Sunday Night Football Showdown: (11-1) Pittsburgh Steelers at (9-3) Buffalo Bills
The Buffalo Bills take on the Pittsburgh Steelers in the second straight primetime action for both teams. The Steelers took their first loss of the year to the Washington Football Team just minutes before the Bills kicked off against the 49ers. Josh Allen and the Bills had arguably their best game of the season so far in what many members of the media have called a statement victory. Josh Allen had what was clearly his best game of the year and pushed him back into the MVP conversation even though it seems that the award is Patrick Mahomes' to lose. Buffalo is experiencing a high right now. The fan base, the media, and the city of Buffalo all are as ecstatic as ever. The opposite could be said for the Bills opponent on Sunday night. After a sluggish victory in week 12 against a depleted (due to COVID) Ravens team that did not even have reigning MVP Lamar Jackson available, Mike Tomlin called out his team. The Steelers responded to Tomlin's criticism with a loss against a then 4-7 Washington Football team. The tale of this week is two opposites. The Bills look to continue to ride this high with a victory over the Steelers who currently hold the #1 seed in the AFC and the Steelers look to bounce back after weeks of sluggish play and their first loss of the season. In this game analysis, we are going to look at some matchups to watch this game as well as the Buffalo Bills keys to victory against the Steelers.
Matchups To Watch
The Bills O-Line vs. TJ Watt
The Buffalo Bills Offensive line has experienced 8 players receiving at least 150 snaps at various points during the seasons. Injuries to Jon Feliciano, Mitch Morse, and Cody Ford and returning starter Quinton Spain being cut earlier on in the season have led to the Bills having a trial and error approach trying some players at multiple positions. With Ford out for the season, it seems like the Bills have finally found the Offensive line unit they are comfortable with (from LT to RT) Dion Dawkins, Ike Boettger, Mitch Morse, Jon Feliciano, and Daryl Williams. This group limited a strong 49ers front 7 to only one sack and 4.5 tackles for loss after a disastrous performance against the Los Angeles Chargers where Joey Bosa accounted for 3 sacks and 6 TFL alone. The Steelers Defensive front is deeper than both the 49ers and the Chargers and it is led by AFC DPOY frontrunner T.J. Watt. However, the Bills will catch a small break as recent news broke that Watt's pass-rushing partner Bud Dupree out for the rest of the season with a torn ACL.
With 12 sacks and 19 TFL already this season T.J. Watt leads the deepest defensive line group in all of football. If Buffalo wants to compete with Pittsburgh they do not necessarily need to dominate this defensive line however they do have to continue their solid play from last week. Josh Allen is capable of creating time for himself so as long as Buffalo's offensive line stays competitive with this deep Steelers front the Bills will always have a chance. Expect the Steelers to attempt to push Josh Allen out of the pocket to the left (so Allen has to throw across his body) after the clinic Allen put on rolling to the right and having a clean pocket last week against the 49ers. Because of the potential mismatch, expect the Bills to utilize the screen game more often than we have seen this season. Brian Daboll has been able to dial up some creative plays so do not be surprised if you see some creative screens to Devin Singletary, Dawson Knox, or Gabe Davis today.
Taron Johnson and Levi Wallace vs. Pittsburgh Wide Receivers
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This is an important matchup to watch because it nearly kept the 49ers in the game last week. Taron Johnson and Levi Wallace have had their fair share of ups and downs this year. Last week against the 49ers it was a down week for the both as we saw Brandon Ayuik and Deebo Samuel consistently eat the two players up. The Steelers have completely abandoned the run game over the last four weeks with Ben Roethlisberger throwing over 45 times in each of those contests. Ben averages only 4.6 CAY (Completed Air Yards) per catch. Contrary to the usual Pittsburgh teams this year the ball comes out often and it comes out quick. With a deep receiver group including Juju Smith-Schuster, Chase Claypool, Diontae Johnson, James Washington, and Eric Ebron (TE) the Bills secondary has their hands full. You can assume that Mike Tomlin has spotted Buffalo's weaknesses in the secondary and will attack them all day. It is in Ben's best interest to keep the ball away from Jordan Poyer, Micah Hyde, and Tre'Davious White who are all playing at a Pro-Bowl level currently and attack Wallace and Johnson. Both Levi Wallace and Taron Johnson should expect a lot of action and it is key that they both make some plays throughout the game for the Bills to be successful.
Tremaine Edmunds vs. Ben Roethlisberger's eyes
At first glance, this seems like a very odd matchup. However, it does make sense though if you watched the Bills play the 49ers. Tremaine Edmunds often plays a soft zone coverage 7 yards off the line of scrimmage on passing downs. There were 3+ plays last week where Edmunds read the eyes of 49ers Quarterback Nick Mullens and was inches away from an interception on each play. Now it is obvious that Ben Roethlisberger and Nick Mullens are not the same players; one is a career backup and the other is an All-time great. Still, Tremaine Edmunds has been hunting for interceptions in coverage over recent weeks and has been often taking the more aggressive route to the ball. If Edmunds can read Roethlisberger's eyes well in this game he has a chance to affect the game significantly. It does not necessarily need to be an interception by Edmunds to do it either. The Steelers have a quick throw style west coast offense this year so as long as Edmunds can get a hand to a ball or two it is very possible that he ends up with an assist for another player on the defense to get an interception. Edmunds vs. Roethlisberger is a matchup that will essentially determine the success of the Steelers offense. With Matt Milano back in the fold Edmunds looks to keep improving each week as he has after quite a rough start from the third year linebacker.
Three Keys to Victory for the Buffalo Bills
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1. Pressure Ben Roethlisberger
Ben Roethlisberger has not been sacked in 5 straight games which is the longest streak in the NFL since the 1970 merger. Over those 5 games Ben has thrown at least 42 times in each of those games. The Steelers may attempt to run more with James Connor returning this week but the core of their offensive gameplan will remain within the short passing game. The Bills do not necessarily need to have many sacks to be successful this game. Due to the quick passing of Big Ben it makes it very difficult to get a hand on him. It is important that even if the Bills cannot sack Roethlisberger that they hurry and hit him often. If Ben has a clean pocket he succeeds more often then not so it is important that Buffalo creates pressure on Ben to affect throws and even create negative plays. If the Bills cannot get immediate pressure the Bills D-line will have to get their hands up and in the passing lanes to alter throws that way. This is something that Buffalo has generally been good at although this week there should certainly be an emphasis on that because of Roethlisberger's lack of mobility causing him to just sit in the pocket. Without any pressure Ben should be able to pick apart Buffalo's zone defense and some of the weaker coverage players in man. If Buffalo is able to give Big Ben trouble throughout the game they have a legitimate chance of stalling the Steelers offense.
2. Control Possesion
Buffalo has done a pretty good job of this all year as their offense ranks 8th in average drive time in the NFL. Although they struggle to run the ball, 23rd in rushing yards in the NFL the Bills are able to still hold the ball because Josh Allen completes 70% of his passes. The Bills have to most drives of 10+ plays in the NFL and currently are the leading the NFL in converting 3rd downs at 49.3%. Winning the time of possession battle against the Steelers is important. The Bills defense has underwhelmed based off of their performance last year and against a physical Steelers team the Bills best chance of winning is if they can keep the defense off the field. This is more because you want the defense to be fresh every drive instead of being on the field consistently. The Buffalo Bills are better when they control the possession of games. It also will help the Bills if the Steelers defense is beat down and tired. Without their top three linebackers, top corner, and a starting edge rusher this is the thinnest the Steelers defense has been all year. The Bills should keep them on the field as long as possible and really test the depth of this defenese.
3. Win Turnover Battle
This one seems pretty obvious but its something that Buffalo has struggled to do all year. The Steelers lead the league with a +11 turnover ratio and Buffalo is just in the positive at +2. Buffalo cannot afford to give the Steelers short fields or turn the ball over when driving. The Steelers team is one of the best in the league at taking advantage of other teams mistakes. Winning the turnover batte in this game would give Buffalo and incredible boost when it comes to winning the game. Playing mistake free football is important however its near impossible in today's NFL. The Bills need to just make more big plays that involve turnovers than the Steelers and there chances of victory will increase the more that occurs.
Buffalo Bills: 23
Pittburgh Steelers: 20
BUF offensive player of the game: WR Stefon Diggs
BUF defensive player of the game: LB Tremaine Edmunds
BUF special teams player of the game: K Tyler Bass
BUF player to watch: DE Daryl Johnson