The time to stack wins together is now for the Buffalo Bills. At 6-6 and two games down from the final Wild Card spot in the AFC, the Bills have an opportunity to go on a run if they get this game coming up against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
It’s a team that’s directly in front of them, and one that has shown can be beat over the course of the season. It’s also a home game for Buffalo, which means they have a great opportunity to come away with a victory.
How do the two teams stack up? Five things to watch for during the Bills showdown against the Steelers:
1) How will Tyrod respond?
- This has, and will continue to be, a big week for Tyrod Taylor. The passing offense (along with the defense, of course) disappeared over the final three quarters of the Raiders game, leading to a lot of heat being put on the quarterback — and what the Bills will do with him at season’s end. This week, against the Steelers, exists a humongous opportunity for Tyrod Taylor to not only help his team get a win, but to do it in a clutch moment with the season on the line. Even if Pittsburgh wins this game and goes on to win the AFC North, that adds Baltimore back into the Wild Card equation, and they already beat the Bills in Week One of the season. For everything that has been said, written, and all the speculation over the past week, Taylor showing up in a big game in which he has both of his top wide receivers would go a long way in deciding his immediate future with the Bills. General manager Doug Whaley reiterated that they have yet to decide what to do with Tyrod Taylor just yet, but a win on Sunday in this big of a game might just force their hand.
2) No Kyle Williams could swing the game
- As soon as it seemed like the Bills were finally getting back to full health, Kyle Williams’ back locks up on him before the final practice of the week, and now he’s in jeopardy of missing the game. Finally getting Marcell Dareus back to full health, there couldn’t have been a worse week to pick for Williams’ back to lock up, which would potentially keep him from playing. The Bills will be going up against an offensive line that has played well this season from left to right, and against one of the most dynamic running backs in the league in Le’Veon Bell. Without Williams, the Bills would need Leger Douzable to step into the starting lineup, and with Adolphus Washington’s role mainly remaining unchanged, Jerel Worthy would need to step into Douzable’s old rotational role. Needless to say, the Bills are losing a lot if they have to go into Sunday without Williams — especially if the Steelers are without starting left guard Ramon Foster is unable to play due to his chest injury. The inside linebackers for the Bills have played at an average to below average level in recent weeks, which means Bell could be in line for a huge day if Williams isn’t present to fight through double teams and one-on-one matchups to clog the running lane.
3) The problem that is Antonio Brown
- The Bills will be getting Ronald Darby back on the field this weekend, which helps them to a certain degree. The trouble is, trying to figure out where Antonio Brown is going to line up on any given play is in no way predictable. Brown lines up to the left, he lines up to the right, he’ll line up in the slot — and since the Bills haven’t utilized the ‘shadow’ philosophy (assigning one cornerback to the opponent’s top receiver all game), that means all three of Stephon Gilmore, Ronald Darby, and Nickell Robey-Coleman will get an individual crack at Brown. However, he is one of the most slippery players in the league, and trying to cover him is a chore for anyone he lines up against. As the Bills will be trying everything in their power to get into the backfield to Ben Roethlisberger, every half second that ticks away is more time for Brown to lose his mind. And make no mistake, Roethlisberger will find him. There’s a reason why Brown leads all receivers in touchdowns, is tied for the lead in receptions, and is fourth in receiving yards. He’s that good, and the Steelers look for him early and often.
4) Bills could try it deep quite a bit
- Sunday is a huge game for the Bills as a team, and as previously stated, for Taylor as well. The areas he has shown to struggle have been finding targets in the underneath area consistently and accurately enough. The Steelers are also quite effective on all the short passing attacks. However, the one area that they have lacked this season is against the deep ball — and the player to attack is right cornerback Artie Burns. With how well Taylor has shown to throw the deep ball in his 26 starts, that lends itself to the Bills strength in the passing game. I would expect to see Sammy Watkins lined up to the left side of the offense quite often, to try and attack the Steelers deep. I think he can have a lot of success in that matchup, which could help Taylor and the offense try and go score-for-score with Pittsburgh if they need to.
5) Running out of three wide sets
- Normally when the Bills run, they’ve done it with at least one tight end, and a lot of the time, with a fullback on the play. They shouldn’t do away with that by any means, but I think there exists an opportunity for the Bills to have some success on the ground with LeSean McCoy when working out of three wide receiver sets. The reason? It takes nose tackle Daniel McCullers off of the field, and leaves Pittsburgh with players like Ricardo Matthews and Anthony Chickillo on the field, and force aging inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons to make some plays — which has been a struggle for him in 2016. The Steelers have been pretty solid defensively this season, but I think McCoy and company can find some room to run out of that setup, which would also take pressure off the passing attack to do it all. But really, McCoy might be at the point already where he’s almost matchup-proof, and can find yardage that’s only duplicated by a handful of the other top running backs in the NFL. Still, the Bills have to take advantage of where they can, and I think that brings an opportunity, especially if they get the quick inside linebacker Ryan Shazier to overrun the play.
OUT: OLB Lerentee McCray (concussion)
QUESTIONABLE: Kyle Williams (back), LT Cordy Glenn (questionable), WR Sammy Watkins (foot), WR Robert Woods (knee), TE Charles Clay (knee)
OUT: WR Darrius Heyward-Bey (foot), S Shamarko Thomas (concussion)
DOUBTFUL: DL Javon Hargrave (concussion)
QUESTIONABLE: K Chris Boswell (abdomen), G Ramon Foster (chest), RB DeAngelo Williams (knee)
Prediction: Steelers over Bills
- In this type of battle, these are two really talented teams that are similarly inconsistent on the defensive side of the ball. Both defenses have their strengths, but the biggest weakness of either is the safety position for the Bills. I would expect to see the Steelers testing the secondary — and the safeties — early and often with their high-powered passing attack fueled by Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, and now tight end Ladarius Green. While I do think the Bills will be able to move the ball on this defense with the deep ball and the running game, something tells me this is going to be a situation where the Bills are going to have to try and play catch up at some point or another. And through the past two seasons, when the Bills have had the opportunity to do so, they haven’t been able to capitalize on it. Also, if Kyle Williams can’t play, I think that might just be the big matchup that finally swings the matchup into the favor of the Steelers. Eventually, I believe the offensive firepower of the Steelers will pull this one out, and in turn, spoiling any remaining hope for the Bills to make the playoffs in 2016.