Updated: Dec 14, 2020
The Steelers suffered their first loss of the season on Monday to the Washington Football Team, falling 23-17. They still are currently the No. 1 seed in the AFC at 11-1, but the Kansas City Chiefs are right behind them, who also have a record of 11-1 and are trying to get that all-important first-round bye. The Steelers have the tiebreaker due to losing to an NFC opponent rather than a team in the conference. The Steelers are now set for an AFC showdown in primetime against the division-leading 9-3 Buffalo Bills at Bills Stadium in Orchard Park, N.Y. The Steelers can make a real statement by going on the road and beating the Bills, especially now since a lot of people believe the Steelers are not legit Super Bowl contenders due to losing to Washington and playing poorly the past couple of games.
- According to Brooke Pryor of ESPN, the Steelers are leaving for Buffalo on Sunday morning instead of traveling on Saturday, which is what they normally do for road games.
"Due to a number of schedule adjustments which resulted in the Steelers playing on a short week two weeks in a row, we requested and were approved by the League Office to travel on game day to Buffalo for our Sunday night game," Steelers spokesperson Burt Lauten said in a statement. "Our preparations and meetings will be conducted in Pittsburgh Saturday evening, and the team will then fly to Buffalo on Sunday morning and continue day-of-game preparations upon arrival in Buffalo."
The last time the Steelers traveled on the day of the game was in Week 9 in 2012 when they made a day trip to East Rutherford N.J. to face the New York Giants during Hurricane Sandy.
- The Steelers are 16-10 all-time against the Bills. Under Mike Tomlin, the Steelers are 4-1 against the Bills and Ben Roethlisberger is 4-0 in his career against Buffalo. The Bills are one of five teams that Roethlisberger has never lost to in his career (the only team in the AFC). Before last year's Week 15 loss to the Bills, the Steelers won six straight games against Buffalo. The Steelers have won four straight games against the Bills on the road and haven't lost at Buffalo since 1999.
- The Steelers are 18-12 on Sunday Night Football under Tomlin in the regular season and 9-5 on the road. The last time the Steelers played on Sunday Night Football was last year in Week 15 against the Bills, a game in which the Bills picked off Devlin Hodges four times and won 17-10.
- The Steelers are currently 2-point underdogs against the Bills and the over/under is 49 points, according to Oddsshark.com. The Steelers are 6-1 against the spread in its last seven games against AFC teams and Buffalo is 1-4 against the spread in its last five home games against Pittsburgh, per Oddsshark.com. The under is 4-1 in the Steelers' last five games. It's the third time this year the Steelers have been underdogs in a game with the two other times coming in Week 7 against the Tennessee Titans and Week 8 against the Baltimore Ravens.
- Bills' quarterback Josh Allen is coming off a performance against the San Francisco 49ers where he completed 32 of 40 passes (80%) for 375 yards, four touchdowns, no interceptions, and a quarterback rating of 139.1. Allen led Buffalo to a 34-24 win over San Francisco.
On the season, Allen has completed 69.9% of his passes for 3,403 yards and has a touchdown-interception ratio of 26-8, along with a quarterback rating of 105.9. Allen is also dynamic as a runner, rushing for 322 yards on 87 carries (3.7 average) and a team-high six touchdowns. Allen ranks fifth in the league this year in passing yards, tied for sixth in touchdown passes, fourth in completion percentage and seventh in quarterback rating.
"Quarterback mobility is where you start. Josh Allen is a big-time challenge," Mike Tomlin said on Tuesday during his weekly press conference. He’s a big-time challenge because of his throwing abilities. He’s a big-time challenge because of his abilities to extend plays and to scramble. They have some designed quarterback runs utilizing his talents. They keep you off-balance and really nail down your menu in terms of ways that you attack them. They have awesome balance and supplements to the running game. He has over 300 rushing yards on the season. That’s something to be reckoned with."
Defensive coordinator Keith Butler even said Allen reminds him of a young Roethlisberger in the way he runs the ball and escapes from pressure.
"He’s good at what he does. He’s a big guy. He reminds me a lot of Ben (Roethlisberger) when he was young in terms of running the football," Butler said. "Sometimes he runs to escape. Sometimes he’s got called plays for him in terms of draws, quarterback draws and stuff like that. Sometimes he runs sweeps. We have to be ready for him doing that at all times. He is an effective runner for them. Like I said, most defenses you account for eight gaps. The quarterback creates a ninth gap in terms of trying to defend the line up front. We have to be in position sometimes where we are going to have to have an extra guy come in and play the run. Hopefully, we can be right. That’s going to happen."
Defensive tackle Cam Heyward also compared Allen to a young Roethlisberger.
"He's a heck of (a) competitor, and competes every play that buys him time," Heyward said of Allen. "He's very similar to Ben, a young Ben that can extend the pocket, and make plays with his feet, as well."
The key to stopping Allen for the Steelers' defense is to hit him and make sure they are disciplined in their rush lanes and keep him in the pocket.
"Overall, we have to get to him first and foremost," Alex Highsmith said about Allen. "He is dangerous, so we know we have to keep him in the pocket. That is what makes him such a great quarterback, is because not only can he throw the ball, but he can run the ball as well.
"I think our key to stopping him on defense is to get after him and rush the passer and keep him in the pocket. If we are out of our rush lanes or whatever he might be able to get out. It's about keeping him in the pocket and being aggressive in that aspect."
- Allen is leading a high-powered Bills' offense that ranks eighth in points per game (27.8), third in passing yards per game (276.4) and 10th in total yards per game (378.8). Buffalo also has the league's No. 1 third-down offense and fourth-down offense, converting at 49.28% on third down and 83.33% on fourth down. The Bills have scored at least 30 points or more in a game six times this year and they have scored over 30 points in three of their last four games. Allen has thrown over 300 yards in six games this year and has thrown over 400 yards twice. Allen also has three games where he has thrown for four touchdowns this season. The Steelers rank second in pass defense this year, allowing 199.8 yards per game and are giving up just 17.6 points per game, which is the fewest in the league.
- Allen's main target is wide receiver Stefon Diggs, who the Bills acquired in the offseason through a trade with the Minnesota Vikings. Diggs is tied for first in the league with 90 receptions and ranks fifth in receiving yards with 1,037 and four touchdowns. Cole Beasley is the Bills' slot receiver, recording 66 receptions for 797 yards and four touchdowns. Beasley leads the league in yards from the slot with 778, according to Pro Football Focus. Rookie fourth-round pick Gabriel Davis has 25 receptions for 422 yards (16.9 average) and leads the team in touchdown receptions with five. Davis has a total of three touchdown receptions in three of the last four games. John Brown is currently on injured reserve with an ankle injury.
- The Bills rank 23rd in the league in rushing this year, averaging 102.4 yards on the ground per game. Running back Devin Singletary leads the team in rushing with 544 yards on 128 carries (4.4 average) and one touchdown. Allen is actually second on the team in rushing with 322 yards and leads the team in rushing touchdowns with six. Zack Moss is the backup running back and he has rushed for 292 yards on 71 carries (4.1 average) and three touchdowns.
- The Steelers rushed for a season-low 21 yards on 14 carries (1.5 average) against Washington. They also got humiliated on the goal line in the second quarter against Washington when they ran five straight plays on the 1-yard line and couldn't get the ball into the end zone. Benny Snell Jr. had three carries for a gain of no yards during Washington's goal-line stand.
"If you can’t get a yard in our game, you don’t deserve to win," Tomin said on Tuesday about the Steelers failing to convert in short-yardage situations against Washington. "That’s the nuts and bolts elements of football, the physicality element of football. We didn’t meet that challenge, so we have some work to do in that area. The big thing for us is to examine why and get back to the lab and recapture some of the rhythm that we’ve had in those situational moments throughout the year. There have been times during the year where we haven’t run the ball as good as we would like, but even in the midst of those in situational moments, we have been solid. We weren’t in our last performance, and we have to own that."
Through 12 games, the Steelers rank 29th in rushing, averaging 92.6 yards per game. They have rushed for 48 yards or fewer in four of their last six games. In the Steelers' first five games of the season, they rushed for 100 yards or more in every game and had a running back rush over 100 yards in four of those games.
Both James Conner and Maurkice Pouncey came off the reserve/COVID-19 list this week and they're expected to play on Sunday night after missing the game against Washington and the Baltimore Ravens. Getting back Conner and Pouncey should help the run game, and the Bills have not been great at defending the run this year, allowing 126.0 yards per game, which ranks 21st in the league.
"Pouncey is Pouncey," Roethlisberger said. "We’ve been together for a long time. He’s been a comfort blanket. He is, in my opinion, the best in the business. He is a Hall of Fame center. Any time you’ve got that guy up there not just physically in terms of what he can do and brings to the game but emotionally, mentally, he is that lynchpin upfront."
Former Steelers' running back Jerome Bettis talked with Ed Bouchette of The Athletic recently and said the Steelers need to be more committed to the run game. The Steelers rank 23rd in the league in rushing attempts (299) this year and are averaging 3.72 yards per carry, which ranks 21st in the NFL.
“The only solution in fixing the running game is the commitment," Bettis, who's in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, told Bouchette. “You got to be committed to it because once you commit to it then the offensive linemen, they have a different attitude about it, the running backs look at it differently, just the whole offense changes. You can’t just fix the running game with Xs and Os. It doesn’t happen that way.
"The running game is a mentality, so if you’re going to be a physical running team, you have to commit to it, and that’s the problem the Steelers have, they didn’t commit to it coming out of training camp. And when you don’t commit to it then, you struggle when you have teams that have very dominant defensive lines because you can’t move people out of the way.”
- Drops have plagued the Steelers in their last two games. Against Baltimore and Washington, the Steelers' receivers had 16 drops, seven of those drops came on Monday against the Football Team. According to PFF, the Steelers lead the league in drops with 34 and Diontae Johnson leads the NFL among all players in drops with 10.
On Tuesday, Tomlin made it clear that he won't tolerate any more dropped passes from the receivers.
"They can catch the ball or they can get replaced by those who will catch it,” Tomlin said. "It’s as simple as that. I expect guys to make routine plays routinely. When there is a pattern of that not happening, then we have to look at who we’re throwing the ball to.
"The coaching of catching the football to those who are employed to do it at this level is not something I have a lot of patience for. It's not something any of us have a lot of patience for. Those guys job is to catch the football, particularly the routine ones. Where there's a pattern you should expect to see less opportunities. That is just fair. That is just part of what this business and our game is about."
- The Steelers scored at least 24 points or more in every game this year except for the last two games where they have scored 19 and 17 points, respectively. The Bills' defense allows 375.5 yards per game, which ranks 21st in the league, and are giving up 25.5 points per game, which ranks 18th in the NFL. The Bills do have 19 takeaways this season, however, which is tied for the seventh-most in the league. All-Pro cornerback Tre'Davious White leads Buffalo in interceptions with three this year. All three of White's interceptions have come in three of the last four games.
- The Bills' defense has 30 sacks this year, which is tied for the 12th most in the league. Linebacker A.J. Klein leads Buffalo in sacks with five. The Steelers' offensive line has allowed just 10 sacks this year, which is the fewest in the NFL and hasn't given up a sack in five straight games. The Bills' offensive line has allowed 24 sacks this year, which is tied for the 13th fewest in the league. The Steelers lead the league in sacks with 44 and have had at least one sack in 69 consecutive regular-season games, dating back to 2016 in Week 9 against the Ravens. With a sack on Sunday against the Bills, the Steelers will reach 70 consecutive regular-season games with a sack and surpass the 1999-2003 Tampa Bay Buccaneers for the longest such streak in the Super Bowl era.
- Cornerback Joe Haden (concussion) and inside linebacker Robert Spillane (knee) have been ruled out for Sunday night's game. Both Haden and Spillane suffered their injuries in Monday's game against the Washington Football Team and did not practice all week. Haden is in the concussion protocol.
On Saturday, the Steelers activated inside linebacker Ulysees Gilbert III to the 53-man roster from the reserve/injured list, elevated inside linebacker Tegray Scales to the active/inactive roster from the practice squad, and placed linebacker Robert Spillane on the reserve/injured list.
For Buffalo, only safety Jaquon Jefferson (ankle) is ruled out for Sunday. The Bills are a rather healthy team right now compared to the Steelers, who are dealing with some key injuries and Williams on the reserve/COVID-19 list. Last week, the Bills did not have a single player on their injury report.
- The Steelers are hampered at the inside linebacker position with Spillane out and Vince Williams on the reserve/COVID-19 list, and Devin Bush out for the season due to an ACL injury he suffered in Week 6 against the Cleveland Browns. The Steelers will rely on Avery Williamson to carry the load at inside linebacker along with Marcus Allen against Buffalo. Gilbert and Scales will also provide depth at the position.
"We miss all of the guys we don't have and wish everybody could be here," T.J. Watt said. "At the same time everybody is a professional football player. Like I say every week, everybody has been preparing like they are a starter since they got here. Everybody in this locker room is more than capable of stepping up and being a key contributor for this team.
"Everybody around is going to have to pick it up too to help make the transition as easiest as possible for these guys. Whether it's just things like communication or things like that."
Williamson was traded to the Steelers from the New York Jets on Nov. 1 and is starting to understand the nuances of the defense. On Monday against Washington, Williamson played 38 snaps, the most he's played in a game since coming to Pittsburgh.
"I feel like he has done a great job since he has been here of just trying to learn as much as he possibly can and embracing the culture we have here," Watt said of Williamson. "I am excited for him to get the opportunity to get a good amount of reps this weekend. He has done a great job this week in practice of being more vocal."
The Steelers have a two-game lead in the AFC North over the Cleveland Browns and can clinch the AFC North with a win over Buffalo on Sunday night and a loss by Cleveland to Baltimore on Monday night. The Steelers can clinch a playoff spot with a win or losses or ties by the Oakland Raiders, Miami Dolphins, or a loss by the Tennesse Titans. The Bills can also clinch a playoff spot with a win and losses by the Raiders, Dolphins and Ravens.
"All parties know it's going to be a big-time game," Watt said. "We want to get the loss out of our minds. We feel like we had a great week of practice this week. We are going to go on the road for the first time in a while and it's going to be a good matchup for us."