Behind the Steel Curtain managing editor Neal Coolong answers questions about the Pittsburgh Steelers, who host the Buffalo Bills on Sunday.

Last season, the Pittsburgh Steelers missed the playoffs for the first time since the 2009. Instead of bouncing back, the Steelers have continued to decline this year and are just 2-6 so far.

The usually tough Pittsburgh defense is ranked 31st in the NFL in rushing defense and the Steelers' run game is ranked 28th in the league.

The Daily Messenger asked Neal Coolong, managing editor of the Behind the Steel Curtain website, some questions about this year's Steelers.

Q: The Pittsburgh defense has had a handful of ugly games. What's going wrong on that side of the ball?

A: It's a defense that's predicated on stopping the run and forcing teams to be one-dimensional. The run defense has been hurt by the absence of veteran Larry Foote, and the growing pains currently endured by rookie sixth-round pick Vince Williams. Their defensive line isn't as strong against the run as it used to be, and their safeties aren't as solid as they used to be. Against the pass, their coverage isn't that bad, but teams have been employing shorter, more possession-oriented game plans. The Steelers defense aims to prevent big plays and make teams complete eight 10-yard passes to move up and down the field. Today's offenses have much better quarterbacks and much better receivers than they did even five years ago, and the plan of tackling the catch and waiting for the quarterback or the protection scheme to eventually make a mistake just isn't working the way it once did.

Q: Ben Roethlisberger has already been sacked 31 times. Who are the weak links on the offensive line?

A: If we're defining sacks as merely a problem of the offensive line, former starting left tackle Mike Adams was a liability through the first four games of the season. He looked overwhelmed through the majority of those four starts, hence the reason he's no longer starting. Kelvin Beachum (a seventh-round pick in 2012) has been an improvement, but not to a large degree. However, Roethlisberger owns responsibility for a decent chunk of those sacks as well. According to Pro Football Focus, Roethlisberger is pressured on roughly 33 percent of his sacks, which is around the average mark in comparison to his peers. He's getting sacked on 25 percent of those pressures, though, which is among the highest mark in the league. Translation: He's seeing pressure on an average frequency, and he's getting sacked a large amount of those pressures. He holds onto the ball looking to make plays, and while that's part of what makes him a great quarterback, it's a tragic flaw that gets, to an extent, unfairly placed on his protection. No one will mistake it for Wolford, Richter, Hull, Davis and Ballard, but it's not a complete travesty either.

Q: Do you expect Dick LeBeau to send a lot of blitzes at rookie QB EJ Manuel?

A: I expect the Steelers to run-blitz constantly in early downs, and force the Bills to win or lose with the arm of their rookie quarterback. LeBeau is 16-2 in his Steelers defensive coordinator career against rookies, and Manuel's Bills prove an interesting challenge to that stat. Buffalo runs the ball at a very impressive level, and against the Steelers' sagging run defense, it's only logical to assume that's how they'll attack. To try to throw off that rhythm, the Steelers are going to plug every hole up front with seven defenders, and try to force Manuel to complete passes. Eventually, Manuel will guess wrong, and the defense can be in a position for a turnover. But if Buffalo can get running downhill, I don't think Manuel will throw more than 22 times.

Q: The Steelers come away with a win on Sunday if …

A: Pittsburgh will need to counter Buffalo's powerful run game with one of their own. They've run poorly the last two weeks, and it puts too much pressure on their passing game. Roethlisberger is a highly talented player, and wide receiver Antonio Brown is a consistent weapon within that offense, but it lacks explosion, top to bottom. If they can get running back Le'Veon Bell to his usual 20-23 touch mark, and average five yards a touch for him, they can control the tempo of the game and not have to risk putting the freakish Mario Williams (four career sacks in two games against the Steelers) into too many obvious pass-rush downs. Buffalo's defense is loaded with talent, and running the ball may prove to be too difficult for the Steelers' offensive line. In that case, Roethlisberger needs to take few risks and protect the football at all costs. That means limiting deep throws to only when it's clearly there, throwing the ball away if it isn't, and trying to get the ball out on schedule.

Follow Neal Coolong on Twitter at NealCoolong and follow Dan Goldman on Twitter at MPN_DanGoldman.