The Pittsburgh Steelers were blown out for their fourth consecutive loss, now 1-4 on the season with an unfamiliar outlook of possibly having the first pick in the draft. They were beat in nearly every way imaginable against the Buffalo Bills, who dominated handedly in the historically bad 38-3 loss. In this article I will provide data from Pro Football Focus and takeaways from watching the film.
Let’s start with the offense:
PFF’s highest graded offensive player was wide receiver George Pickens (76.9), who led the team in receptions (6) and yards (83) on his eight targets. The only other 70+ grades were players with minimal snaps (ten or less): wide receiver Miles Boykin (74) and tight end Conor Heyward (70.1). Quarterback Kenny Pickett had a 65.8 grade in his first NFL start, going 34/52 for 327 yards, a ten-yard scramble, no touchdowns, and interception, and three sacks in his debut. Running back Jaylen Warren (62.3) led the team in rushing with 24 yards on five attempts along with four receptions for 39 yards, and fellow rusher Najee Harris had the worst offensive grade of 49.7 with only 20 yards on 11 attempts for a gaudy 1.8 yards per attempt, along with three catches for 16 yards. Pittsburgh had only 54 rushing yards as a team and had to abandon it due to the game script. Wide receiver Diontae Johnson (56.2) led the team with 13 targets, but only had five catches (38.5%) for 60 yards. Fellow receiver Chase Claypool (54.9) had nine targets, also with five receptions for 50 yards. Through five weeks, astoundingly no wide receiver has caught a touchdown. Tight end Pat Freiermuth (60.8) was injured in game with only two targets and catches for 12 yards. Due to this, Zach Gentry (63.6) saw an increased workload at the position with six targets and five catches for 43 yards. The offensive line had a regression game in my opinion, with center Mason Cole (55.9) allowing a sack and four pressures, tackle Dan Moore (62.5) allowing a sack and three pressures, tackle Chukwuma Okorafor (65.5) with four pressures, and thought both tackles deserved lower grades though they flashed in the run game.
Pittsburgh’s offense came out for their first drive at 11:56 with good field position but down seven, with Pickett making his first start, starting with a play action pass to fullback Derek Watt on first down who ran across the formation from a tight end alignment to make the catch, but tackled quickly on the one-yard gain. On second and nine, Harris got the toss but Moore was pushed back off the ball, affecting the angle/timing on he and Watt’s pull, allowing the Bills to swarm and bring Harris down for a loss of two. Third and 11 now, and despite Moore, Okorafor, and guard James Daniels being pushed back and the latter allowing pressure, Pickett showed poise and made a good read to get it to Pickens on the comeback route, gaining four yards of separation on the sideline catch for 12 yards and the first down.
The drive continued with a run/pass option on first down, where Pickett pulled the ball and targeted Claypool open on the short stick route, along with getting up field for YAC and nice job working through contact to get past the sticks for 11 yards. The following first down went back to Harris on the ground, with Freiermuth blocked to the ground, then good seal blocks from Okorafor and Moore and good interior push from Daniels and guard Kevin Dotson, along with Claypool connecting on his to provide room on the six-yard gain. One second and four, Pickett faked the jet sweep and targeted Johnson on the stick route past the sticks, but it was batted due to Okorafor being beat easily around the edge, incomplete. Third and four now, and Bills edge rusher Von Miller was able to win around Moore, nearly getting to Pickett but able to get the pass of just in time to Gentry on the crossing route (with Claypool) for a chain moving eight-yard gain.
An encouraging opening drive continued, and despite Freiermuth letting the blitzing safety past, Pickett connected with Pickens again on a stick route, including the necessary YAC for another first down (third of the drive). This set Pittsburgh up in the red zone, and back to the ground with good collective o-line blocks, particularly Moore which allowed Harris to bounce it around him and get three yards. On second and seven, another run where Freiermuth was driven back into the designed run lane, forcing Harris to cut but lost his footing, able to stiff-arm the first tackle attempt but swarmed before he could get back to the line on the loss of one. Big third and eight now, and Pickett triggered quick on an out route past the sticks, a bit high but great snag by Johnson over his head that appeared to be a conversion, but was overturned with his second foot landing out of bounds. Normally a skill Johnson excels in, but back-to-back weeks unable to get both feet down in critical situations, leading to the field goal. Encouraging drive overall though, down by four.
The offense returned with 2:41 in the first quarter down by seven, starting with a Harris run with good pulling blocks from Okorafor and Freiermuth along with one backside from Dotson, but Daniels, Gentry, and Cole losing theirs, the latter on the second level which allowed the tackle on the three-yard gain. On second and seven, the Steelers suffered their first penalty, a hold on Gentry who was one-on-one and beat by Miller on a play action rollout setting up second and 17. Pickett made a nice throw here sliding left to Johnson on the stop route, able to shake the corner for a bit of YAC on the 11-yard gain. Third and a more manageable six now, and Pickett bails the pocket (a bit early) feeling Moore being pushed back by Miller, with time to survey thanks to an impressive Okorafor pancake, throwing across his body to an open Johnson over the middle with the pass a bit high but a very catchable ball through his hands he’s got to make (reminiscent to last week), but thankfully two Bills collided on the near interception instead falling incomplete. Whew. Three and out with a penalty and near interception, still down by seven.
With 11:25 in the second quarter and still down by seven off an interception by the defense, and Harris was able to provide a successful run on first down, with a great bounce outside a good block from Moore and churning through contact on the gain of six. To the ground again on second and four, but Buffalo was committed with nine men in the box, where Harris could’ve bounced outside to try and create against a linebacker, but works forward into traffic for no gain. Third and four now, Daniels and Moore allowed push that collapsed the pocket on Pickett’s throw to Harris on the quick out from the slot, but three defenders were there to easily stop him short of the sticks on the two-yard gain. Second consecutive three and out, scoreboard remains.
Following a one-play Bills touchdown, the offense returned quickly at 9:29 in a 14-point hole, beginning with a run where Dotson was pushed back and effected Freiermuth’s path on his pulling block in which he pancaked the defender, but slowed up Harris as the free defender made the tackle for only one yard. On second and nine, it was another run which I like conceptually to try and keep the ball away from Allen and Buffalo’s potent offense, but they loaded the box on both attempts and stuffed Harris once again for only one yard. Third and eight now, and good recognition in pass pro from running back Jaylen Warren along with a pancake from Daniels, but Miller came on a looping rush inside getting past Cole to bear down on Pickett, who was able to get the pass off in time, but tipped prior to getting there by Bills linebacker Matt Milano, with Johnson still having an opportunity on the target but incomplete against tight double coverage. THIRD three and out, the same offensive struggles continue.
At 7:20 now down by 21 with all three phases struggling, Pickett came out making the right read targeting Pickens on the out route and able to gain just enough to move the chains as he was tackled out of bounds. The following first down was another dropback where Moore blocked Miller past the pocket with help on a chip from Gentry, who then leaked out to the flat for the catch against a deep zone, and good cut inside for YAC and picking up an encouraging consecutive first down on the gain of 11. Buffalo went for a blitz on the next first down, with Pittsburgh having a good call with a screen to Harris but goes off his hands in the air, but thankfully sticks with the play to keep it from being intercepted, incomplete. On second and ten, Pickett slides right and finds Johnson open on the five yard stop route, falling down on the catch. Big third and five now, and Pickett decisively targets Pickens down the left sideline on a back shoulder, making a great leaping contested hand catch for the desperately needed third down conversion and explosive play of 20 yards.
The drive continued from the red zone with a Warren run, with good initial blocking but Cole allowing his man to work off his block to wrap him up, fighting forward but only able to gain one yard. On second and nine, Cole was pushed to the ground, allowing interior pressure on Pickett’s deep target to Johnson in the end zone on the sideline, but was once again unable to get both feet in as he was being pushed out on the would be catch but instead incomplete. Another big third here with nine yards to go, and good job from Pickett to communicate pre-snap with Daniels to barely get the snap off to avoid a costly penalty on the money down, and the line collectively being pushed back (especially Moore and Cole) cuing Pickett’s scramble to the right with a wobbly low throw on the move to Freiermuth for the catch, but caught well short and tackled quickly for only four yards. Another failed opportunity for the offense in the red zone, setting up a field goal try that was hooked and missed just outside the left upright. When it rains it pours, still down by 21.
Now down by 28, the offense got one more opportunity with 56 seconds till halftime, looking deep but nothing there with the Bills playing the situation, and Pickett taking the checkdown to Harris with Dotson and Moore being pushed back, and tackled quickly for only five yards. On second and five with 30 seconds left, Miller jumped offsides resulting in a first down for Pittsburgh. With 23 seconds left, Pickett targeted Johnson deep down the left sideline, but was undercut for a leaping interception. Excruciating.
The offense came out first to start the second half, and Pickett was able to find Johnson from a clean pocket on a deep stop route on the right sideline for an explosive gain (only the second of the game) of 23 yards where he ran out of bounds. The following first was a run where Harris made a decisive cut behind a pancake from more and churned through the free edge defender’s tackle for three yards. On second and seven, Johnson drew a pass interference penalty on Buffalo to set up a fresh set of downs. The following first down appeared to be a miscommunication with Pickett seemingly expecting to play action with no back there, and noted his eyes on Johnson who was open on the dropback, but instead targeting Harris who leaked out on the dump off for the catch and run with yards after contact on the nine-yard gain. On second and one, Pickett targeted Claypool quickly on the run-pass option, given ample cushion on the short catch with YAC and good effort to churn on another gain of nine.
The drive continued with another Johnson catch, this one a quick target on a five yard out, thankfully considering Miller beat Gentry off the snap on the gain of seven. On second and three from the red zone, and Pickett play actions and rolls to the right, then looks to the short middle where Pickens and Claypool are in the same area, and scrambles with Miller and a linebacker in pursuit to the sideline, but forced out for a loss of three for the unnecessary sack. Poor decision, have to at least throw it away there. Third and a less manageable six now, and Pickett looks left but comes off that quickly with four defenders against three receivers, and another miscommunication with Pickens running an out route and the throw going deep toward the end zone incomplete. Going for it on fourth down, Moore was beat around the edge, but Pickett got the pass off to Johnson on the out route, initially corralling it, but the defender jarring loose on the tackle and turnover on downs. Huge fail in many regards, a third and fourth fail, third failed red zone trip, coming out of half time with several miscommunications, poor decisions, and failed catches by the receivers fizzling drives in dire need of points.
Pittsburgh’s offense returned at 5:19 in the third quarter following the defenses red zone takeaway still down by 28, coming out passing as expected with Dotson loosing off the line but recovering late with a pancake, and Pickett firing to Pickens on the comeback on the sideline for a gain of ten. The following first down was a nearly identical play, with Pickens corralling the low pass and physical run after for another ten yards. On the third consecutive first down, Miller instantly (and nearly offsides) beat Moore on the edge, giving Pickett no chance on the sack for a loss of six. On second and 16, Okorafor allowed a push, but Pickett was able to get the short target to Freiermuth who fought hard for YAC and a gain of eight, but the hit kept him out for the rest of the game. Big third and eight now, and despite Daniels beat soundly off the line, Pickett found Claypool who found a soft spot in the zone past the sticks, and provided great physical YAC for the 20-yard gain (third explosive play of the game) and conversion.
The drive continued with Okorafor allowing inside penetration, cuing Pickett to scramble right, finding Johnson for another chunk play on his comeback getting ample separation and providing a good cut for some YAC, running out of bounds on the 14-yard gain and first down. Harris got the first down carry here, forced outside due to Moore losing his run block allowing penetration and Milano darting in clean on the solid tackle for no gain. On second and ten, Okorafor allowed inside penetration once again, prompting Pickett to escape the pocket, then scramble to the sideline with Harris providing a good block in front, able to gain ten yards but hit hard on the slide down and the defender leading with his helmet, and I’m not the only one that took issue with it (should have been penalized), with Daniels coming in after the play and throwing the defender to the ground, starting a fight along the sideline and flagged for unnecessary roughness.
Third and 15 now from the 29 instead of the red zone, and Pickett throws to the wide-open Gentry on the dump off at the line of scrimmage with the Bills expectedly playing off, with YAC and a bit of a churn for seven yards. It’s of course four down territory, and on fourth and eight Moore is mind-numbingly penalized for a false start, setting up fourth and 13. Apparently, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin did not agree it was a no-brainer to go for it, mind-bogglingly sending out the field goal unit down 28, at the end of the third quarter, and even more unbearable is the attempt was no good. Fuming and thoroughly bewildered, appearingly keeling over instead of fighting to the end.
The offense returned at 14:03 with a historically and embarrassingly huge deficit of 35 points now, with Pickett throwing the dump off to Warren at the line and appreciate him continuing to play hard with good YAC through contact and going out of bounds for ten yards. Warren got the following first down carry, bulldozing into Daniels to push forward for a positive gain of one yard and noted he could have cut back to the left behind Gentry for more yardage. On second and nine, Warren got another carry with room behind good blocks from Cole, Daniels, and Moore on the second level for another hard run of ten yards. The following first down went to Warren again, this time on a dropback where Gentry had poor footwork on his block attempt on the blitzing defensive back, along with a free rusher that both got to Pickett for a big quarterback hit on his throw (cringe-worthy), able to get it to Warren just in time on the dump off on the sideline, breaking the first tackle with a nice spin and getting 12 yards were he was pushed out.
Another first down in Bills territory, and Pickett found Claypool over the middle despite Moore allowing pressure, tackled quickly on the six-yard gain. On second and four, Pickett threw quickly to Gentry at the line, who got the necessary YAC for the first down on the six-yard gain. Pickett slid right on his next pass attempt, targeting Claypool on an intermediate corner route, unable to make the contested catch incomplete. On second and ten, Okorafor got beat inside and ended up on the ground, allowing penetration where Pickett threw on the run to Pickens who made an acrobatic grab on the sideline, but was ruled out of bounds incomplete (debatable). Third and ten now, and Pickett targets Johnson, but unfortunately for the third straight incompletion where Cole was pushed back, and the pass was too far out of bounds to reel it in. The offense remained for this fourth down and ten, where Pickett got a catchable ball to Claypool despite Okarafor being pushed back in his face, but unable to make the catch through his hands for another incompletion and turnover on downs. Is it over yet?
With 8:26 left in the game and the same score, Pickett targeted Gentry who was covered well with the defender tipping it away, and noted Claypool open on the sideline. On second and ten, Warren got the carry, but was tracked by a free rusher working down the line for a shoestring tackle for no gain. Third and ten now, Okorafor was beat and Cole was pushed back on Pickett’s throw to Claypool who was open over the middle, which was a bit behind and tipped up and falling incomplete, leading to a point on this three and out with no yards gained.
6:26 in the game still down by 35, and Pickett targets Warren here after dodging pressure allowed by Cole, with the pass a bit low but certainly catchable but instead falls incomplete. On second and ten, Connor Heyward was in as the tight end and caught the pass short of the sticks for seven yards. Third and three now, and Heyward was the target once again, getting open at the sticks from a trips formation for a rare conversion in the game.
The following first down was a false start penalty on Claypool, one of the many shots in their own foot in the game. Warren was able to gain the majority of the needed yardage on first down and 15, catching the dump off at the line and valiant effort to work through a handful of defenders on the 13-yard gain. On second and a short two, Warren got another opportunity, this one on the ground behind good collective blocks from the line, finding a hole between Moore and Daniels, and another strong run and fighting for yards on the gain of 12. The following first down was a pass, where Cole and Moore allowed penetration pressuring Pickett’s high pass, corralled by Warren at the line and breaking a tackle for a positive gain of four. On second and six, the game seemed to momentarily become a volleyball match with the Bills batting Pickett’s pass at the line, then off a Bills defensive back, and finally hauled in by Gentry who won the jump ball against the smaller linebacker.
The drive continues with wide receiver Miles Boykin getting the target, with Pickett standing tall despite Moore and especially Dotson getting beat on a great pass low and away where only his guy could get it for the 11-yard completion. The following first down, Pickett had ample time behind good collective blocking, but having to trigger short again, this one to Claypool on the drag with a couple YAC on the gain of four.
Now at the two-minute warning with the game well decided, Pickett targeted Claypool short over the middle, with the pass high and off his outstretched hand incomplete. Third and six now, and Moore did a great job to loop the edge rusher in a circle around the pocket, but due to pressure allowed by Okorafor, Pickett tried to escape right but ran right into the sack with his eyes downfield trying to make something happen. Third downs were one of many struggles for Pittsburgh’s offense in the game, going 5-15 (33.3%) and were also 0-4 in the red zone. Final effort play on fourth and 14, and Pickett has to scramble with Moore losing his block but recovering late with good effort to get him on the ground, but Okorafor having the inverse result, losing but nonchalantly jogging after being beat, with allowed a low discouragingly late game hit on the lower leg area as he threw it away, not something you want to see on a final play of the game, and of course this led to more tempers flaring in the second fight of the game. Pickett was the one flagged for unnecessary roughness in retaliation, and a Bills player disqualified for contacting a referee. Disappointing end to a disappointing game to say the least.
Now for the defense:
PFF’s highest grade on defense, and for the game was defensive lineman Cameron Heyward (92.4), which was high in my opinion with only two tackles, missed angles/tackle opportunities, and only one pressure, though he did have a batted pass, but not stepping up as big as I’d hoped to help will the team to victory. Similarly, edge rusher Alex Highsmith (61.2) had a quiet game, with only two pressures (actually led the team) and tackles. There were four other 70+ grades: cornerback James Pierre (75.6 who got playing time with Ahkello Witherspoon out), then linebackers Robert Spillane (75.1) and Myles Jack (73.2). A whopping seven Steelers defenders had below 50 grades: edge rusher Malik Reed, defensive linemen DeMarvin Leal and Tyson Alualu, linebacker Devin Bush, edge rusher Ryan Anderson, and particularly low grades from the starting safeties, Minkah Fitzpatrick (29.5) and Tre Norwood (27.6 filling in for Terrell Edmunds). The Steelers defense allowed 552 total yards to the Bills, 432 through the air, with quarterback Josh Allen throwing for four touchdowns, one interception by cornerback Levi Wallace, and 42 yards as a rusher. Pittsburgh did not sack Allen, who was comfortable throughout the game and only pressured seven times. They are obviously struggling with injuries, with edge rusher T.J. Watt, the secondary banged up, and Levi Wallace and Cameron Sutton injured in game at the position as well as defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi, and the Bills took advantage, overcoming several injuries of their own.
Pittsburgh’s defense took the field first, in a great situation with the Bills backed up at their own two-yard line, Allen was forced through his progressions with seemingly good coverage, and noted Heyward working back inside to cut off a possible scrambling lane along with a good push and eyes on the quarterback from Leal to bat the pass at the line for the incompletion. On second and ten, Bills running back Devin Singletary got his first carry, where Ogunjobi and Heyward got a good push along with a solid run fill from Jack with the latter two combining for the run stop for no gain. Third and ten now, Allen surveys from his own end zone, and despite Fitzpatrick getting to him for the hit on the blitz, was able to unleash a downfield dart to wide receiver Gabe Davis, who got past his former teammate in Wallace, and an extremely poor angle from Norwood for a hair pulling 98-yard explosive catch and run (60+ YAC yards) for the touchdown. Sickening that the defense couldn’t take advantage of the ideal field position, Steelers down seven early.
The defense was forced to return right away in a tough position at their own 21-yard line after a muffed punt recovered by the Bills. From an empty set on first down, Allen quick triggered to Singletary out wide who was open with ample cushion, catching the off-target pass having to throw around Leal, with Wallace getting there first but poor job not wrapping him up allowing a churn and cornerback Arthur Maulet having to push him out of bounds on the gain of four. On second and six, Buffalo was penalized for holding that negated a would be first down, setting up second and 16. The Bills sent wide receiver Stephon Diggs in motion then threw him the screen, and Wallace was able to work around the tight end’s block attempt to set the edge but missed the tackle, and thankfully Highsmith was able to get there quickly from his zone drop to spin him down for a loss of four. Ideal third and 20 for Pittsburgh’s defense, who were encouragingly able to drop back into zone, with Allen targeting Davis again but over his head out of bounds, with good coverage from Sutton, stopping Buffalo for a three and out. Great hold here from the defense, resulting in a blocked field goal to keep the deficit at seven.
With 5:32 left in the first quarter, the defense returned to a Singletary run with a great play from Maulet to stay clean on his blitz and fly into the backfield and make the tackle for no gain. On second and ten, Highsmith and Heyward got a good push on Allen’s shotgun pass, quick triggering up the seam to the slot receiver with linebacker Devin Bush late to react, nearly recovering but complete over his head for another explosive 31-yard gain where he made the tackle. On the following first down, Bush came in free off the edge with a shot at Allen, who took advantage of his wide angle to easily elude and scramble through green pastures for another chunk play of 16 yards, where Sutton finally made the tackle. This set Buffalo up in the red zone, where Pittsburgh lacked a pass rush and thankfully lucked out with Allen’s pass sailing over Diggs’ head considering he had Wallace beat on the post corner route near the end zone. On second and ten, Allen attempted to run to the left, but Heyward was thankfully able to make the tackle for only one yard. Third and nine now, and Fitzpatrick came as the fourth rusher, forcing Allen to throw it away and Buffalo settles for the field goal. Steelers down by seven.
The defense returned at 34 seconds in the first quarter still down by seven, in another good situation with Buffalo at their own two. They were penalized for a false start backing them up to the one-yard line. The following first down was a handoff to running back Zack Moss, who followed the h-back’s block that washed Leal down on the edge and allowed a seven-yard gain where Sutton made the tackle.
The drive continued to start the second quarter, and with a little more breathing room on second and four, Allen play actioned and deep dropped against a Steelers blitz, where defensive lineman Montravius Adams threw his blocker off and got in his face on the deep throw to Diggs down the sideline, and great pass breakup from Wallace in great single coverage with Norwood being looked off to the other side of the field. Third and four now, and Maulet came on the blitz off the edge but picked up by the running back, allowing enough time for Allen to find the receiver on the go route down the sideline against zone between Wallace and Norwood, with the latter tackling him out of bounds, but another explosive 26-yard gain. Ugh.
The following first down was a play action pass that sucked Jack up, but thankfully Leal was able to get his second batted pass to prevent the catch to the wide-open tight end, popping up but unfortunately no Steeler close enough to make a play on the ball. On second and ten, running back James Cook got the toss where defensive lineman Chris Wormley got good interior penetration, Leal winning around his blocker but missing the tackle behind the line, and Sutton avoiding the lineman’s block to get there to solidly wrap him up on the loss of one. Third and 11 now, and Allen found the uncovered tight end at the line of scrimmage with Spillane closing in on his rush, but able to get infuriating explosive YAC on the 26-yard gain due to the wide receivers clearing out space on their deep routes and James Pierre finally pushing him out. Four explosive plays allowed already.
Cook got the following first down carry, getting outside of Leal over pursued and washed out by the lead blocker, then good hand use by Jack to get off the block to tackle the two-yard gain. On second and eight, Buffalo had three receivers to the left and got Spillane dumbfoundingly matched up against Diggs, who easily separated for the catch and YAC of 18 yards with Sutton pushing him out. I understand the secondary injuries, but really?! Another first down, and Allen targets Davis in the end zone but in a rare instance the ball is slightly underthrown, enough for Wallace to make a great adjustment on the leaping interception! What a huge and needed turnover after Buffalo drove the length of the field and keep them off the scoreboard.
With 9:39 in the second quarter, the defense returned quickly following another offensive three and out. Buffalo went pass on first down, where Pittsburgh only rushed three and Wormley ended up on the ground, giving Allen ample time to unleash it deep to Davis who ran right by Wallace, making an excellent one-handed catch over Fitzpatrick, who was plastered in coverage and fought to rip the ball away and had it momentarily, but was outmuscled and resulted in Davis’ second triple explosive touchdown of the game. Only one play needed to score, tough to watch, Steelers now down by 14 early.
The defense returned with 7:53 in the second quarter following another three and out and a poor punt, and Singletary got the carry, where Highsmith was sealed on the edge, Heyward pushed back and unable to get off his block in time, Sutton engulfed by Davis’ block and size on the edge, Jack blocked by the tight end, Norwood missing a tackle, with Heyward and Maulet thankfully hustling to finally chase him down from behind and tackle him out of bounds on yet another explosive gain of 23. Barf. To make matters worse, after the play Jack was dinged for unnecessary roughness on a frustration hit adding another 15 yards, making the infuriating unbearable. This set the Bills up in the red zone, going play action and sucking up the linebackers with the last play fresh on their mind, and Allen quickly targeting Diggs open on the post route in front of Sutton who was late to react, making the leaping catch for the score. What a painful stretch of failures in all three phases, now down by 21.
Buffalo’s offense returned with 3:39 left in the half following a Boswell missed field goal, starting with Allen quick triggering on a slot screen to Diggs, getting to the outside behind good blocks and Wallace able to get outside Davis to get him out of bounds though he was stiff armed to the ground on the three-yard gain. On second and seven, Highsmith got penetration inside, but Allen found another wide-open receiver on a five yard out where Bush was aligned on the snap but ran with the deep receivers, then Fitzpatrick coming downhill but taking a poor angle allowing another explosive play of 20 yards were the latter finally tackled him out of bounds.
On the following first down, Heyward got a great push on the blindside against a double team, where Allen stepped up and triggered deep to the sideline, hitting the receiver in the hands but thankfully dropped on what would have been another explosive catch. On second and ten, Allen found the tight end on an in route, getting inside of Bush in coverage to make the leaping catch on the high pass where he touched him down on the gain of 13.
The drive continued at the two-minute warning, getting another chunk, this time to Diggs who was wide open with six yards of separation in front of the deep zone, able to cut outside and exploit Maulet’s angle/diving missed tackle opportunity, and running out of bounds with Norwood in pursuit on the 12-yard gain. Wormley got great penetration on his pass rush on the following first down, but Allen stepped up and scrambled up the middle with Heyward missing the tackle along with edge rusher Malik Reed pushed back creating the crease, with the latter maintaining pursuit to combine for the tackle with Bush on the five-yard gain.
Pittsburgh stopped the clock here in hopes to get a stop and get the ball back. On second and five, Buffalo stayed aggressive in the pass game, and Reed was pushed past a clean pocket where Allen targeted the tight end in the end zone, and though Spillane didn’t get his head around the pass bounced off his backside incomplete. Crucial third and five here with the defense needing a stand to stop the bleeding, and Highsmith won his pass rush around the edge on the blindside nearly getting to Allen, who intelligently targeted Steelers cornerback Josh Jackson (elevated from the practice squad with all the injuries to the position) who was beat across the field, unable to break up the pass despite an underthrow, allowing the catch and run in for the score. Infuriating matchup exploitation and defense allowing yet more points right before halftime for a seemingly insurmountable deficit of 28.
With 15 seconds in the half, Diggs was hit with a false start penalty. On first and 15, Allen targeted Davis but thankfully Spillane was able to get a hand on it from his zone drop for the pass break up and incompletion. With nine seconds, Allen took a knee to send it to halftime. Knew this would be an extremely tough matchup, but this is embarrassing.
The defenses’ first drive of the second half began at 10:38, defending an expected run (to get the clock moving) behind a pulling block from the left tackle connecting on Leal well, creating a crease with Maulet over running the play on the outside, and Jack able to work off his block along with Wallace combining for the tackle but a gain of eight. On second and two, Allen holds the run-pass option and quick triggers to Davis on the slant despite Norwood in his face off a free edge rush, with Wallace giving cushion off the line but good click and close to tackle him quickly on the 11-yard chain moving catch.
The following first down was back to Singletary on the ground, running behind two pulling blockers, with the first pancaking Wallace, Adams unable to get off his block in time to make a play, and Jack able to shed the second pullers block along with Heyward working down the line well, combining to tackle the six-yard gain. On second and four Heyward provided another play, getting a good push and getting his hands up to tip Allen’s pass at the line of scrimmage incomplete. Third and four now and desperately needing a stop, Adams, Highsmith, and Reed got up field quickly on their pass rush but the latter pushed past the pocket allowing a huge scrambling lane for Allen (with Heyward double teamed), scampering for an explosive 21-yard gain (once again) where Pierre made the shoestring tackle. Facepalm.
The drive continued with Heyward getting a great push, but Allen found Diggs quickly, who got open on a quick slant against Pierre for a five-yard gain. On second and five, Diggs was the man once again off a run-pass option, this time taking advantage of Pierre’s cushion off the line on a quick out, and shaking him to the inside for YAC and a 12-yard gain where he made the tackle. Fourth first down of the drive and now in the red zone, Singletary got the carry where Norwood and Reed were blocked for a big crease, and Bush did a good job staying clean but took a poor angle allowing the positive gain of five yards where he did make the tackle. On second and five, Allen made a good read on the run-pass option seeing Maulet coming on the slot blitz, targeting the slot screen where Norwood reacted quickly but took a poor angle at the line, then Jackson and Fitzpatrick combining for the tackle but allowing the first down.
On first and goal from the five, Allen targeted Davis on a slant in the end zone with Jackson in coverage, getting there to soon and penalized for pass interference, setting up first and goal from the one. Pittsburgh provided good gap fits here, with a good push from Adams and Jack filling the path of Allen’s options to keep, toss to the back, or the option he chose on the tight end flip pass, with Jack providing the big hit to jar the ball loose, and Jackson recovering the forced fumble in the end zone for the touchback. Great takeaway to stop the bleeding on another long drive, still down by 28.
Pittsburgh’s defense returned to start the fourth quarter with the same score off another miss and crazy decision (in my opinion) to kick a field goal. More insult to injury, with Pittsburgh expecting run and committing super aggressively, and Allen deciding to throw to Diggs on the slant, who got a step on Maulet in coverage Fitzpatrick, who was the only man back deep but a poor (but tough) angle allowing explosive YAC and finally ran out of bounds on the double explosive gain of 41 yards. The following first down Heyward and edge rusher Jamir Jones cut off the designed run lane on the edge, forcing the cutback by Cook who found a big lane with Wormley, Adams, and Jack washed to that side, edge rusher Ryan Anderson getting outside his blocker on the edge but unable to make a play, with Norwood blocked as well, and finally another cut forcing the last man standing in Fitzpatrick to miss for a consecutive explosive and unfathomably untouched 24-yard touchdown run. This was the final explosive play, with Pittsburgh allowing a whopping 11 in the game, losing this battle horrendously with only three on offense. 35 POINT DEFICIT, holy cannoli.
With 10:21 left in the game, the defense returned with the scoreboard the same, defending a Cook run where Adams was washed out, with Leal and Jack pushed back but combining for the tackle, but a six-yard gain. On second and four, backup quarterback Case Keenum had to unleash quickly with Norwood coming free on the blitz, a low and pass behind the tight end incomplete with Jackson in coverage. Third and four now, and Adams got good penetration up the middle to pressure the completed pass for three yards, where Jackson allowed the catch but made the quick tackle short of the sticks to force the punt, which was astoundingly their first of the game.
7:27 left in the game still down 35, Keenum dropped back and targeted an open receiver on an intermediate crossing route, underthrown and incomplete with a good push from Adams. On second and ten, it was a screen were Pierre made the tackle but allowed yardage on the five-yard gain. Third and five now, and Pierre was able to break up the pass for the incompletion, but upset with himself for not getting a possible interception.
The defense returned with a minute left, and Keenum kneeled to run the clock out, finally putting the Steelers out of their misery in this historically bad loss.
Let’s look at special teams:
PFF’s highest graded special teamer was Leal (92.2) who had the teams field goal block, as opposed to the game play-by-play crediting it to Heyward, who was there on the play as well. Reed was the only other special teamer with a 70+ grade. There were five players with below 50 grades, including a rough day from the specialists: Punter Pressley Harvin (48.5), Pierre (44.9, muffed kick return), Benny Snell (39.1, two missed tackles), long snapper Christian Kuntz, and kicker Chris Boswell (29.9).
Boswell sent the opening kickoff to the end zone, which was muffed and recovered by Buffalo, but allowed the Steelers coverage unit to get downfield where Snell missed a diving opportunity, but Norwood was able to make the low diving tackle at the two-yard line. Encouraging start to pin the Bills back to start the game. Steven Sims was in line to replace Gunner Olszewski (inactive) as the team’s starting kick returner but was injured pregame, and it was Pierre that surprisingly got the opening kick return duties, and right away proved to be a huge loss muffing the kickoff, with the Bills recovering and getting the ball right back after just scoring a touchdown. Yikes. The defense limited the Bills following drive to a field goal attempt, which was low and blocked by Leal, huge play to rebound on special teams. Boswell connected on his first field goal attempt to cap Pittsburgh’s opening drive, just inside the right upright from 29 yards to cut the deficit to four. His following kickoff went to the one-yard line, with Snell missing another diving opportunity, Pierre blocked (arguably in the back), Jamir Jones also missing an opportunity, and Maulet finally pushing him out after a gain of 34 yards. Harvin’s first punt came at the end of the first quarter, traveling 50+ yards with the returner misjudging the trajectory and letting it bounce, traveling for 69 yards in total with Pierre able to bat it out of the end zone and Marcus Allen downing it at the two-yard line on the great play.
Harvin’s second punt came at 9:47 in the second quarter, a poor 34-yarder that traveled to the 38-yard line where Boykin forced the fair catch. Harvin punted again quickly at 8:04, this one a terrible 26-yarder that only traveled to the 47-yard line where Boykin downed it. Yuck. Along the same lines, Boswell missed his next field goal attempt with 3:43 left in the first half, which hooked and missed just outside the left upright from 33 yards out. With 1:02 left in the second quarter, Sims got a return opportunity on a short kickoff to the eight-yard line, trying to bounce outside Boykin’s block instead of running straight ahead with a crease, but able to break the first tackle and cut back inside for a few more yards on the 19-yard return.
Boswell’s number was unexpectedly called on fourth down at the end of the third quarter down by 28, a call of surrender in my eyes which was infuriating to see and endure, and to make matters worse the 45-yard attempt once again hooked left and was no good. Harvin’s poor game continued with a 34-yard attempt, only traveling to the 46-yard line where long snapper Christian Kuntz downed it. Chris Boswell went 1/3 on field goals, his first attempt caping the first drive for the only Steelers points in the game.
STEELERS VS. BILLS WEEK 5 SNAPS & REGULAR SEASON TOTAL SNAPS:
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