Steelers Still Feast On Rookie QBs?

E.J. Manuel (Jason Miller/Getty Images)

Or are those days gone as well? Steelers must stop Bills' run game to put the clamps down on E.J. Manuel.

In his days as defensive coordinator of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Dick LeBeau has compiled an 18-2 record against opposing rookie quarterbacks.

With the exception of Troy Smith and Brandon Weeden, it's been a complete mismatch: 25-11 average score, 54.3 passer rating and a 9 to 24 touchdown-to-interception ratio.

LeBeau's list of rookie fodder begins with Eric Zeier in 1995 and continues to Geno Smith earlier this season.

E.J. Manuel is up today.

The only quarterback drafted in the first round last April, Manuel has started five games for the Buffalo Bills -- beating Carolina and Baltimore -- and compiled a respectable 79.4 passer rating before injuring the LCL in his right knee against Cleveland and missing the last four games.

In the middle of this past week, the Bills weren't sure about playing the 6-5, 237-pound Manuel. Not that the Steelers cared either way.

"I'm not really worrying about that because they can still run the ball," said Steelers nose tackle Steve McLendon. "I'm not really thinking about the throwing. We gave up 55 points! People was running the ball on us!

"That's what we've got to worry about, stopping the run. I'm not worrying about no quarterback. I'm worried about who's running the ball."

That's where it's always started for the Steelers, who were gouged by the run last week and it allowed Tom Brady to pick apart a guessing secondary in the second half.

It's a plan the Steelers' offense would love to embrace, but it's become a plan the defense hasn't been able to stop.

McLendon hopes things will be different today against the two-pronged Buffalo running attack of C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson.

"C.J.'s extremely fast; Jackson's probably got better vision," McLendon said. "There's really not much difference. They're both fast, they both hit the hole strong, they both run hard. We've just got to go out there and stop them."

Jackson, with 502 yards, is the Bills' leading rusher by 24 over Spiller. But Spiller has the better average -- 4.7 to 4.3 -- and is coming off a 116-yard performance on 12 carries against the undefeated Kansas City Chiefs.

The Steelers, meanwhile, have been in free fall defensively. They've allowed 197 rushing yards to both the Patriots and Oakland Raiders the last two weeks, at an average of 5.4 yards per carry.

McLendon has called this "redemption week," not only for himself, but for the defense, the coordinator, and the 2-6 team in general against the 3-6 Bills.

"We've got to make sure we get back to our fundamentals," said LeBeau. "We've gotten away from those too far. That's on me. We are leaving too many windows, and we are getting hit in some of those windows. We are going to close them up." If the Steelers can stop the NFL's fourth-ranked rushing attack, they should be able to stop Manuel.

The rookie's top target is the goat of the last meeting between the teams, Stevie Johnson (38 receptions, 423 yards, 3 touchdowns), who dropped the game-winning touchdown pass in overtime of a 2010 game the Steelers eventually won.

Manuel's No. 2 target is 6-7 tight end Scott Chandler (32-367-2), but his No. 3, rookie WR Robert Woods, is doubtful with an ankle injury.

Woods will be replaced by track stars T.J. Graham (4.39 40) and rookie Marquise Goodwin (4.27). Graham has caught 15 passes for 193 yards, while Goodwin averages 21.4 yards per each of his 13 catches.

LeBeau, of course, remained humble and hopeful while being grilled this week for his defense's last two performances.

"We have to keep the game where our guys can win it," LeBeau said. "That's going to be our goal. We've been working on that this week. We've been working on it every week, to be honest with you. The guys have been sharp this week. We are going forward. We are looking ahead, not looking behind us."

Defensively, the Bills present a pass rush that's the statistical equivalent of a New England pass rush that sacked Ben Roethlisberger five times last Sunday.

Of the Bills 29 sacks, defensive end Mario Williams is the leader with 11, while the inside tackle duo of Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus have combined for 8.

They'll be up against a Steelers offensive line that will have David DeCastro back at right guard, but lists both right tackles, Marcus Gilbert and Mike Adams, as questionable.

The Steelers' OL must plow forward against a Buffalo front seven that's quarterbacked by Rookie of the Year candidate Kiko Alonso, the middle linebacker, and allows 3.9 yards per carry. Or what the Steelers used to allow on a bad day during their heyday of chewing up rookie quarterbacks.

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