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Perspective Of An Average Steelers Fan: Week One At Buffalo

BIG TIME WIN

Wow what a win! I viewed the game from the Alley Cat Restaurant in Alexandria, Virginia. They’ve been a Steeler bar since 2009. I’m glad since my usual place to watch games did not buy the NFL package this year. They are charged by the seat, and it has become too costly in the thousands of dollars. Many people opt to buy the NFL season pass and stay at home which hurts the sports bar and restaurants.

There were 40-50 Steelers fans at the Alley Cat. Our server Phyliss mentioned that a few years ago, Pittsburgh fans packed the place with a couple hundred people in Black and Gold on game days.

I love interacting with fellow Steelers fans. At least the ones that aren’t jagoffs. Yes, even the Steelers fanbase has their share but in smaller proportion than other fanbases in my unbiased opinion.

ENTREPRENEURSHIP

I met a cool dude named Bob. He grew up on the Northside attending Oliver High School. He said that when Three Rivers Stadium first opened in 1970, several vacant lots were created after many buildings were bulldozed to make space for the construction. An enterprising lad, Bob started showing up on gamedays and charged $5 for people to park in a lot. He sat on a milk crate and just collected a fee and pointed out where folks could park. One day, a guy drove up and asked Bob what he was doing.

Bob, answered, “I’m parking folks. Do you need a space? It’s five dollars.” The guy said, “No! I own this lot.” Bob picked up his milk crate with his wad and moved on to a new spot. The next season, Bob came down and saw a booth built at his old spot. Apparently, the lot owner liked Bob’s idea.

STEELERS OFFENSE

OFFENSE INEFFECTUAL IN FIRST HALF

Ineffectual best describes the Steelers offense during the first half. The Steelers had six possessions, punting five times and with just 22 seconds left knelt on the final possession. The offense never made it into Bills territory. The Steelers converted only one out of six third down attempts.

On the second drive, the Bills stripped the ball from Ben Roethlisberger. Luckily, Chuks Okorafor who otherwise played a weak blocking game, alertly recovered the fumble at the 25. Unfortunately, Chase Claypool penalized for pulling people off the pile pushing the ball back to the 13-yard line.

On the fourth drive, Kevin Dotson caught moving before the snap creating a third and 12 that the Steelers could not convert.

Najee Harris ran the ball seven times for eight yards if I calculated his attempts correctly. His longest gain was four yards on first down. His only other successful run was a two-yard gain on second and four. A four-yard loss on second and one was especially egregious. Where is that physical offensive line opening up running lanes?

OFFENSE PERFORMS BETTER SECOND HALF

At halftime, I opined that a Steelers three and out to start the second half would be disastrous. Ben and the offense responded by marching 64 yards to the six-yard line. Ben threw an interception on the play, but officials flagged Tre’Davious White for defensive holding. Ben’s consecutive passes to Eric Ebron and Chase Claypool for 19 and 22 yards respectively brought the Steelers into the red zone and Boswell scored the Steelers first points of the game.

The offense got the ball back on downs from Buffalo. Najee Harris gained just two yards on third and one, but it was a successful first down. Another big play was Chase Claypool running around the end. Kendrick Green was out there to block and Matt Freiermuth who caught a 24-yard pass earlier in the drive blocked a Bills defender out. Claypool’s 25-yard scamper got them to the four, but Pittsburgh settled for another field goal to make it 10-6.

The Steelers took the lead early in the fourth quarter after yet another defensive stand on fourth down. Pittsburgh benefitted from Levi Wallace committing defensive pass interference for 26 yards instead of an incompletion on third down. Najee then ran 18 yards to the five. Ben then completed a touchdown pass to Diontae “No Drop” Johnson in the left corner to go up 13-10.

A blocked punt extended the lead to 20-10. Buffalo’s field goal pulls the Bills within seven. Pittsburgh responds with a 45-yard field goal in windy conditions to make it a two-score lead with 2:47 to play. Ben’s 14-yard pass to Chase Claypool on third and eight kept the drive alive. The 23-13 lead just enough as Buffalo would only add three more points to win 23-16.

STEELERS DEFENSE

DEFENSE KEEPS IT CLOSE

The defense kept the game close in the first half. The Bills squandered opportunities to build a big lead. The Bills offense reached Pittsburgh territory on four of six first half possessions but only scored ten points. Buffalo started the first drive at the Pittsburgh 25 after a 75-yard opening kickoff return. Cam Sutton tackled Stefon Diggs for a two-yard loss and Cam Heyward deflected a pass to force a field goal. A big relief to only give up three points in the opening minutes of the game.

The next three Buffalo drives ended with punts. Officials flagged three separate Bills for offensive holding on the one drive. Pittsburgh declined the third that forced Buffalo to punt. On the next drive, Sutton defended a Josh Allen pass on third and one intended for Diggs to force another punt. Josh Allen got a drive going with a 13-yard pass. Then scrambling for nine yards before Cam Heyward dislodged the ball. I really think Pittsburgh recovered but the striped shirts must have whistled the play dead. From the 50, the Bills would reach the 43 but I think the Steelers pressure rattled Josh Allen. He overthrew two open receivers forcing the Bills to punt from a short field and the Bills punted from a short field.

STEELERS FORCE TURNOVER BUT THEN ALLOW A SCORE

The next drive is when TJ Watt stripped Allen of the ball with Heyward recovering the fumble. The Steelers offense failed to capitalize, and now the Bills offensive linemen were practically tackling Pittsburgh defenders breaking into the backfield. Officials called Dion Dawkins for his second holding call but the Steelers committed some penalties of their own. Allen completed a third and five pass for a first down despite Pittsburgh having 12 men on the field. Alex Highsmith pulled over for speeding to the backfield for a five-yard penalty. I thought he timed the snap perfectly. Cam Sutton covered Gabriel Davis very well on third down, but Josh Allen threw an excellent pass to go up 10-0 at the half. It felt like the Bills could be leading by more especially when the offense could not score off the turnover. But Pittsburgh’s defense came up with some big plays.

DEFENSE FINISHES STRONG IN SECOND HALF

The defense held a desperate Bills offense to two field goals in the second half. The strong finish aided by the Steelers offense that scored points and possessed the ball for more time giving the defense a little breathing space.

The scoring got Bills coach Sean McDermott to boldly try to keep his team’s lead by attempting two fourth down conversions. The Steelers field goal to open the second half made the score 10-3. Buffalo marched from the 25 after a touchback all the way to the Pittsburgh 35-yard line. On third and eight, Minkah Fitzpatrick defended a pass intended for Cole Beasley. On fourth down, it was Sutton with yet another big play to defend the pass intended for Gabriel Davis.

The Steelers kick another field goal to close the gap to 10-6. Momentum is shifting to the Steelers favor. Allen passes and scrambles to the 50. A short pass to Diggs and its third and three at the 43-yard line. Matt Breida is stopped by Minkah Fitzpatrick to set up a fourth and one. Instead of plunging ahead, the Bills pull a toss out to Matt Breida with a blocker in front. Cam Sutton alertly tunneled under the blocker to tackle Breida for a seven-yard loss. Another turnover on downs and we are now in the fourth quarter.

STEELERS SMELL BLOOD

The Steelers take the lead for the first time 13-6 and the defense smells blood. Cam Heyward sacks Allen on third and six to force a punt. Miles Killebrew blocks it with Ulysses Gilbert scooping and scoring. Suddenly, it’s 20-10. The defense back on the field and expecting a heavy dose of Josh Allen passes. Instead, they get Devin Singletary running the ball four times for 49 yards. The Bills are knocking at the door from the five. Allen passes to Singletary, but Joe Haden is there to force the fumble that goes out of bounds at the seven. A field goal makes it a seven-point game, but Pittsburgh makes it ten again with a field goal of their own.

The defense gave up one more field goal making the final score 23-16. Melvin Ingram defended a pass to force a fourth and ten. Josh Allen converted that one by completed a 14-yard pass to former Steeler Emmanuel Sanders. The Bills reached the 14 but decided to kick the field goal and then go for an onside kick. JuJu Smith-Schuster darted in to field the kick to end the game in the victory formation.

SPECIAL TEAMS

I break special teams play into three phases: Kickoffs, punting, and field goals including extra point attempts. I believe special teams are an underappreciated facet of the game where one big play can shift momentum or even determine the game winner.

KICKOFFS

Chris Boswell kicked off six times. Two of his six kicks were touchbacks. Boswell kicked the opening kickoff to the one-yard line. Isaiah McKenzie returned the ball 75 yards before Ulysees Gilbert tackled him to prevent a score. McKenzie added 68 more return yards on the other three kickoffs for an impressive 35.8 yards per return. Not sure what the breakdown was on the opening kickoff, but the Bills averaged start was at the 36-yard line after a kickoff compared to the 25 for the Steelers.

Tyler Bass kicked off five times. The first four were touchbacks.  His final kickoff was an onside attempt that JuJu Smith-Schuster gathered up to keep the ball in the Steelers hands. The Steelers appeared prepared and evidently practiced it. Perhaps, losing the onside kick during the preseason spurred Danny Smith to drill this play into the kickoff return team.  Advantage Bills.

PUNTING

In his Steelers and NFL debut, Pressley Harvin III punted five times averaging 41.4 yards a punt. His first punt went 41 yards and was fair caught at the 12-yard line. Harvin punted the next from his 13-yard line. The 51-yard punt had enough hangtime for Justin Layne and Benny Snell to tackle McKenzie for just a one-yard gain. His next two punts went out of bounds. A 39 yarder to the Bills 23 and an ugly 30-yard punt to the Pittsburgh 35. Fortunately, Watt strip-sacked Allen to prevent a score. Harvin’s final punt went 46 yards and downed at the nine-yard line. Very inconsistent and to my untrained eye, the ball takes a long time from the time of snap to when it leaves his foot. I thought the Bills would block his first punt, but he got it off. This needs fixed quick.

Matt Haack’s first three punts averaged 45.7 yard. All three gave the Steelers starting positions at or behind the 20-yard line. Ray-Ray McCloud attempted to return his second punt from the eight-yard line but only managed five return yards. The Bills average position after a punt was the 29-yard line compared to the 13 for the Steelers. However, Miles Killebrew blocked Haack’s fourth punt. Ulysees Gilbert III scooped it up and scored in the fourth quarter to extend Pittsburgh’s lead to 20-10.    Advantage Steelers.

FIELD GOALS and EXTRA POINTS

Chris Boswell made all three field goal attempts. Two were chip shots of 24 and 20 yards to bring the Steelers within four at 10-6 in the third quarter. The third was 45 yards in windy conditions. A crucial kick that made it a two-score game with 2:47 to play. Boswell also converted both extra point attempts. Bass made all three of his field goals and converted his only extra point attempt.   Advantage Steelers.

The Steelers kick coverage unit and punting requires improvement. Boswell perfect so far. Despite the Steelers special team flaws, blocking a punt for a touchdown really nailed the Bills chances. Special teams’ matter.

DAVE BRYAN’S VICTORY PUNCH LIST

Dave Bryan provided five keys for a Steelers victory. Here is how the Steelers performed them:

  1. Prevent Stefon Diggs from repeating the stat line he put up last season against the Steelers: 10 receptions for 130 yards and a touchdown. Diggs caught nine passes for 69 yards and did not score. Mission accomplished.
  2. TJ Watt, Alex Highsmith, and Mark Ingram pressure Bills quarterback Josh Allen and force a turnover. The outside linebackers combined for eight tackles, six quarterback hits with Watt collecting two sacks including a strip sack recovered by Cam Heyward. Mission accomplished.
  3. The offensive line must collectively play great including opening running lanes early for successful plays. Najee Harris made just two successful runs out of his seven first half carries. Plus, the Bills sacked Ben Roethlisberger twice in the first half. Add a false start by Kevin Dotson and the early performance looked ugly.  Mission failure.
  4. Improve third down conversions significantly from last year when Steelers converted just one of 10 and Bills made seven of 14. This game, Steelers made four of 12 and Bills eight of 18 plus one for three on fourth down. It is an improvement from last year. Mission accomplished.
  5. Defense and special teams must ball hunt and create turnovers. TJ Watt strip-sacked Josh Allen and Killebrew blocked a punt that scored a touchdown. Mission accomplished.

Steelers achieve four of five keys. Dave Bryan left a good list for the Steelers to follow. Pittsburgh will win often if they continue to achieve three or more of Dave’s keys to victory.

YOUR HOT TAKES DURING THE GAME

FIRST HALF READER COMMENTS

Steelers Depot readers commented 1,546 times on the game’s first half Live Update and Discussion Thread. Excellent job Depot respondents! And thank you Ross McCorkle for keeping us up to date with the latest tweets and updates as the game progressed.

The three “best” comments all centered on the Steelers defense in the first half. I wonder why?

Steelburg made top comment noting “Our defense is loaded in the trenches at OLB and DL. But you can’t expect them to hold up forever. It feels like they have been out there the whole first half. “

Joshwa liked the Steelers outside linebacker group performance. “Ingram is a problem too. Dude looks great.”

The Steelers gave up a touchdown late in the half. El Sweet Lee (A Jam Up Guy) put the score into perspective: “Ah, Depot – never change. Blaming Sutton for good coverage on a literal picture-perfect throw by an MVP-caliber QB.”

The Steelers were fortunate to be down just 10-0. It felt like more.

SECOND HALF READER COMMENTS

A strong showing of 1629 comments in the second half live discussion. The Steelers played stronger and combined strong offensive, defensive and special team plays to take and keep the lead. It wasn’t boring, Buffalo stayed within reach until JuJu Smith-Schuster cleanly recovered the onside kick attempt near the end of the game.

Thomas Johnson likes the Steelers OLB acquisition, and many agree. “Ingram is loving his new home… And his new home is loving him.”

El Sweet Lee impressed with Cam Sutton’s game. “Sutton’s instincts are VERY impressive.” BigDickSwanging added his insight. “One of the reasons why they drafted him… high football intelligence.”

DropTheHammer loved the potential shown by Najee Harris. “They ran into a stacked box, and it worked! All blocked up, and then a great piece of vision and cutting by the RB. I have missed this SO MUCH.”

Many shared the_immaculatedecption’s frustration. “Will someone friggin blast Allen on one of those runs and make him think twice about taking off?!! We need a highlight real type of blast laid on him.”

Axel summed up some of the Bill’s success at limiting the Steelers front seven. “The bills LT should have been called for holding 30 x”

CONCLUSION

Wow! What a game, a big-time win!

Few people predicted a Pittsburgh win, the Buffalo Bills were 7-point favorites and are Super Bowl contenders. The first half certainly made the experts look smart. The opening kickoff for 75 yards had me slapping the palms of my head to my forehead incredibly early. But the defense as they did for the entire game, came through and held the Bills to a field goal.

Ben Roethlisberger did not quarterback very well. However, I give him high leadership marks. Ben did not panic and could be seen directing traffic among his younger teammates. The offensive line was shaky but should improve each game. As they do, Najee Harris will too. The offense just needs some time to gel.

The defense was impressive all the way around.  The OLB trio with Cam Heyward were dominant.  The front seven penetration forced the Bills offensive linemen to start tackling them. So blatant, even the pass happy NFL officials had no choice but to throw flags. The secondary equally effective. Cam Sutton had at least four big plays that stopped or stymied Bills drives. Even Tre Norwood knocked a pass away.

Chris Boswell was perfect. Meaning the Christian Kuntz snaps to Pressley Harvin were clean enough not to warrant a mention all game. But Harvin needs to untrack his punts and the kick coverage cannot allow such big returns. On the plus side, the hands team did an excellent job on the onside kick attempt and a punt block for a touchdown. Come on Danny chew that gum and get these guys to perform flawlessly.

A big win as I said but it only counts as one. Time to prepare for those invading Raiders. They will be feeling their oats after knocking off the Ravens in overtime. I’ll get to see that game in person. No time for a let down … here we go!

YOUR MUSIC SELECTION

I always like to offer a music selection. Nice visit to Buffalo for the Steelers. Here is an old timey song called Buffalo Gals This rendition by Kate and Maggie O’Conner. This song covered by artists as diverse as Gene Autry to Bruce Springsteen.

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