undrafted rookie free agent – onto the field.

“If someone told me it was going to happen I’d want it to happen now,” first-year coach Doug Marrone said. “I think that you can see the adversity that’s hit this team early on and the players are working hard and fighting through it.”

Here are five things to look for as two teams trying to either rebuild or reclaim their identities meet.

E.J. does it: Though Manuel returned to practice on Wednesday and took the majority of the snaps with the first team, Marrone declined to name him the starter, perhaps out of caution. Manuel, however, believes he’s good to go. That’s good news for Buffalo’s offense, which wasn’t nearly as dynamic with Manuel standing on the sideline. Though Lewis and Tuel weren’t terrible, they were sloppy. They combined for eight turnovers in four games. Manuel had just four turnovers over the same period before getting hurt.

“Yeah, we’re excited to get EJ back,” center Eric Wood said. “Hopefully, it gives us a boost, offensively.”

Embattled LeBeau: Pittsburgh’s late meltdown against the Patriots, when New England finished the game with a 31-7 burst, did more than raise concerns about an aging secondary. It also brought heat on Hall of Fame defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau.

Coach Mike Tomlin defended LeBeau earlier this week. When pressed on why, he simply answered “because he’s Dick LeBeau.”

The Steelers haven’t finished outside the top 10 in total defense since LeBeau took over in 2004. While they rank 12th overall, they’re also an uncharacteristic 31st against the run. The players insist the problem isn’t the game plan but the execution.

“We’re in the right positions,” safety Troy Polamalu said. “We’ve got to make the plays.”

Johnson’s health: The Bills nearly beat the Steelers in the last meeting, missing a chance to win when an easy touchdown pass in overtime fell through the hands of wide receiver Stevie Johnson. The mercurial Johnson blamed God after the game on his Twitter account, an act that has overshadowed what is turning into a solid NFL career.

Johnson is one of five active players to have three straight 1,000-yard seasons and has become one of the most dependable players in the game. He doesn’t think Pittsburgh’s defense has lost a step, but he welcomes a second chance to right a wrong.

“If you’re aggressive (like the Steelers), you got a 50/50 chance of making a big play or a big play being made on you,” he said. “You know, so hopefully it will be our big play.”

Staying positive: Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger never gave a second thought to calling it a day when the Patriots built an overwhelming lead in the fourth quarter. Though any shot at the postseason is all but shot, he plans to keep that mindset heading into the season’s second half and believes his teammates will follow suit.

“We can’t look at the big picture, such as everyone’s record, are we in the playoffs?” Roethlisberger said. “We’re just trying to get one win this week. Who do we have and how good can we play?”

Finishing strong: The Bills and Steelers have both struggled with getting it done in the late going. Buffalo has been in the lead or within a score of the lead in eight of its nine games. The Steelers rallied to tie the Patriots at 24 last week before things got out of hand.

“We just kept playing,” Pittsburgh safety Ryan Clark said. “That’s all you can do, try to go out each week and win that game. This week, we have to be good enough to beat the Buffalo Bills. We don’t have to be good enough to beat the New England Patriots again.”

1
Text Only | Photo Reprints
Pro
  • Pirates 0721 Rallying Dodgers snap Pirates’ win streak at 3 games

    Hyun-Jin Ryu pitched seven strong innings, Adrian Gonzalez reached base five times and the Los Angeles Dodgers beat the Pittsburgh Pirates 5-2 on Monday night.
    Ryu (11-5) joined Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw in making the Dodgers the first team in the majors with three 11-game winners.

    July 21, 2014 1 Photo

  • Pirates 0720 Pirates rally to keep sweep

    Taking the extra base was the key for the Pittsburgh Pirates in completing a three-game sweep of the Colorado Rockies.
    Andrew McCutchen hit a tiebreaking single in the seventh inning, Neil Walker followed with a home run and the Pirates overcame a three-run deficit to beat the Rockies 5-3 Sunday.

    July 20, 2014 1 Photo

  • McIlroy 0720 McIlroy holds on to win British Open

    Walking off the 18th green as the British Open champion, Rory McIlroy kept gazing at all the greats on golf’s oldest trophy.
    On the claret jug, his name is etched in silver below Phil Mickelson.

    July 20, 2014 1 Photo

  • Pirates 0719 Pirates take second straight over Rockies, win in 11th inning

    Jordy Mercer doubled home Neil Walker with one out in the bottom of the 11th inning to lift the Pittsburgh Pirates to a 3-2 victory over the Colorado Rockies on Saturday night.
    Walker led off the inning with a single against Colorado’s Chad Bettis (0-2), moved to second on a sacrifice bunt, and scored one batter later when Mercer hit a drive deep into the gap in left-center.

    July 19, 2014 1 Photo

  • out at home Eighth-inning rally carries Pirates to victory over Rockies

    Travis Snider’s pinch-hit double in the eighth scored Neil Walker to spark the Pittsburgh Pirates to a 4-2 victory over the Colorado Rockies on Friday night.
    Walker trotted home when Colorado right fielder Carlos Gonzalez couldn’t track down Snider’s sinking line drive off reliever Matt Belisle (2-5). All-Star Josh Harrison added a sacrifice fly one batter later.

    July 18, 2014 2 Photos

  • score Pirates in race, hope for late surge

    The Pittsburgh Pirates find themselves in an average, every day – if still heated – pennant race.
    A season after shedding the yoke of two decades of failure with a stirring run to a playoff berth, the Pirates are just another solid if not spectacular team trying to keep pace in the jam-packed NL Central.

    July 17, 2014 1 Photo

  • Derby 0714 Cespedes wins again, beating Frazier in HR derby

    July 15, 2014 1 Photo

  • All-Star Game 0714 Pitching matchup features two of game’s most dominant arms

    July 14, 2014 1 Photo

  • Jeter 0714 Derek Jeter, an All-Star for the last time

    July 14, 2014 1 Photo

  • Cleveland Browns getting 'Swagger’ with new dog mascot

    Johnny Manziel’s newest teammate with the Browns has four legs and can roll over on command.

    July 14, 2014

Poll

What is the biggest key to reducing gun violence in Johnstown?

Tackling the area's drug problem.
Controlling folks moving into city housing.
Monitoring folks in treatment centers and halfway houses.
Tougher sentencing by the court system.
More police on the streets.

     View Results
Order Photos


Photo Slideshow

House Ads