One of the most surprising results of the entire 2021 season happened rather early on when the Pittsburgh Steelers came into Buffalo and escaped Josh Allen and the Bills with a win. It took a blocked punt returned for a touchdown to do it, but they got the job done.
Part of the job was holding one of the game’s most potent offenses to just 16 points, which they managed to do, notching a 23-16 victory. The two teams traded field goals in the final minutes, Buffalo only finally making it a one-possession game with 46 seconds to play.
But the Bills averaged over 28 points per game last season, so what happened? Well, according to Allen, it Mike Tomlin happened. He talked this past week about how the Steelers threw things at them that they weren’t prepared for and didn’t have time to adjust to.
“Last year they switched it up”, he told reporters recently, via the Steelers’ website. “They’ve been known for blitzing. Mike Tomlin is one of the best coaches in the league and he always has his team ready to play. Last year they switched it up on us and gave us something we didn’t practice for. We had to make adjustments in the game and at that time it was too late. This is a really good football team”.
One thing that they showed in that game was a wide variety of combinations in the secondary. While that was partly due to necessity while they figured out what would work best for them following a lot of changes in the offseason, it was also in part to prevent the Bills from getting comfortable with what to expect.
Allen still ended up throwing for 270 yards in that game without throwing an interception—he did fumble twice, losing one—but the Steelers minimized the damage. They forced the Bills to punt on three straight possessions, something I’m not sure they ever did again the rest of the year, in addition to forcing a turnover on downs twice. And of course there was the blocked punt, a would-be fourth, so only four of their 11 drives ended in points or an attempt to score points.
Being the season opener no doubt helped the Steelers catch the Bills by surprise. It won’t be so easy five games into the season, and without T.J. Watt, but they are going to have to come up with something. Josh Allen is simply too good to allow him to play freely.
You have to get pressure on him, for one thing, no matter how long it takes to develop, whether you’re blitzing or dropping more into coverage and forcing him to read the field. Variety in this case may be the Steelers’ best friend by keeping him guessing about what he’s seeing before the snap.