Head Coach Mike Tomlin, after the Steelers Week 13 effort against the Washington Football Team was undermined by receivers dropping the ball, stated that if players don’t catch the ball, he would replace them with players who would.
He kept his word.
Diontae Johnson dropped two early passes and would spend a big chunk of the game on the bench. He returned late in the game, and his drop free return sparked a touchdown drive to bring the Steelers within one score of the Bills.
If Johnson can turn things around and get off the drop-infested skid he’s been on the last three games, this offense will be much better for it. When Johnson’s hands are reliable he’s the Steelers most effective receiver, when he is dropping balls, he hinders the offense.
The Steelers rotated their running backs more with James Conner back, with Jaylen Samuels leading the backs in snaps and total yards. Similar to what we saw a good deal in 2019.
The run game struggled again overall as the Steelers averaged slightly more than 3 wide receivers a play for the game, while averaging exactly one tight end per snap and with zero snaps for Derek Watt at fullback. It has sadly become the norm for the Steelers to face a terrible run defense and be unable to run the ball.
The offensive line snaps show the turnover they faced on the line, with 8 offensive lineman receiving snaps in a game where the Steelers never used an extra lineman.
Cameron Sutton again led the team in total snaps played for the second week in a row. Alex Highsmith led all non-defensive backs in snaps played, followed closely by Avery Williamson. If you were told at the beginning of this season that Sutton, Highsmith and then Jets linebacker Williamson would be playing the majority of snaps against Buffalo, you would probably guess that the Steelers would be in trouble.
Both Marcus Allen and Ulysees Gilbert III played in this game, with Allen playing 75% of snaps. This is not the Steelers defense that started this season. Those were all expected because of injury, what surprises me is that for the second week in a row, Jordan Dangerfield received more defensive snaps than Sean Davis.
Through all this, the Steelers defense gave up 20 points on 12 drives, surrendering 1.68 points per drive to a team averaging 2.68 points per drive. The Steelers dropped the Bills from 4th in points per drive to 7th with one game. They also set up the offense with a short field that resulted in one of the Steelers two touchdowns.
It is baffling to look at the players the Steelers are having to play on defense, consider the team they were facing came into the game ranked as a top 5 offense and bottom 3 defense, and then see the Steelers defense still vastly outperform the offense.