Matchup: Pittsburgh Steelers (11-1) +2 @ Buffalo Bills (9-3)
Time and place: 12/13 8:15 p.m. EST @ Bills Stadium
Tidbit: Prior to losing to Buffalo on Sunday Night Football last season, the Steelers had won 6 straight against the Bills
KEY #1: Force Josh Allen to beat himself
Quarterback Josh Allen has had a tremendous start to the season, completing nearly 70% of his passes and rushing for 6 touchdowns. Allen is reminiscent of a young Ben Roethlisberger- a big, strong athlete who extends plays with a rocket arm. To this point, Allen really hates to give up on a play. He trusts his physical gifts so much that he always feels like he can make something happen.
In fact, according to Pro Football Focus Allen has the 2nd most turnover worthy plays of any QB this season, trailing only Carson Wentz of the Eagles. And the vast majority of these turnover worthy plays come when Allen is pressured or attempting to force the ball into tight windows. Watch how Allen tosses this ball up for grabs because of the pass rush.
Even without Bud Dupree, the Steelers should be able to get into Allen's face and force a few bad decisions. Whether or not the Steelers convert these plays into turnovers could be the difference in the game.
KEY #2: Paging Chase Claypool
Something that's been sorely lacking in recent weeks is the Steelers ability to produce big chunk plays. Chase Claypool is the receiver most equipped to hit home runs, averaging 13.8 yards per reception this season to lead the team. Claypool's impact has also been missed in the red zone, where the Steelers have struggled and seemed to have forgotten about Claypool's frame and catch radius. Especially with the running game struggling, it'd be nice to see Claypool be given the opportunity to make plays like this one.
KEY #3: No Pressure = Plaster
Plastering will be a key concept for the Steelers defense against Buffalo. The basic idea here is that the play is never dead, so when the Steelers aren't able to generate pressure, they need to hold onto their man in coverage for as long as possible, and/or find the closest receiver and run with him. If you let Allen, Stefon Diggs, and Cole Beasley to run around unimpeded, they will tear apart your zones. Look at how Allen steps up in the pocket to avoid the rush as he waits for Diggs to break free in the 49ers soft quarters coverage. Also some nice design by Bills OC Brian Daboll with two receivers flooding the zone to make way for Diggs. This is all possible because Allen's big arm forces the defense to always be wary of the deep shot.
It's definitely crucial to play until the whistle against Buffalo.
KEY #4: Now or never for the run game
Alright, here it is. James Conner is back. Maurkice Pouncey is back. The Bills are 24th in the NFL against the run. If the Steelers are going to have any modicum of success rushing the football the rest of this season, we will see evidence of it on Sunday night. If it's more of the same, we're probably in panic mode.
Looking back at this play feels like an alternate universe. 1st and goal from the 1 and the Steelers are able to run it in for the score...? What a concept. Watch how Pouncey clears the way for Conner on this one. Both of their returns could not have come at a better time.
The Steelers commitment (or lack thereof) to the run game against Buffalo will speak volumes. Does this team think they're capable of punching someone in the mouth in short yardage situations? Can they out-physical an opponent in the trenches? Let's hope so.
KEY #5: CATCH THE BALL
Simple as it gets. The drops need to end. The Steelers might have beat Washington if they didn't drop balls like this one.
Let's hope this changes against the Bills for the sake of our sanity.