The Pittsburgh Steelers will play their thirteenth regular season game of 2020 Sunday night on the road at Ralph Wilson Stadium against the Buffalo Bills as they look to notch their twelfth win after suffering their first loss this past Monday night. Below are five key things that I believe the Steelers will need to do in the game to come away with a big road win against the Bills and move to 12-1 on the season.
Dig Deep – The Steelers offense needs to start pushing the football down the field a little more than they have done so far this season. Against the Bills Sunday night, the Steelers offense will likely need to register at least five explosive plays to have a chance to win the contest and perhaps even as many as seven. All those explosive plays aren’t going to happen via the Steelers running game or dink and dunk passing game so it’s time that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger stretches the field more. The Bills pass defense has the least amount deep pass attempts in the NFL against them so far this season despite giving up the highest completion percentage on such throws of more than 15 yards past the line of scrimmage. Yes, the Bills have a top cornerback in Tre’davious White. They also, however, have a few suspect cornerbacks in Taron Johnson and Levi Johnson. Those two need to be attacked down the field Sunday night by Roethlisberger. The Bills have been penalized nine times for defensive pass interference so far this season and the Steelers have drawn 15 of those penalties on offense in 12 games played with wide receiver Chase Claypool leading the league with eight. If not Claypool deep, fellow wide receivers JuJu Smith-Schuster, Diontae Johnson and James Washington all can go yard as well.
Run Game In Motion – Where has all that pre snap motion we saw earlier in the season in the running game gone? The last two games the Steelers offense registered just five running plays that included motion happening at the snap of the football. Running back James Conner will be back Sunday night after missing the last two games and he should be healthy and fresh. Likewise, with center Maurkice Pouncey. The Bills run defense is in the bottom third of the league entering Week 14 when it comes to runs between the guards. It’s time to get the running game back on track Sunday night with Conner and Pouncey back and hopefully the pre snap motion as well. Run successful early so the run game can be used later in the game if the lead is in hand. The last thing the Steelers need Sunday night is for Roethlisberger to attempt another 40 or more passes. Running the football successful will also help keep Bills quarterback Josh Allen off the field.
No Biggs For Diggs – Bills wide receiver Stephon Diggs is having a fantastic season as he enters Week 14 tied for the NFL lead in receptions with 90. Additionally, Diggs has done some damage in the explosive play department this season as 15 of his receptions have gone for 20 yards or longer. Diggs is going to get his catches Sunday night as the Steelers defense won’t be able to take him away like they did Washington Football Team wide receiver Terry McLaurin Monday night. The key thing with Diggs is making sure that he doesn’t have very many explosive plays in the game. The Steelers defense must keep Diggs under 80 yards receiving Sunday night and out of the end zone if the team wants to have a chance at winning in Buffalo. That will be a tall order with one starting cornerback, Joe Haden, missing the Sunday night contest with a concussion. Six catches for 70 yards and no touchdowns or explosive plays should be the Sunday night goal for the Steelers defense.
Seeing Red – While the Steelers offense has been able to move the football down the field in their last two games, the unit’s red zone production has been lacking quite severely. In the last three games, the Steelers offense is just 3-of-8 inside the red zone and that includes the unit failing from the Washington 1-yard-line five times this past Monday night in the team’s home loss. A less than 50 percent red zone conversion rate against the Bills on Sunday isn’t likely to cut it. Conversely, the Bills offense is 5-of-9 inside the red zone in their last three games while the Steelers defense is 3-of-6 against opposing offenses in their last three contests. The Bills are likely to be inside the Steelers red zone three- or four-times Sunday night and if more than two touchdowns are allowed it might be too much to overcome. Red zone success rates Sunday night might just decide the outcome of this big AFC game.
Four On The Floor – The Steelers defense will be without several key players Sunday night against the Bills due to injuries suffered by the team the last two weeks. Even so, the Steelers defensive front is still in good shape overall and obviously includes the likes of outside linebacker T.J. Watt and defensive linemen Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt. While rookie outside linebacker Alex Highsmith won’t yet be confused with the player he’s being asked to replace, injured starter Bud Dupree, he wasn’t awful in his first start as a pass rusher this past Monday night. The Steelers front four must get constant pressure on Allen throughout the Sunday night game. Allen is a big boy and tough to bring down like Roethlisberger so every effort must be made to floor the young quarterback if given the opportunity to do so. Last season at Heinz Field, the Steelers defense sacked Allen just once and hit him five times in total in the team’s home loss. That won’t be enough in this meeting. Blitzing Allen a lot Sunday night in order to get pressure on the young quarterback isn’t advisable, either, as he’s matured in that area when it comes to getting the football out and where it needs to go against oncoming numbers. If the Steelers can’t pressure Allen consistently with just four pass rushers Sunday night, it could wind up being a long night for the team’s defense.