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Perspective Of An Average Steelers Fan: Bills Brutalize Steelers

GAME PRELUDE

The Bills brutalized Pittsburgh, but I  got to view the game from a unique venue. The Steelers hosted an away game watch party in the UPMC Club at Acrisure Stadium. The event was for season club seat holders and though the team’s performance disappointed, I appreciated the effort of the Steelers organization to entertain their fans. I wish the Steelers would open the stadium for away games to fans that want to watch the game on the big screen. Even if they only got several hundred fans it would be a cool experience.

Ryan Shazier spoke to the attendees prior to kickoff. He is channeling his energy into a fund for spinal rehabilitation. Ryan explained how he always offered comfort to those hurt prior to his injury. But he didn’t really understand the full impact on their lives until he himself experienced such a life altering event. He mentioned how he had achieved some of his goals such as playing professional football for a great organization like the Steelers. But his goal of reaching the Football Hall of Fame was now unreachable. Ryan advised that folks facing these challenges must alter their goals to forge ahead and that is what he is doing. “I want to be there for people who are going through similar struggles. No matter who you are or what you’re going through, we’re all in life together. We need to take care of each other.”

Ryan Shazier puts things into context doesn’t he?

STEELERS OFFENSE

In his first NFL career start, Kenny Pickett led the Steelers offense on a 12-play opening drive resulting in a field goal. Pickett threw for 327 yards in is debut. Unfortunately, the Steelers scoring ended at three points after the opening drive.

The Steelers fell behind 7-0 early but saved by a blocked field goal following a fumbled kickoff return. The offense reached the Bills 11-yard line after several key plays. Pickett completed a 12 yard pass to George Pickens on a third and 11. Then he hit Chase Claypool for 11 and a first down at midfield. Later, on third and four, Pickett connected with Zach gentry for eight yards. Another pass to George Pickens and the Steelers in the red zone. But on third and eight from the 11-yard line, Diontae Johnson catches the ball at the two. But the replay shows that Diontae clearly stepped out. So instead of first and goal at the two, the Steelers settle for a Chris Boswell field goal.

 

Five Futile Drives

The next five futile drives end with three punts, a missed field goal, and an interception. I’ll try to identify the critical play that foiled each drive.

The Bills go up 10-3. Zach Gentry caught holding setting up second and 17. Pickett to Diontae for 11. On third down, Pickett back to Diontae but ball caroms off his hands and nearly intercepted. Punt.

On the next drive, Pickett hits Najee Harris on third and four but is two yards short of the sticks. Either a checkdown or a college-style play called where mismatches between players can be exploited. But that does not work in the NFL. Punt.

Buffalo scores a touchdown on a 62 yard touchdown pass on the first play of the drive. Down 17-3, offense has the ball at the 25. On third and eight, Pickett targets Diontae but an incomplete pass. Punt.

The Bills up 24-3 after exploiting Harvin’s 26 yard punt in windy conditions. Pickett passes for consecutive first downs to Pickens then Gentry. On third and five, Pickett to Pickens for 29 yards. But on third and nine, a short pass to Pat Freiermuth gains only four yards. Boswell misses a 33 yard field goal attempt.

Buffalo scores yet again. Up 31-3 and less than a minute to play. Following an offside penalty by Buffalo, Pickett throws deep for Diontae. The pass intercepted. This Pickett pass underthrown with no chance for Diontae.

Four Second Half Drives in Buffalo Territory

Four of five second half drives ended in Buffalo territory. But no points scored as offense fails to convert three fourth downs and Boswell misses another field goal.

The Steelers started the second half right with a 23 yard reception by Diontae Johnson. Diontae also drew a defensive pass interference call for another first down. Three consecutive completions to Harris for nine, Claypool for nine and Diontae for seven takes the Steelers to the 17. Pickett sacked. On third and six pass thrown away in Pickens’s direction. On fourth down, ball punched out of Diontae’s hands for what would-be a first down. Turnover on downs.

Still down 31-3 after defense recovers a fumble in endzone. Pickett to Pickens for two ten-yard completions. Von Miller sacks Pickett. Then Pickett hits Freiermuth for eight. But Freiermuth concussed on the play. Pickett completes pass to Claypool for 20 on third down. Then Diontae for 14 more. Pickett scrambles for ten yards. As he slides, Damar Hamlin launches and hits Pickett on the ground. James Daniels clocks Hamlin in retaliation. Normally, the defender must avoid hitting a quarterback once a slide initiated. In this case, the officials do not flag the defender but do flag Daniels. The officials also ignore the Buffalo bench who hit Daniels several times. This should have been offsetting penalties. Instead, the Steelers have a third and 15. Gentry gains seven on a Pickett pass. Dan Moore’s false start creates a fourth and 13. Boswell misses the 45 yard field goal attempt.

NFL Officials Protect Their Own but Not Rookie Quarterback

Buffalo scores another quick touchdown. Up 38-3 to start the fourth quarter. Jaylen Warren in for Najee. Warren for a ten yard reception. Then, Warren bursts for ten yards on second and nine. Warren catches another pass for 12 yards. Zach gentry gains six for a first down at the Buffalo 30. But Pickett throws four straight incompletions to turn the ball over on downs. Pickens almost made a ridiculous sideline catch. His foot and hand inbound but other foot went out. Claypool did not come down with the fourth down pass.

Buffalo playing Case Keenum who goes three and out. Steelers respond with their own. On third and 10, Pickett targets Claypool again. Again, Claypool fails to catch and convert. Punt.

Finally, the Steelers have a 12 play drive but lasts 5:26 as Buffalo rests key players. Conor Heyward catches a couple passes. But on third and six, Bills sack Pickett for third time. On fourth and 14, Shaq Lawson targets Kenny Pickett’s knee as he throws the ball away. Kenny Pickett shoves Lawson and is penalized for unnecessary roughness. A scrum ensues and referee ejects A.J. Epenesa for elbowing an official. Curiously, the officials do not flag Lawson who should be fined. They protect their own but not the rookie quarterback. The offsetting penalties deemed after the play putting Buffalo into the victory formation.

STEELERS DEFENSE

Buffalo possessed the ball 13 times but twice ran out the clock to end the first half then the final victory formation. The Steelers defense allowed six scores in the remaining 11 Buffalo possessions. The two takeaways occurred in the end zone so could have been Bills scores along with the blocked field goal attempt. They only punted twice.

Few Highs, More Lows

The defense showed a few high points, but many more low points in this game. After muffing the opening kickoff, Buffalo faced a third and ten from the two. The defense looked pumped after DeMarvin Leal batted a pass down. Then Myles Jack and Cam Heyward tackled a runner for no gain. But Josh Allen calmly pitched the ball to Gabe Davis with Levi Wallace trailing him. Tre Norwood let Davis get behind him and he caught the ball on the run with Wallace diving ineffectually at his feet. A 98 yard touchdown just over a minute into the game.

 

James Pierre fumbled a kickoff return away and the Bills had the ball at Pittsburgh 21. We’re two minutes into the game and Buffalo threatening to pull away already. But this time the defense stepped up. Ryan Bates helped Pittsburgh with a holding penalty. Alex Highsmith stopped Stephon Diggs for a four yard loss. On third and 20, Josh Allen targeted Davis again but missed. Cam Heyward blocked the field goal kick and the Steelers defense momentarily stopped Buffalo from scoring.

The offense makes it 7-3. Allen passes to Khalil Shakir for 31 yards. Devin Bush rushed hard but got behind Allen, who scrambled 16 yards before Cam Sutton brought him down. Allen tried running again a couple plays later but Cam Heyward stuffed him. On third and nine, Allen targets Diggs but isn’t close. The Bills settle for a field goal.

Three Straight Touchdowns

The Bills scored three straight touchdowns in the second quarter. But it could have been four. Pressley Harvin hit a massive 69 yard punt downed at the one. But the Bills march all the way to the Pittsburgh 21. On third and four, Allen hits Isaiah Hodgins for 26 yards to get out of the hole. Later, on third and 11 still in Buffalo territory, Allen finds Quintin Morris completely uncovered who gains 26 yards. Stephon Diggs then catches a ball for 18 yards just outside the redzone. Allen threw to Davis in the end zone but Levi Wallace intercepts to bail out the team.

Harvin’s meager 34 yard punt just reaches the Buffalo 38. First play, Allen targets Davis again. Minkah Fitzpatrick in coverage. Minkah gets his hands in, but Davis wins the game of keep away to score a 62 yard touchdown. One and done. It’s 17-3.

After a three and out, Harvin punts 26 yards. Yes I know it’s into the wind but that is just not acceptable. This drive took twice as many plays for Buffalo to score. First Devin Singletary ran 23 yards from midfield. Referee tacks on 15 more by flagging Myles Jack for unnecessary roughness. Then Allen hits Diggs for 15 yard touchdown. 24-3 with no end in sight.

Buffalo gets ball back at 23 after Boswell misses a chip shot. With no defensive pressure on quarterback and 3:39 to go in half, Josh Allen goes back to pass eight times. Khalil Shakir gets the ball near midfield on a 20 yard reception. Quintin Morris gets into Pittsburgh territory with a 13 yard reception. Diggs gets 12 to the 29. Allen flushed out but gains five to the 24. Josh Allen hits Robert Spillane in the butt with a pass to the end zone. Had he turned around it’s right in his breadbasket. On third down, Allen hits Shakir for a 24 yard touchdown. It’s 31-3 after just one half of play.

Second Half

The Steelers turned the ball over on downs to start the half. James Pierre is back after going out in the first half but the secondary even thinner than before. Buffalo takes the ball from the 20 all the way to the Pittsburgh one-yard line. Devin Singletary runs on first down three times for 19 yards. Levi Wallace hurt after one of the runs. Josh Jackson fresh off the practice squad commits a defensive pass interference setting up first and goal from the one. Cam Heyward forces the runner to fumble. Jackson redeems himself by recovering the fumble in the end zone for a takeaway and touchback. The defense stops Buffalo from scoring. DeMarvin Leal also hurt on another run. Buffalo punishing Steelers defense.

Boswell misses a 45 yard field goal to end the fourth quarter. Josh Allen says thank you very much. Josh Allen hits Diggs for 41 yards with Maulet in coverage. Then a fresh James Cook runs 24 yards up the middle for a touchdown. With 14:03 to play, Buffalo takes its foot off the Steelers neck up 38-3. The Steelers defense can’t keep the Bills from scoring, but the Buffalo coaching staff can.

Case Keenum replaces Allen and engineers two three and outs before ending the game in the victory formation. In just over three quarters of play, Josh Allen torches the Steelers for four touchdown passes and 424 passing yards. Just the second quarterback to hang those numbers in a single game according to Alex Kozora’s stats of the weird. Tom Brady the other quarterback from 2013. And Brady is the next Steelers opposing quarterback. Yoi!

SPECIAL TEAMS

Special teams are an underappreciated facet of the game where one big play can shift momentum or even decide the game winner.

I break special teams play into three phases: Kickoffs, punting, and field goals including extra point attempts. Here is an overview of the special teams play during the game:

KICKOFFS

Chris Boswell kicked off twice. Taiwan Jones muffed the opening kickoff at the goal line. Tre Norwood tackled him at the two. After his field goal, Boswell kicked to the one. But Khalil Shakir returned the ball 34 yards to the Buffalo 35-yard line.

Tyler Bass kicked off seven times. His first went just 45 yards. But James Pierre in for Steven Sims who hurt his eye in warm-ups fumbled the return. Buffalo recovered the ball at their own 21. Don’t understand why Cam Sutton didn’t return for Sims unless he was hampered by an injury. Bass also kicked 57 yards late in the second quarter. Sims returned the kick 19 yards which matches Gunner Olszewski’s total kick return yardage in first four games. The remaining kicks were touchbacks. I wonder if Buffalo purposefully kicked short using a holder since they did it in opposite quarters and Bass showed himself capable of hitting the end zone regardless of which end of the field he was kicking from.

The turnover gives Buffalo a clear advantage on kickoffs.

THE STATS

Kickoffs KOs RTN TB OB IN25 Pen Start Avg
Chris Boswell 2 2 0 0 1 0 BUF 18.5
Tyler Bass 7 2 5 0 0 0 PGH 25

 

Kickoff Returns KR Yds AVG Long Pen TD
James Pierre 1* 0 0.0 0 0 0
Steven Sims 1 19 19.0 19 0 0
Taiwan Jones 1 2 2.0 2 0 0
Khalil Shakir 1 34 34.0 34 0 0

*Bills recover muffed return by James Pierre

Advantage Bills.

PUNTING

Pressley Harvin punted four times averaging 40.8 yards. His first with a favorable wind went 69 yards with James Pierre keeping the ball in the field of play. Marcus Allen downed the ball at the one. But then punts of 34, 26, and 34 yards that gave Buffalo starting position at the 38, 47 and 46 yard lines, respectively. Yes, it’s windy. Then set up some jet fans at practice to try punting line drives into the wind. The lower trajectory should get Harvin more distance when punting into the wind. The Bills scored two touchdowns with the short fields Harvin provided.

Sam Martin punted twice. Both times in the fourth quarter. Both punts touched back shaving his net yardage to 35.0 per punt. However, the Bills able to exploit the field position provided by Harvin giving them the edge.

THE STATS

Punting Punts AVG Net TB OB/D IN20 Pen Long
Pressley Harvin 4 40.8 40.8 0 3 1 0 69
Sam Martin 2 55.0 35.0 2 0 0 0 61

 

Punt Returns PR Yds AVG FC Pen Long TD
Steven Sims 0 0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Khalil Shakir 0 0 0.0 1 0 0 0

 

Advantage Bills.

FIELD GOALS and EXTRA POINTS

Chris Boswell missed two of three field goal attempts.

Tyler Bass five for five on PAT’s. Cam Heyward blocked a 49 yard field goal attempt very early in the game. But Bass made a 35-yarder.

The Bills gain an edge since Boswell’s 33 yard field goal miss the same length as all five converted PAT’s by Bass.

THE STATS

FGs and PATs XPM XPA FGM FGA Long 2PTM 2PTA
Chris Boswell 0 0 1 3 29 0 0
Tyler Bass 5 5 1 2 35 0 0

 

Advantage Bills

DAVE BRYAN’S VICTORY PUNCH LIST

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

  1. Steelers have largest time of possession this season (30:01) to keep ball out of Josh Allen’s hands. The Steelers held the ball for 36:08. Good but with Buffalo scoring on 98 yard passing plays they didn’t need the ball for a long time. Mission Accomplished.
  2. Hold Stephon Diggs to nine receptions and 69 yards with no touchdowns. Diggs caught eight passes for 102 yards and a touchdown. Mission Failure.
  3. Complete passes to running backs in space. Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren combined for seven catches for 55 yards. Warren a little more successful but neither broke out in space. Mission Failure.
  4. Contain Josh Allen and rest of running game. Buffalo gained 120 rushing yards including a touchdown. Mission Failure.
  5. Special teams make splash play. Special teams opened with great coverage on opening kickoff. Blocked a field goal. Mission Accomplished.

The Steelers accomplished two of five keys to victory. But they were never in this game.

YOUR HOT TAKES DURING THE GAME

Thank you, Ross McCorkle, for keeping us posted on the game’s first and second half Live Update and Discussion Threads. Steelers Depot respondents contributed 1795 first half comments. Respondents added  1367 more second half comments.  Here are the “best comments” of the game. I don’t know the algorithm used by Disqus but here is how they stacked it up:

The top first half comments had a mix of positive and negative comments.

Now, did Dan 6374  say this before or after the Bills 98-yard play on third down? “Backed up on their goal line what’s the worst that can happen?”

GrumpyHighlander best comment of the game, “Well, Pickett already looks better than Trubisky did.” But as the game progressed he lamented, “Forcing Pickett into 3rd and longs aren’t helping.”

RJMcReady and others liked Pickett’s performance on the opening drive: “Kenny Pickett just took us right down the field in his first starting drive with the Steelers. Against a potential Super Bowl contender, and #1 Pass defense in the league. On the Road….”

But as the game progressed we got saltier. RyanM did not like the execution of specific players. “That blitz by Bush is the epitome of what his career is. Comes ‘flying’ in tentatively and with a chance to lay a shot on Allen and whiffs without even showing any sort of aggression or effort. Take him off the field please. Forever. He’s done. Past done. No longer a football player.”

But Jimbo saw it as a coaching issue. “Alex you need to add Tomlin to the biggest loser list.” Alex Kozora did have Mike Tomlin and Matt Canada on his loser’s list. Alex is reading you Jimbo.

Second Half Salt

Second half salt as the game got further out of hand.

Mateo K complained “Players love playing for Tomlin cause he’s their buddy, not because they win or he’s good at making the team better. He’s a so called ‘good coach’ for all the wrong reasons.” Jrdan added, “I think Bradshaw called him a cheerleader and got ripped for it.”

Topnotch observed, “Pickett, Pickens, and Warren literally battled the most-3 rookies. Where were the vets?” Mrs. Bighead answered, “Cam Heyward’s run of dominance is over. There are no vets anymore.”

Torsteel gave Big Ben kudos. “The fact we were able to go 9-7 last year is a testament to Ben Roethlisberger.” Nolo says 6-11 in ’22 expanded “I noticed people have stopped blaming things on him, like they were doing all summer…”

Reader783 is ready for a new head coach. “Mike Tomlin has ruined our franchise. Big Ben, AB and a top 5 OL covered up his bottom 5 defense from 2011-2020, and then TJ Watt and Minkah covered up his bottom 5 defense from 2020 through OT of Week 1.

Mike Tomlin’s defense is a disgrace. This is the team he’s built. This team sucks. Tomlin needs to retire. About to enter a 6 year playoff win drought (franchise record), 3 playoff wins in 12 years incoming. Top 5 pick incoming. Tomlin has cratered. I think it’s time for Coach T to retire, he doesn’t deserve to oversee the rebuild.”

Ellwood Davis tried to provide context, “This is the cycle of professional sports. You’re good for a while, then you suck for a while, then you’re good again…..for a while. I’ve seen it all before, this has little to do with Tomlin. Before the Bills had Josh Allen, they sucked for a while.” I’m not sure many people are buying it at the moment.

CONCLUSION

Kenny Pickett looked poised despite the shellacking. But his receivers need to help him by coming down with the catchable balls. Diontae Johnson needs to be putting overtime in on the JUGS machine and his toe-tap drills. Jaylen Warren plays with burst. Najee needs to follow suit; he can’t tiptoe near the line of scrimmage. I’m concerned about Pat Freiermuth and his durability. Third concussion in his young career. If the helmet shells that NFL tested at training camp permissible, I’d recommend Freiermuth wear it in games if any chance it reduces the number of concussions. I liked James Daniels and later Chuks Okorafor defending their quarterback.

The Steelers offensive scheme reminds me of college ball. You have star players you expect to win one-on-one against lesser athletes. So, you throw high percentage passes expecting the receiver to runover or juke the defender. Doesn’t happen in the NFL. Bills receivers were moving downfield when catching the ball. Steelers receivers relying on combat catches, curls, quick outs but then no room to gain yardage after the catch.

NFL officiating is very inconsistent. Look at the hit Pickett took earlier when sliding. Compare this to Tom Brady scrambling but gets a roughing call.

Defense in Shambles

Not only did the Steelers defense get outplayed, but they were also outhit. Multiple defenders including DeMarvin Leal, James Pierre, Cam Sutton had to leave game due to injury. Most came back, but this forced practice squad players like Josh Jackson getting defensive snaps.

Josh Allen allowed to pass with almost no pressure at all. The few times a defender got penetration, he stepped up and with no one containing him ran for positive yardage. Multiple players are playing dinged up but the rest of the NFL in same situation. Cannot use that as an excuse. Look how many Bills players were held out either due to injury or saving them for Kansas City. Their seconds filled in quite nicely.

Special Teams Suffering

Chris Boswell missing two field goals including one that is same range as a point after touchdown kick. That bears watching. Pressley Harvin continues to be a liability. It makes no sense why James Pierre placed as a returner. I don’t recall him fielding kicks at training camp. The coverage unit allowed a 34 yard return.

Mike Tomlin hinted that neither coaches nor player’s jobs were safe. He did bench Gunner Olszewski, but other moves need to be made. Should someone other than Matt Canada be calling the offensive plays? Pressure on quarterbacks lacking. What can be done to dial up the heat?

Tom Brady is ancient for a football player. But if he is allowed to stand in the pocket, he will pick this secondary apart. Where do the Steelers go from here. I don’t want to play no limbo music – how low can you go! Mike Tomlin’s challenge is to keep these players competitive. Arthur Maulet’s outburst about teammates laughing and joking following the humiliation applied by Buffalo should be a wake up call. Here we go.

YOUR MUSIC SELECTION

I always like to offer a music selection. Darkness is descending on the Steelers prospects this season. It’s close to midnight with the first losing season in 18 years becoming a probability. But the Steelers have a new quarterback. We can’t wait until the midnight hour to see if he can salvage some of this season. Here is In the Midnight Hour by who else other than Wilson Pickett?

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