The Pittsburgh Steelers have one finale game to play at Heinz Field this season, and it may be the biggest to house a game inside the stadium in 2019. They host the Buffalo Bills, and a victory would leave them in control of the fifth seed, their best possible seeding after the Baltimore Ravens locked up the AFC North. A loss could see them drop to seventh, needing help to get back into postseason positioning.
The key to this game, I think, will be the play of Devlin Hodges. While Buffalo’s pass rush is not necessarily elite, it is very good, and it gets fast pressure. I believe these two teams generate pressure quicker than anybody else in the NFL.
As we’ve seen, Hodges has some issues understanding when to get out of the pocket, and things of that nature. He has shared some blame in half or more of the sacks he’s taken during his playing time in the regular season this year, losing the ball on one of them.
With a very good secondary, as well, the Steelers can ill afford to turn the ball over. But the defense can alleviate some of that headache by getting the ball the way they have been all season. In every single one of their first seven home games, the Steelers have been able to take the ball away two or more times.
And they’ve done it—whether at home or on the road—even against teams who went into the game with the reputation for securing the ball. That was the case against the Indianapolis Colts shortly after the bye week, and then again a week ago today against the Arizona Cardinals, getting to rookie quarterback Kyler Murray for three interceptions.
Time of possession could be key in this game, so the running game will factor in. the absence of Vance McDonald will be noted, but should translate to more playing time for Zach Banner as the tackle-eligible. With James Conner back, they will also have more options and more ways to divide the load amongst four runners.
For their passing game, Buffalo has some explosive and/or quick receivers that will demand attention. John Brown, we’ve seen what he can do while he was in Baltimore last year. And Cole Beasley is a veteran possession receiver. Joe Haden and Steven Nelson will have to keep close to them.
Oh, and then there’s Josh Allen, who is a dual threat with eight rushing touchdowns on the season, which I believe is even more than Lamar Jackson. Suffice it to say that pocket containment is going to be a big deal in this one. But that doesn’t mean that T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree won’t have their fair share of opportunities to pin their ears back, especially if they can get the crowd involved, which they should.