The (7-5) Pittsburgh Steelers will battle the (6-6) Buffalo Bills on the road Sunday afternoon in a game that figures to feature snow and cold temperatures. Below are seven things that I believe the Steelers will need to do in order to come away with their eighth win of the season against a Bills team that will be looking to keep their Wild Card aspirations alive at home.
Slim Shady – Bills running back LeSean McCoy enters Sunday’s game with a healthy 5.5 yards per carry average on 174 total carries. It’s worth noting, however, that 564 of his yards on the ground have come via 25 runs of 10 yards or more. On his other 149 carries, McCoy is averaging just 2.58 yards per tote. Sunday, the Steelers defense must make McCoy earn every yard and they definitely can’t let him pop off a few explosive runs. The Bills like to run a lot of inside zone runs in an effort to spring McCoy for a big gain. The former Pittsburgh Panther isn’t afraid to bounce outside, either, and his ability to cut on a dime is one of the best in the league.
Contain Taylor Swift – In addition to attempting to shut down McCoy in the snow on Sunday, the Steelers defense must also worry about containing Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor in this game as well. Taylor, who has already rushed for 469 yards entering Week 14, is fourth in the league in 3rd down rushes with 18 for 109 yards. 9 of those third down runs moved the chains and two of them resulted in scores. As far as the passing game goes, Taylor has a very strong arm and he is good at throwing on the move outside the pocket as well as inside of it. His average time to throw this season is 3.16 seconds so he likes to hold on to the football. With that said, he has been sacked 34 times thus far. More than anything, the Steelers defense must force Taylor to beat them with his arm and from inside the pocket. Contain, contain, contain.
Exploit Deep MOF – While the Bills defense has done a good job of defensing against the deep ball entering this contest (36 completions) they have allowed the fourth-most completions that were targeted to the deep middle of the field (10). Look for Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to connect deep with tight end Ladarius Green or wide receiver Eli Rogers a few times in this area of the field for an explosive play.
Hold Onto The
Bell Ball – Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell has had a few ball-security issues over the course of the last several weeks and that’s certainly uncharacteristic of him. Sunday’s game will be played in winter weather so Bell must make a concerted effort to protect the frozen rock being as it’s likely to be in his hands at least 25 times during the contest. Short fields off of turnovers could wind up playing a big role in this game. While the Steelers red zone defense has been exceptionally solid this season, the Bills red zone offense has been equally great. No freebie trips this week.
Exploit Kyle – There’s a good chance that Bills defensive tackle Kyle Williams won’t play Sunday due to an issue with his back and that could wind up being a big advantage for the Steelers offense who could be without the services of left guard Ramon Foster. Even if Williams plays Sunday, he’s unlikely to be 100 percent. While the Bills have allowed an average of 4.14 yards per carry so far this season, they’ve allowed an average of 5.98 yards on 45 runs to left guard. I’d look for the Steelers to run a few traps, split zones and counters to their left several times in this contest with hopes that Bell can bust one or two of them in the snow.
Extra Edge Help – Bills edge rushers Lorenzo Alexander and Jerry Hughes have 15 combined sacks entering Week 14. While the former has double the amount of the latter, Hughes is the one that scares me the most. The Steelers have used quite a few multiple tight end personnel groupings as of late and I’d expect that to continue Sunday in Buffalo. Most of the help given to tackles in pass protection in this game will likely be on the left side for Alejandro Villanueva but Marcus Gilbert will probably need a little help every now and again as well.
Reduce Unforced Offensive Mistakes – Last week in the win over the New York Giants the Steelers offense couldn’t get out of their own way as a result of penalties and drops. These unforced mistakes resulted in drive kills and thus those kind of things will need to be lessened this week on the road in bad weather.