Steelers Rewind

SCI's Matthew Marczi reviews three key segments of the Steelers' 23-10 win over the Buffalo Bills. ... Winning's so much more fun, isn't it?

If you asked Steve McLendon what he was looking to get out of this week, he would have told you it was redemption.

Personal redemption.

As the nose tackle of a once-vaunted run defense, McLendon also spoke this past week about redemption for the entire defense, which did redeem itself against one of the league's top rushing attacks, led by Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller.

After back-to-back weeks of 197 yards allowed on the ground, the Steelers limited Buffalo's two-headed ground attack to just 78 yards on 20 carries from Jackson and Spiller. Quarterback E.J. Manuel added 17 yards on a pair of scrambles.

The biggest difference for the Steelers was not at the point of attack. Rather, it was on the perimeter where most of the improvement occurred this week, with the secondary contributing as it should against the run. That's why William Gay finished with 11 total tackles, nine solo. He accounted for four run stops on the Bills' first two drives alone, after gains of 3, 3, -1, and -1.

SAFETY NETS

No position needed a bigger turnaround this week than the last line of defense. Safeties Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark were both unequivocally awful against the New England Patriots against the run and the pass.

Between Clark's missed tackles in the open field and Polamalu's failure to stay on assignment, the back end of the defense had plenty to do with the hurting put on by the Patriots a week ago.

Not so this week.

Though their actual tackle numbers were limited – three solos for Polamalu, two assists for Clark – their omnipresence constantly hindered the Bills' offense.

Star receiver Stevie Johnson had just three receptions for 48 yards, of which 23 came off a missed tackle by Shamarko Thomas. Manuel targeted Johnson 10 times.

His first reception was good for just five yards on 2nd-and-9 because Polamalu read the play and attacked quickly, forcing him out of bounds.

Later, a third down pass fell incomplete when Polamalu got his arm around Johnson's shoulder. Polamalu did the same thing to Chris Gragg in the third quarter, cutting in front of the tight end to prevent a first down.

Neither counted as pass deflections on the stats sheet, but they were just as effective. Much of their impact, in fact, doesn't show up on the stats sheet, but it's there on tape. There's no statistic to ascribe credit for Clark charging in on a run from 20 yards off to influence the back into the arms of other defenders.

The free safety spent a good portion of the game as the single high, disrupting and confusing the rookie quarterback. As with Geno Smith and Terrelle Pryor earlier in the season, it all eventually led to turnovers.

This time it was Clark coming down with the interception, a bit of tangible evidence to support the overall solid game of the starting safeties.

DWYER DETERMINED

Running back Jonathan Dwyer has a different sort of redemption in mind. He was released by the team in the final cuts at the beginning of the season in favor of Isaac Redman, only to be re-signed after LaRod Stephens-Howling tore his ACL in the season opener.

Dwyer is now a trusted role player behind Le'Veon Bell. Redman is unemployed.

The fourth-year back is determined to make sure his coaches know they made a mistake in cutting him, even if his release was the wakeup call he needed to finally commit himself to his craft.

Nowadays, you'll find him relishing every opportunity he has to take the field, whether it is as the up back on kick returns, taking short-yardage snaps, or, most recently, contributing on punt returns.

It took him a while to find his footing on special teams, especially on the punt return team, admittedly, but his block down field on Chris Hogan during Antonio Brown's 50-yard return made about a 20-yard difference.

Still, it's in the backfield that Dwyer looks more determined than ever when he has the ball in his hands.

Last year, it would be Redman coming in to spell Dwyer on 3rd-and-short opportunities. Now it's Dwyer pinch-hitting for the other backs.

Of his six carries in the game, three came on 3rd-and-short. He converted all of them, each with gusto.

The first conversion went for six yards when he needed one. The next opportunity required second and third efforts behind some shoddy work up front. He displayed some actual vision on 3rd-and-3 to bounce another run outside for eight yards on his third successful conversion.

All told, Dwyer finished with six carries for 38 yards. In limited opportunities, he's averaging 4.8 yards per carry, going 139 yards in 29 attempts.

After spending most of his career forcing his coaches to question his dedication, even when handed a starting job, Dwyer has used his shot at redemption to carve out a role for himself, and done so with enthusiasm. Others should be learning from his experience.


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