It seems like the week 14 matchup between the Bills and Steelers was the breaking point for many fans. Buffalo showed ZERO ability to execute on either side of the ball, and outside of a few players they showed ZERO passion in a game that was a must-win.
But that sort of mentality is what has haunted fans for the past 16, and now probably 17, years. The Bills have been unable to play up to the competition, unable to match the intensity of good teams when the time to shine has been upon them. This game was, sadly, no different. There comes a point when coaches, players and fans have to stop with the excuses and just realize that the blame isn’t just on one person — especially after this “effort”. The play that the Bills displayed on the field was embarrassing. The game plans on both sides were mediocre. The adjustments by the staff were the same. They were made, but they made very little impact. All of these things were realized on the very first drive of the game by Pittsburgh, on the very first 3rd down of the game.
The Steelers always make it a point to get their star players going early and often, (hear that, Buffalo?). The workload typically starts with running back Le’Veon Bell. In the last four games, Bell has averaged 10 touches in the first quarter.
This game wasn’t any different. Bell touched the ball 8 times in the first quarter, but they were extremely effective touches. He finished the first stanza with 90 yards from the line of scrimmage, including this 32-yard screen pass on 3rd and 10. As I’m sure you vividly recall, the Bills missed several opportunities to bring him down. In fact, Buffalo missed four tackles on Bell alone and eight total on the day.
As I mentioned earlier, there were a few players whose effort couldn’t be questioned. Number one on that list was Lorenzo Alexander. One of the leaders of this team, Alexander made a heck of a play on 2nd and 5 to stymy the drive being mounted by Pittsburgh. The Steelers love to run hi/low concepts out of 3×1 formations. The route combination is usually run by the two innermost WRs/TEs. Based on the Bills’ film, the Steelers had an inkling that Buffalo would play cover 2 vs. this trips personnel. Ben Roethlisberger got the look he wanted, but he and Green weren’t on the same page. Alexander jumps the route as Green turns the route inside, as he is expecting a hi/lo concept, but Green pivots back out as Ben lets it rip. Alexander trusted his instincts, and luckily it paid off in favor of the Bills.
Buffalo’s offense had no such luck in the first quarter. They couldn’t get anything going. On the very first play from scrimmage, Taylor took a sack. Inside linebacker Ryan Shazier, in my opinion, was the best player on the field during Sunday’s tilt. He was the key to Pittsburgh’s defensive game plan to shut down the Bills’ #1 rushing attack.
On 2nd and 14, ILB Ryan Shazier made his presence known. On run plays, he was seen executing run blitzes and shooting gaps.
It was fairly obvious that Rex didn’t want to lose the game by letting Antonio Brown beat them. Accordingly, most of the game plan was centered around coverage — multiple coverages to limit big plays down the field. All in all, they succeeded in stopping him, as he finished with 11 targets, 5 receptions for 78 yards and 0 TDs, but his longest catch of the day of 40 yards set up the Steelers’ first touchdown.
On 2nd and 8, Buffalo shows a single high safety, so Ben takes the shot deep. Really good coverage by Darby, just better ball placement by Big Ben. Six plays later, Bell gets into the end zone to put the Steelers up 7-0.
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The Bills continued to have problems running the ball. Pittsburgh did not fear Taylor as a passer, so anytime Buffalo was in run situations or personnel groupings, the Steelers sent blitzers. Sometimes Shazier, but also defensive backs. Buffalo did not have enough blockers or positioning to pick everyone up.
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When Taylor had to pass, he missed his opportunities. Against a cover 3 look, Buffalo sends Clay on a crossing route and Shady as a check down — a little composure and anticipation and this would be an easy completion. Clay clearly gears down to settle in between the backers. A middle of the field target for Clay wasted, but in Taylor’s defense, he was 10 for 12 for 146 yards and 1 TD over the middle.
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One of the main reasons why Buffalo was gutted against the run was not having defensive tackle Kyle Williams. Offensive coordinator Todd Haley knew that the Bills would have trouble stopping the power attack without having two competent run stoppers in Rex’s defense. Pair the absence of Kyle with Marcell Dareus having, in my opinion, one of his worst games, and that leads to Bell averaging 6.2 yards per attempt on the ground.
Dareus’s play was downright atrocious and uninspiring, but the most glaring issue was his lack of physicality. He was absolutely manhandled by left guard B.J Finney on several occasions. He typically doesn’t lose one on one battles, but he did on this day. This score puts the Steelers up 14-0.
With the Bills now down two scores, offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn had to open up the play book. Lynn called a really nice angle route to Shady Mccoy on their next drive.
Despite that play, the drive stalls and Buffalo is forced to punt. On the Steelers’ next drive, the Bills’ offense gets the short field thanks to cornerback Stephon Gilmore’s pick.
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Shazier made Buffalo’s offense work for it. The star ILB finished the day with a sack, 7 tackles and a game leading 6 stops.
On third down, Lynn designed an empty set play to get Watkins one on one with a safety, and Sammy won the route for the touchdown.
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Pittsburgh’s first drive of the second half is where I think the defense was demoralized. The Steelers, up 14-7, came out and ran seven straight runs (and nine total) on their 10 play touchdown drive. The offensive line not only abused the Bills’ defense physically, but their technique and skill were also on full display. Haley did it by running right at Mr. Big Stuff.
With no Williams in the lineup, defensive ends Adolphus Washington and Leger Douzable struggled to hold the point of attack. The staff tried changing to their ‘Titan’ package to stop the power runs to the strength of the formation, so Haley just ran iso to the weak side. Seeing Dareus bullied on several plays was a sad sight to see.
The staff tried several things, like putting Alexander inside, but it just did not work. In the end, Bell walks into the end zone. This drive ended the game, in my opinion.
Tyrod Taylor’s play didn’t improve much in the third quarter. He attempted six passes, completing 2 for 25 yards. The Steelers’ defensive coordinator had a great game plan for Taylor. Lots of guys lined up near the line of scrimmage, but then only 3 rushed, but with speed off the edge, all while having Shazier spy the QB. The crossing linebackers confused Taylor and forced incompletions and late throws.
The defensive adjustments across the board just did not work, and the execution of the play calls was horrific. Steelers fullback Roosevelt Nix had himself a game. He was a difference maker in Pittsburgh’s run offense.
Taylor and the offense had their greatest success in garbage time. Don’t get me wrong, it was garbage time, but there were some really good plays made by Taylor and McCoy. For instance, take a look at this dump to Shady. Shady was a focal point in the passing game, as he was targeted 7 times, hauling in 6 for 81 yards. I was surprised that Lynn didn’t run empty sets more, because everyone knows that’s how you beat this 3-4 defense (see Peyton Manning vs. Steelers film). Yes, I know it’s Manning, but when the Bills spread this defense out they made plays.
Taylor was his usual self. He missed several reads and open receivers, but late in the game he threw his best ball. Again, take away the ‘garbage time’ angle and take the throw for what it is. This was a very good throw down the seam, where only Woods could catch it and where he wouldn’t get lit up. The receiver is bending the route to the middle of the field, so Taylor throws it to his back shoulder on a rope. It doesn’t happen often, but it is a nice throw.
As you can see, there weren’t many bright spots this past Sunday. In fact, the Bills’ play was alarmingly bad. You can say what you want about coaching — Rex’s staff have certainly coached inconsistently. They are a below average team, as far coaching goes, but what worries me is the on-the-field play of the team. They were not focused or disciplined, and they sure as heck didn’t execute to their abilities. They showed very little fight as the Steelers ripped the hearts right out of their chests, while the fans had to sit and watch it happen with no control. That was a sad sight to see, and it will almost certainly lead to a 17th-straight year without a playoff berth.