The Pittsburgh Steelers will play their fourteenth regular season game of 2019 at home on Sunday night against the Buffalo Bills with a chance to get to four games over .500 for the first time this season and in the process take over the No. 5 seed in the AFC. Below are seven key things that I believe the Steelers will need to do in the game to come away with their eighth win of 2019 against the Bills.
Don’t get Gored or Singletaryed – The Bills offense is likely going to run early and often Sunday night at Heinz Field and that probably means the defense can expect a heavy dose of Buffalo running backs Devin Singletary and Frank Gore. The Bills also like to get their guards on the move as part of power running plays. Singletary and Gore have 20 combined runs of 15 yards or longer this season. Additionally, the two running backs have totaled four receptions good for 15 yards or longer. The Bills will move Singletary around as well and even split him out wide in an empty look. Singletary is the kind of running back that can home run a defense for an 80-yard run in the blink of an eye with his speed, so the Steelers defense needs to make sure that neither he nor gore fight their footing throughout the game. The offense that runs more successfully and more often Sunday night will likely win the game.
Ground Buffalo – The Bills have a great defense overall, but when it comes to the unit defending the run, that’s where they lack and thus that’s where the Steelers offense should attack. The Bills defense has allowed a 50% successful run rate by opposing running backs in their first 13 games and a whopping 36 runs of 10 yards or more to opposing running backs. To put that into some sort of perspective, the Steelers defense has allowed just 25 runs of 10 yards or more to opposing running backs so far this season and just 15 in total since Week 3. The Steelers should be able to run their bread and butter zone and power runs Sunday night against the Bills with focus being on runs to their left, which is the right side of the Bills defense. The Steelers running game has had a resurgence the last three weeks and that needs to continue Sunday night if the Steelers want to have any hope of winning the game.
Watt taking a Ford for a spin – Steelers outside linebacker T.J. Watt is primed to have a big game Sunday night as he’ll be matched up most of the contest against Bills right tackle Cody Ford, a rookie second-round selection out of Oklahoma. Ford has had his struggles this season and especially on third downs. Bills quarterback Josh Allen has also been sacked 33 times this season. Of the 34 total sacks allowed by the Bills offense this season, 17 have come on third downs. Allen has also fumbled the football 14 times this season and while only four of those were ultimately lost, he does have ball security issues. Watt is currently one of the best in the NFL at strip sacking quarterbacks.
YAC versus YAC – An excellent yards after catch stat for either offense could wind up being the difference Sunday night. There figures to be quite a few short passes Sunday night in the cold weather and because of that, yards gained after the catch will be a premium. We’ve seen a few of the Steelers wide receivers register huge yards after catches more than a few times this season. The Bills also have a few wide receivers capable of breaking off a lot of extra yardage after catches in John Brown and Cole Beasley. Keep close tabs on the YAC of each team Sunday night and don’t be surprised if at least one score includes quite a bit of the yardage being gained after the grab.
Minkah difference – It’s been several weeks since Steelers safety Minkah Fitzpatrick has registered a turnover. Additionally, the Bills offense has done a great job of not turning the football over a lot this season and Allen has thrown just one interception since Week 5. Allen, however, hasn’t been sharp with his deep pass accuracy this season so he might be off target a time or three Sunday night. Fitzpatrick is a very heady player and is primed to make another big play on defense. If he does, it could wind up being the difference in the game.
Don’t end up kicking yourself – Point scoring figures to be low Sunday night and thus we could see special teams play a huge part in the game. One missed or made field goal in the cold at Heinz Field could wind up being the difference as could one muffed, blocked or returned punt. As of late, the Steelers have been better on special teams. As for kicker Chris Boswell, he’s been great all season. Could the Sunday night game come down to whether Boswell can make a field goal? I think there’s a good chance of that.
End the damn streak already – The Steelers have turned over the football at least once in 20 consecutive games. If that streak reaches 21 Sunday night there’s a good chance they’ll lose to the Bills at Heinz field. The Sunday night game figures to be a low scoring affair and thus one turnover might ultimately decide the outcome.