The Pittsburgh Steelers host the Buffalo Bills this weekend at Heinz Field. Feel the excitement!
If you’re going to Sunday’s game, well, I assume this is your first Steelers game because some season ticket holder realized what a dumpster fire the Steelers are and decided to pass his tickets off to you. What you need to know is always wave your Terrible Towel during commercial time-outs to increase your shot of getting on TV. The scoreboard operator will play “Renegade” to fire up the defense at some point during the game so cheer loud. And, for you ladies, please adhere to the NFL’s Clear Purse Policy.
For the rest of us, it’s an epic battle between a 3-6 and a 2-6 team. Maybe the Steelers will win. It certainly wouldn’t be shocking as the Bills aren’t very good. But who cares? Any wins by the Black and Gold just ruin their draft position.
STEELERS DEFENSE vs BILLS OFFENSE
The Bills have played a ton of close games this year. Six of eight have been decided by a touchdown or less – five by less than a field goal. They have talent, it simply comes down to a handful of plays here or there where they can’t seem to close the deal. Unless they come out with a perplexingly bland game plan like the Jets did against us earlier this year, the Bills aren’t going to be push-overs.
Quarterback EJ Manuel is scheduled to return from a knee injury. Somewhat surprisingly, Manuel was the sole QB drafted in the first round this past year. Like any rookie, he struggled early but was starting to get in a groove when he was injured. The QB situation in his absence has been a flaming bag of poo so his return automatically makes the Bills a much more dangerous team.
The Bills boast one of the best 1-2 running back tandems in football. CJ Spiller has been one of the most quietly dynamic players in football the past few seasons. He’s also been injury prone and a nagging high ankle sprain has limited him this year. He’s still averaging 4.7 yards per carry which future Hall of Famer Le’Veon Bell hasn’t sniffed yet. The other half of the tandem is Fred Jackson, who is averaging “only” 4.3 YPC although he has 28 receptions to go with his 500 yards rushing and 6 TDs.
Buffalo’s receiving corps is highlighted by our old friend Stevie Johnson. Johnson, Steeler fans may recall, dropped an easy go-ahead TD the last time the two teams met and then blamed God for hating the Bills. He’s a headcase but he’s also easily the team’s most talented wide out. Their second leading pass catcher is TE Scott Chandler, an underrated player who has consistently put up nice numbers for them the past few years. Outside those two – and the backs who have Ray Rice-like ability out of the backfield – their receiving corps is comprised of two rookies and sophomore in Robert Woods, Marquise Goodwin, and TJ Graham.
In our Statistics Lie Stat of the Week, the Steelers are still ranked 4th against the pass despite last week’s ass whuppin’ by Tom Brady. Even if the secondary improves upon that ignominious effort, the Steelers D is in trouble. The once proud run defense has fallen all the way to 31st in the league, out-sucked by only the utterly inept Jacksonville Jaguars. The Bills do have a very poor offensive line – they’ve surrendered 28 sacks which is only a shade behind the 31 we’ve given up – so there should be a chance for some splash plays.
Still, the Bills run the ball extremely well, the Steelers stop the run extremely poorly – not exactly a reason for optimism.
STEELERS OFFENSE vs BILLS DEFENSE
Ben Roethlisberger will be under siege on Sunday. One thing the Bills defense is good at is getting after the quarterback. Their 29 team sacks put them in a four way tie for third most in the league. Factor in both starting tackles Kelvin Beachum and Marcus Gilbert have been limited all week and I hope Ben has plenty of Icy Hot in his locker. Gilbert isn’t a huge loss – Mike Adams blows as a LT but he’s okay as a RT but if Beachum can’t go it starts a domino effect that ends with Ben falling down.
The Bills are nearly the definition of average, ranking 18th against both the pass and the run. Interestingly, linebacker Kiko Alonso leads the team with 4 INTs. Safeties Jim Leonhard and Aaron Williams each have 3 picks for the secondary. Former Texan Mario Williams (11 sacks) anchors an extremely talented defensive line that also boasts the dangerous duo of Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus (4 sacks each).
Todd Haley has done a decent job of attacking opposing defenses as of late. With our line and their line, I’ll be surprised if Bell is able to mount much of a ground attack but I’m sure Mike Tomlin will give him a Gold Star for effort. Antonio Brown, who told reporters he understands why Tomlin benched him after running the wrong route against New England, should find some room in against the Bills secondary. Jerricho Cotchery has emerged as the team’s second best receiving threat after AB. Manny Sanders is inconsistent and Heath Miller, never a speedster to begin with, looks glacially slow since coming back from his catastrophic knee injury.
If Ben can work some of his Houdini magic and make some of the sandlot plays that Ryan Clark hates, the Steelers should be able to put up some points. The Bills are surrendering nearly four TDs per game so they’re not impenetrable. Ben has made a lot of mistakes this year but he’s still the team’s best player. If the Steelers’ best players – Ben and AB – can make some plays, it should put pressure on the Bills – starting a rookie QB coming off a four week layoff – to keep up.
With the Steelers out of the playoff hunt and basically circling the drain, it’ll be interesting to see how these home games go from here on out. Last year, 15,000 fans went to the meaningless season finale disguised as empty seats. Make no mistake, these remaining home games are equally as meaningless. I guess we’ll see on Sunday if the Black and Gold have the pride to play out the string with hustle and effort or if they’ll simply go down without a fight.