The Steelers suffered their worst loss under Mike Tomlin on Sunday against the Bills. Here are the studs and duds from an ugly performance.
The Steelers didn’t just lose to the Bills on Sunday, they were annihilated in every possible way. The 38-3 score is bad enough, but you could argue it wasn’t even that close. The Bills did pretty much whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted. Allen was throwing bombs at will, the pass rush was non-existent, and the offense had multiple drive-killing mistakes.
It’s hard to find many positives in a game like this, but let’s start by looking at the few studs from the blowout loss.
Steelers George Pickens, Kenny Pickett give their all in loss
George Pickens continues his ascent to WR1 status
George Pickens was one of the few bright spots for the Steelers on Sunday, leading the team in receiving yards for the second consecutive week. He caught six of his eight targets for 83 yards, continuing to show off his ability to make tough catches seem easy. He and Kenny Pickett are building serious chemistry to start their young careers, and if nothing else this season could lay the foundation for one of the better QB/WR duos in the NFL.
With the way Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool have played to start the season, the argument can be made that Pickens is already the best receiver on the team. He already has the talent to be a true number-one receiver, but I didn’t expect him to have to be one this early. It may be better long-term for him to get all this experience, but I wish it wasn’t out of necessity.
Kenny Pickett looks the part in starting debut
Calling Kenny Pickett’s game on Sunday a “stud” performance is probably a little generous. When you perform the way the Steelers did against the Bills, however, you have to find something to be excited about. He completed 34 of 52 passes for 327 yards and an interception. Not exactly elite numbers, but all things considered it’s hard to be upset with what Pickett showed Sunday.
He stood tall against a ferocious Bills defense and mostly played mistake-free outside of the pick to Bills corner Kaiir Elam. The play-calling, run game, and receivers all made his life way harder than it needed to be. It was nice to see him still fight until the end despite how disastrous the game ended up being. Moving forward, I hope the offense can get into a better rhythm and the guys around Pickett step up their play. Then we will see what he is really capable of.
Steelers defense, Najee Harris are huge duds against Bills
Steelers defense shredded early and often against Bills
The Steelers defense had been trending down ever since TJ Watt suffered his pec injury, but this game was a new low. Josh Allen had well over 300 yards at halftime, including a 98-yard opening drive score to Gabriel Davis. Davis also caught a 62-yard touchdown despite good coverage from Minkah Fitzpatrick, wrestling the ball away in the end zone. Allen finished with 424 yards and four touchdowns on just 31 attempts, and he added 42 yards on the ground for good measure. The Bills had just as much success on the ground, racking up 120 yards on 6.7 yards per carry.
Put simply, this defense couldn’t do anything well outside of an interception by Levi Wallace. Even the score could have been worse than 38-3, with 31 of those points being scored in the first half. It isn’t as simple as them struggling with TJ Watt being out: this defense simply isn’t good right now. Things should improve significantly once he returns, but it doesn’t bode well that they are this bad without him. It should also be said that Terrell Edmunds being out had a huge impact on the secondary as well. He is more important to this defense than most realize.
Najee Harris not living up to his first-round pedigree
I want to preface with the fact that I don’t believe he is as healthy as he says he is, but Najee Harris was awful on Sunday against Buffalo. He looked slow, indecisive as a runner, and generally out of sorts all day. Undrafted rookie Jaylen Warren looked like the better back, showing much more explosiveness and power as a runner and receiver. Najee was never going to be a home run threat as a runner, but his lack of burst has been so obvious to start the season.
Until Harris either gets healthy (if he isn’t) or shows he can create more yards for himself, Warren should be getting the most snaps in the backfield. It would be a tough pill to swallow for Harris and the coaching staff, but Warren is so clearly more impactful so far. I almost hope it’s his foot injury he suffered weeks ago that is still affecting him, because if he is truly healthy then he just simply isn’t a good running back right now. I’m not ready to say it was a mistake to select him in the first round, but he must improve quickly if he wants to avoid the word “bust” getting thrown around.