Boy, how about them Steelers? There aren’t many better ways to crack open your preseason than with a double-digit win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the Deep South, yet that’s exactly what our guys gave us last week.
As can be expected with any preseason game, there were multiple mishaps from both teams, so I’m not going to sit here and pretend that the black and yellow looked perfect out there—but I’m certainly not going to complain about what I saw, either.
With the convincing win now providing a layer of comfort for both Steelers fans and the Steelers themselves, I think I speak for everyone when I say that we’re ready for all the next two preseason games have in store for us. However, being ready for something doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s going to be easy to conquer; such a statement holds true for both games’ opponents, but it especially does so for one of them: Buffalo.
The Buffalo Bills are next to face the Steelers in this preseason stretch, heading into Pittsburgh for a battle of the unbeaten. Their preseason opener saw them outlast the Indianapolis Colts in what was ultimately a competitive 23-19 showdown that they looked quite formidable in (especially from an offensive standpoint).
But while that makes them sound like a tough bunch to encounter, what makes them so much tougher than Pittsburgh’s third foe? This would be a fair question regardless of who said foe is, but with it being Atlanta, that is especially the case.
Similarly to the Bills, the Atlanta Falcons began their preseason campaign with a promising victory, only that theirs was headlined by a strong defensive performance.
In fact, their defensive prowess was so overbearing that their opponents, the Miami Dolphins, couldn’t manage to hit the end zone once. That combined with the 13 points the Falcons tacked on late gave them a final tally of 19-3, which is far more impressive-looking than the aforementioned Bills-Colts score.
So, especially with them having the luxury of hosting the Steelers, the question has to be asked: What exactly is it that earns Buffalo the nod so easily? Luckily for those who are too impatient to ponder the answer, it can be found in the simple debate surrounding the arts of offense and defense.
What makes Buffalo an offensive team? What makes Atlanta a defensive one?
As I said before, the Bills presented themselves as an offensively inclined squad against the Colts, having about as perfect of a statistical passing game as fans could hope for in a preseason debut. In total, quarterbacks Kyle Allen and Matt Barkley threw for just short of 300 yards and two touchdowns on 73% completion. Of the 10 receivers who snagged at least one reception, six finished with 30 yards or more on the day. It’s not the greatest offensive stat sheet you’ll ever see, but it’s hard to find many that have been superior.
Amongst the ones that won’t be challenging it anytime soon, we have Miami’s sorry results that spawned from crossing paths with Atlanta—but just how sorry was it? Well, while Buffalo gets praised for how strong its offensive showing looked next to others, Miami gets dragged for how poor it looks upon receiving the same treatment.
It’s bad enough that the Dolphins couldn’t get six all game, but what makes matters worse is the fact that they ultimately threw a whopping three interceptions (one of which was a pick-six), tying their number of points. From there, realizing that they lost a fumble and suffered five sacks for 40 yards only rubs salt in their several wounds.
That kind of nonsense played a pivotal role in Miami’s cumulative QBR being an abysmal 41.5, the worst of any team so far this preseason.
Do the Dolphins deserve their fair share of blame for putting on that kind of display? Absolutely, but some credit needs to go to Atlanta’s defensive aggression as well, as we nonetheless saw their ability to both play the ball in the air and storm the backfield. That means something.
Now, before we dive into the deciding factor of today’s discussion, there is one more thing we need to address: Buffalo's defense does not suck (especially when remembering a couple of big turnovers its offense was responsible for), nor does Atlanta’s offense; the goal of praising just one side of their identities is not to imply that they are incompetent on the other. Rather, it is simply to acknowledge that the numbers don’t lie.
In spite of their respectable offensive performance, the Bills still found a way to squeak by with only a four-point edge. And even though the Falcons weren’t in desperate need of some killer offensive regime, what they came out with was unspectacular regardless.
With that said, what are the Steelers better equipped to survive: An offensive Buffalo team with decent defense or a defensive Atlanta team with mediocre offense?
This perspective shows the true gap between the pair
The strongest argument that could be made for Atlanta rides on the Steelers also typically being a defensive bunch, as that mixing with two flawed offenses could produce an ugly (and subsequently less-predictable) outcome.
The sole stone that leaves unturned is the one surrounding whether the Steelers could outmatch that kind of adversary, and I think they could. I firmly believe that, based on their debuts, Pittsburgh’s offense is good enough to outperform Atlanta’s in a low-scoring affair.
Anyone who agrees with that take must then ask themselves if they are as confident in saying that Pittsburgh could score on Buffalo’s defense enough to keep up with however many points its offense scores on ours. Common sense dictates that such a bet is not as safe simply because there is more that has to go Pittsburgh’s way.
I mean think about it, which option sounds more likely? The Steelers scoring some on a physical defense while containing an underwhelming offense, or them scoring even more on a weaker-yet-still-disruptive defense while containing a visibly richer offense?
And mind you that all of this goes without even covering the more forgettable factors, such as the Bills having Sean McDermott—a defensive-minded head coach with a winning record against Pittsburgh—and Steelers fans likely traveling well enough to suppress some of Atlanta’s home-field advantage.
Again, I’m not trying to mindlessly define these teams’ worths off the opening week of the preseason. Buffalo’s offense could make more/fewer mistakes, or its defense could greatly improve; Atlanta’s defense can completely fall apart, or its offense can prove that it simply had first-game jitters. Heck, we could even witness a chaotic scenario where all of that happens.
But, until we come to those bridges, I can only go off of what I’ve seen. Based on that, the Buffalo Bills stand as the biggest all-around threats between the Steelers and a spotless preseason run.