Steelers Start Strong, Struggle Late, Ultimately Hold Off Bills In Overtime To Improve To 8-3

What to say about the Pittsburgh Steelers' Week 12 overtime win over the Buffalo Bills, and where to start? If you haven't yet seen the highlights or read much about the Steelers' 19-16 win, I'd suggest watching the game highlights, as well as reading the recap and listening to Coach Mike Tomlin's press conference after the game.

Now that you've familiarized yourself with what transpired in Buffalo on Sunday afternoon, let's get to some of the talking points from the fortuitous, hard-fought win.

* Again, where to start? How about by giving a quick shout out to the recently signed kicker Shaun Shuisham, or 'Sushi' as my lady friend refers to him as. Suisham, who was signed in the wake of Jeff Reed's dismissal, was arguably the player of the game for Pittsburgh. Suisham was true on all four of his field goal attempts. Impressive as is, but what was noteworthy about his performance was the distances he delivered from. NFL kickers are supposed to make the easy kicks, but Suisham's kicks were far from chip shots. In fact, all four of his field goal attempts were from at least 40 yards out (45,46,48,41). I wouldn't say I 'questioned' the decision to cut Reed following Pittsburgh's Week 10 loss to the Patriots, but I sure had my reservations about whether Suisham would be much of an upgrade. He's never had that strong of a leg, and having watched him quite a bit during his time in Washington, I was aware of his less than stellar track record in the clutch. He sure was outstanding though against the Bills. All of his kicks looked to be good from 50-plus, and none even flirted with being wide right or left. It was exciting seeing his new teammates swarm him after his game-winner in overtime. Let's be real - the Steelers are going to need exceptional place kicking if they hope to make it to the playoffs and beyond. Today's performance by Suisham sure was a welcomed sight after watching the Steelers drop more than one close game the past two years due to inconsistent kicking. Congratulations to Suisham!

* What next? If you ask me, it's impossible to say what the next single most important factor was to the Steelers' victory. So, how about we look into the massive (and fairly disconcerting) disparity in how the first and second halves played out. At halftime, the Steelers led the Bills 13-0. Considering the 39-point swing the Bills laid on the Bengals during last Sunday's win, I don't imagine too many Steelers' fans believed the game was over and done with at intermission. Still, the halftime stats were amazingly lopsided.

I don't have the official first half stats handy, but here were a few notes I took during the first 30 minutes

  • The Bills didn't run their second offensive series until the start of the second quarter. In fact, they ran just four plays and possessed the ball for a mere 1:09 in the first quarter.
  • The Steelers first two drives featured 27 plays that consumed over 14:00 minutes of game clock.
  • If my calculations are correct, the Steelers were an impressive 7-of-9 on 3rd down in the first half. 
  • At intermission, the Steelers had 205 total yards to just 51 for the Bills, and 18 first downs compared to just four.

* Next stop? The offensive line. I'd like to spend time this week discussing the state of the line and my thoughts on whether or not their collective play may or may not be good enough for the Steelers to accomplish their goals come January. But for now, let's go over their play on Sunday. On the one hand, the play of the line was frustrating, particularly in the second half. Four more offensive holding calls went against the Steelers' O-Line. Two came on first down plays on the Steelers' third series of the game. Pittsburgh overcame the first to pick up a fresh set of downs, but the second stalled the offense on a drive that could have really put pressure on the Bills. Instead, the Steelers were forced to punt, and despite having played basically the worst opening 20 minutes of football imaginable, the Bills were only down 10 points. For the record, three of the four holds went against Chirs Kemoeatu. It wasn't just big No. 68 who struggled though. Ramon Foster missed assignments in both the running and passing game; Jonathan Scott played better than he had but still got beat more than once; and even the great rookie center, Maurkice Pouncey, had his struggles.

Let me take a step back though - despite giving up five sacks and killing drives with untimely penalties, the offensive line had its moments. Want proof? Well, the Steelers finished with 206 rushing yards, the most since Tomlin's very first game as the head coach of the Steelers, a Week 1 trouncing of the Browns back in 2007. Rashard Mendenhall, who finished with 151 yards on 36 carries, deserves a lot of credit for picking up tough yards after first contact. But there were also ample running lanes for Mendy to attack. Every last offensive lineman deserves credit for contributing to the success of the running game. Also worth noting is the solid push the line provided on Isaac Redman's short-yardage carries. Four of Redman's five carries went for first downs, and all but one came on a 2nd or 3rd and fewer than 2 yards situation. The line again deserves credit for those conversions, something the Steelers have struggled with in recent years.

* Okay, I've written far too much without mentioning how insanely lucky the Steelers are that Stevie Johnson dropped an elementary pass in the endzone in overtime that would have ended the game. Johnson, mind you, was coming off a three-touchdown performance last week against the Bengals. This week, Johnson dropped five balls, none bigger than the would-have-been game winner in OT.  When the ball was in the air, I said 'game over'. When Fitzpatrick released the throw, you could just tell he had something brewing deep. Dropped. Truly remarkable.

* How about the pass defense? Well, Ryan Fitzpatrick finished with 265 yards on 23-of-45 passing. 265 yards is a decent amount, but don't overlook how many passing attempts it took him to get to that figure. Fitzpatrick averaged a meager 5.88 yards per passing attempt. That's rarely going to get it done in this league. So, while the Steelers' secondary had its lapses in the second half, it's not quite fair to say they had an off day slowing down Fitzpatrick and the Bills' aerial attack. Remember, the Bills ran just a handful of plays in the first half, meaning Fitzpatrick had nearly 40 passing attempts in the second half and overtime to accumulate his final numbers. Pretty darn solid outing actually by Dick LeBeau's unit.  More on the play of the defense in the forthcoming days.

* Lots more to come, but in conclusion, a few final quick-hit notes:

  • Interception No. 4 this season for Troy Polamalu came at a huge moment in the game. The Steelers led by 3 points, 16-13 with just about 3 minutes remaining. Fitzpatrick fired a slant to S. Johnson, who couldn't snare the pass (thanks not once, but twice Mr. Johnson!). The deflection hung in the air just long enough for Polamalu to swoop in, dive, and haul in the pick. The Steelers ultimately had to give the ball back up to the Bills, who then marched down the field for the game-tying field goal at the end of regulation. But the way the Bills were humming at that point, Polamalu's pick may have stopped a potential go-ahead TD drive at just the right time. 
  • Credit James Harrison with his 10th sack of the year. Deebo also recorded his sixth forced fumble of the year early in the third quarter when the Bills were on the move inside the Steelers 30. As I mentioned a week ago, Harrison really should be in contention for Defensive Player of the Year. Sadly, I don't see it happening for the simple fact that he's been the poster child of the NFL's tougher stance on 'illegal hits'. Speaking of that, Harrison was flagged again this week for a roughing the passer penalty. Whether or not the hit was 'illegal' is up for debate, but I'd say it's a safe bet that Harrison is fined again for the hit.
  • Nice games for Hines Ward (7 receptions, 107 yards), Mewelde Moore (multiple clutch 3rd down plays), Isaac Redman, Daniel Sepulveda, Nick Eason, and others I'm sure I'm forgetting. We'll get to it all throughout the week though in anticipation of next week's pivotal showdown with the hated Baltimore Ravens.

Back soon.

Go Steelers!

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