A gritty battle between two defensive juggernauts in the Pittsburgh Steelers (8-5) & Buffalo Bills (9-4), it all ends with implications for the AFC wildcard race.
After making a recent emphasis on how great defenses solidify their reputation in December & January, the opportunity is fully presenting itself for Steelers HC Mike Tomlin and company to do the exact same. Only difference this week, Pittsburgh will be facing another top 5 defensively efficient unit that is aiming for their claim to fame as well.
The Buffalo Bills are an interestingly, fun team. Whether this was meant to describe the nature of their tailgating or the style of play QB Josh Allen possesses, they will challenge the Steelers in a loose type of way offensively, but stout defensively.
A Backyard Play Away
Without a doubt, the comfortability of Josh Allen’s game has begun to settle in, but to a degree that the “wildcard-ness” still coattails his performances.
On the year, Allen has thrown for 2737 yards, 17 touchdowns, 8 interceptions on a 59.8 completion percentage & 85.8 QB rate. Important to note, that as all of these numbers have improved over the course of the year from his rookie season, it hasn’t been a dramatic increase intricately. His Y/A has slightly risen from year one to two at 6.8 (+0.3), AY/A (+0.7), QBR (-5.9), TD% (+1.1%), & INT% (-1.8%).
To reiterate, Allen has become more comfortable, but still without a 300-yard passing game in his career and only averaging 33.8 rushing yards per game (-18.8) on 4.6 yards per attempt (-2.5), teams are catching on as well. However, as he searches for consistency, the new weapons that have been provided to the Bills offense are the keys for the Steelers defense.
Devin Singletary, Cole Beasley, & John Brown. On a scouting report for the week, there are three names that will have stars next to them. In the grand picture, they aren’t household names, but their proficiency and can-be-impact are game-changing.
The top 3 reception leaders (Singletary tied with TE Dawson Knox for 3rd) on the Bills, Brown & Beasley are also only one of three WR duos in the NFL for each to have at least 50 receptions, 5 touchdowns, & a catch percentage of 60 or more. Not household, but versatile in their own rights.
Then for the rookie Singletary, he has been everything as advertised plus more since returning from his early-season injury. For the 10 games he has appeared in, he has ran for 5.0 yards per carry or more in all but three weeks in 2019. A 5.6 Y/A on the season, this ranks him third in the NFL for any player that has rushed the ball more than 100 times.
This still goes without the mention of future Hall of Famer RB Frank Gore as his backup and rookie TE Dawson Knox that is averaging 13.2 yards per catch. The 11th ranked DVOA offense, the creativity can be at a surplus for Bills OC Brian Daboll but still lack into turning them to points. Only averaging 20.1 PPG (20th) & converting just 37.5% of their red zone attempts in the last three weeks, are reasons why the defense receives the hype.
The Surging Youth
Buffalo has typically catered a defense that are respectable in their talent & production. However, they have taken a leap forward this year thanks to the youth that could grow into something special.
Rightfully so, CB TreDavious White headlines this defense and secondary that is allowing just 191.5 passing yards per game (3rd in NFL). To put it in a greater perspective, only three teams in 2019 have passed for more than 250 yards against Buffalo.
Stingy on the backend, the acquisition of rookie DT Ed Oliver has only strengthened a front 7 that features LB Tremaine Edmunds & DL Jordan Phillips, that are both surging in their second year for the Bills. To add to the dominance, they have been largely responsible in allowing just three single 100-yard rushers this season.
Although, the surprise comes when knowing that while opposing teams struggle to drive the ball, Buffalo’s defense doesn’t cause many turnovers. In fact, the Bills have a turnover margin of +2 and are ranked 17th in total turnovers at 16.
A week of testaments for both sides of the ball for Pittsburgh, QB Devlin Hodges & company are going to have their plates full against a very, talented Bills defense. The extra benefit of the win would also give the Steelers the tiebreaker, as both teams would be 9-5 gunning for a wildcard spot.