It’s week fourteen and the Steelers are headed to Buffalo to face the Bills. The Steelers are riding three wins a row while the Bills are still licking their wounds from last week’s loss to the Oakland Raiders. I’ll walk you through a few scenarios on how this could lead to a fourth straight win or a loss for the Steelers.
Why the Steelers will win: Le’Veon Bell gets 25-30 touches. The Bills are a solid defense, but according to teamrankings.com they rank 26th in the league against the run, allowing over 116 yards rushing per game. The Steelers are starting to play December football. By that I mean they are leaning on the run game and playing good defense. Bell has a great ability to get to the second level and he likes to occasionally give a pop to a defensive back trying to make a tackle in the secondary. If he can find success getting past the Bills’ front seven, defensive backs are not going to like having to try to take him down in the cold at New Era Field. Other teams have found success running against the Bills and the Steelers should as well with their talented offensive line, the multiple tight end formations and use of the fullback they’ve been employing lately.
If the Steelers get Bell going early, the Bills will have to bring help from the secondary and then Big Ben and Antonio Brown can go to work. The Bills have a solid secondary but without safety help, Brown is a mismatch and even when he’s blanketed he makes defensive backs look bad. The Bills will have to pick their poison against this Steelers offense, which is starting to hit it’s stride with the addition of Ladarius Green.
On defense, the Steelers will need to be their most fundamentally sound against the run. The Bills are a top-two team in all rushing statistics this season. They have a good offensive line of their own, one of the most dynamic running backs in the league in LeSean McCoy, and their quarteback, Tyrod Taylor is a threat to run on every snap. The Steelers have allowed an average of 92 yards rushing per game, good enough for sixth place in the league. This is a very impressive number, considering how many yards Miami, New England and Dallas ran for (222, 140 and 127 respectively) against them during that ugly stretch of losses earlier this season. Lately the Pittsburgh defense has risen to the occasion and kept opponents one-dimensional, but to be fair, part of that comes from playing with a lead and against inferior competition. This will be their biggest challenge since the Dallas game. Shady thrives on making defenders miss. The Steelers’ defenders need to know their assignments and stay in their lanes, because both McCoy and Taylor can hurt them with their speed. If they can do this, and force Tyrod Taylor into long down and distance situations, the Steelers can take advantage of the fact that the Bills are not a great passing offense, force them to punt and win the field position battle.
Why the Bills will win: Penalties and a lack of fundamentally sound football. I’ve spent a chunk of this article praising the Bills’ rushing attack. To keep this simple, if the Steelers’ defenders do not stay in their lanes, McCoy and Taylor will make them pay and that will open things for Taylor to take some shots with Sammy Watkins and the receiving corps. Watkins missed a bunch of games this year with injury, but when healthy is a tough cover. He’s not huge, but at 6’1” and 211 pounds, he is strong, can fight for the high throws and he’s fast. The Steelers’ defensive backs can’t sleep on this guy. If the Bills get their running game going, they can wear out the Pittsburgh defense and keep Ben Roethlisberger and company off the field and Taylor will make some plays with Watkins and Robert Woods. If Taylor can break the pocket and the linebackers can’t keep contain on him, it’s going to be a long day.
Penalties are a constant headache for Steelers’ fans. Last week, despite getting the win, the Steelers committed too many, to the tune of 115 yards against them. On defense the Steelers need to not give Buffalo free first downs with personal fouls and pass interference penalties. On offense, if the pattern of holding and false starts continues, the Bills could be able to cash in on those mental errors, forcing the Steelers into stalled drives, punts and possibly turnovers. The Steelers are capable of playing cleaner in this sense, but these types of mistakes can change the game for the worse.
The Steelers are talented enough to win this game, but Buffalo will test them. The Bills are tough on defense and have one of the league’s best rushing attacks. I believe the Steelers get this win, as they seem to be playing their best football of the year. I’m sure the coaching staff is preaching a similar mantra. Focus on your job, the details of your assignment and the rest will come to you. Keep Shady and Taylor contained, keep the penalties to a minimum and the Steelers get this win.