With expectations as high as they could be at One Bills Drive and beyond, the Buffalo Bills were stymied by the Pittsburgh Steelers 23-16, ending a 7-game home winning streak dating back to October 19th of last year (when they fell to the Kansas City Chiefs on Monday Night 26-17). While you are going to hear several reasons from “experts” as to why the Buffalo Bills fell to the Steelers, Hashtag Sports decided to throw their hat into the ring with some observations from Sunday in The Good, The Bad and the Ugly.
Photo taken from behindthesteelcurtain.com
The Good: Buffalo Bills Defense
The Buffalo Bills defense held Najee Harris to 45 yards rushing and Ben Roethlisberger to 188 yards passing. On any normal day, that should result in a victory. The defense was able to hold the Pittsburgh offense to 252 total offensive yards and 16 points. Last season, the average points per game for the entire NFL was 24.8. In the “New” NFL, being able to hold your opponent to under 20 points results in a win more often than not, and with a few things to clean up, here and there, the Bills Defense did what was asked of them on Sunday.
Photo taken from behindthesteelcurtain.com
The Bad: Josh Allen and the Offensive Line
The newly minted 260 million dollar man, Josh Allen was not the player that was an MVP candidate from last season. He was erratic, inaccurate, and couldn’t seem to get into a rhythm the entire day, even though he had players that were open on a few occasions. It seemed that Allen was trying to win the MVP on every throw. Whether it was nerves, adrenaline from playing in front of 70,000 members of the Bills Mafia, or more notably, the suffocating Pittsburgh defense, he was just off. Allen did throw for 270, and going back to last season, he was 11-2 when throwing for 270 or more, but was not himself on Sunday. For the Buffalo Bills to have a chance to make a run, he needs to be more consistent, as he was in 2020.
The offensive line, while not blitzed very often, was having trouble dealing with the 3 and 4-man pressures that Pittsburgh was rushing. The collection of Melvin Ingram, TJ Watt, Cameron Heyward and Alex Highsmith were able to push the pocket consistently and had bodies in Josh Allen’s face all day. Pittsburgh had 8 QB hits on Allen, and their ability to drop 7 defenders in coverage, made it a very rough day for Allen. If the Bills want to be competitive in 2021, that front five has to offer more protection for Allen.
Photo Taken from Steelerswire
The Ugly: Play Calling and Management
By now, many of you have made comments or even asked ‘why’ when thinking back on the game you just witnessed. More notably, the flea-flicker in the first quarter, the 4th and 8 call in the third quarter and more so the 4th down “throwback” call in the fourth quarter. I will try to give my best assessment of all three of these plays so you can have some fun discussions with your friends and co-workers today.
The Flea Flicker: With 3 minutes left in the first quarter, on a 3rd and 1, the Buffalo Bills, at their own 46 yard line, decide to run a gimmick play to catch the Steelers off-guard. Now, I can somewhat understand the play call IF the Bills were thinking of also going for it on 4th and 1. However, it was early in the game and they wanted to swing the field position being up 3-0 at the time.
The 4th and 8: Decisions as to when to go for it and not to go for it, especially at the NFL level are not done on a whim. Messages are communicated with the Head Coach and the Coordinator prior to going for it on 4th down, so that the coordinator can plan out a set of plays that will achieve a first down and move the chains. If it was communicated that the Bills were going to go for it PRIOR to 3rd down, Brian Daboll would have his plays ready. Needing 8 yards on 3rd down, the Buffalo Bills tried to get half of the distance back, however the pass was deflected away from Cole Beasley. On 4th and 8, Josh Allen tried to hit Gabe Davis on a seam route, which was also incomplete. This is one of those rare times that I felt the Buffalo Bills should have sent Tyler Bass out to attempt a 53-yard field goal. I understand that the percentages weren’t in the Bills favor, however, at that time, the Bills were winning 10-3 and if Bass, who has more than enough leg to kick that field goal, was successful, the Bills would be leading 13-3 with 6 minutes left in the 3rd quarter, and by being up two scores, it would have changed the offensive play calling for the Steelers.
The Throwback: With 14 minutes left in the game, the Bills had a 4th and 1 on the Pittsburgh 41-yard line and were leading 10-6. Out of field goal range, the Bills elect to go for it on 4th down. Now, they just as easily could’ve played the numbers and tried to pin Pittsburgh back in their own territory. Being up 4 points and having not allowed a touchdown in 3 quarters of play, that would be a solid decision. However, the decision to go for it (which I won’t fault the Bills) and deciding to use another gimmick play, brings this call into question. Having a play in the first quarter (flea-flicker) that didn’t work, the Steelers were already aware that something might be cooking for another attempt, and the message that it sent to other NFL teams about the Buffalo Bills rushing attack. Could the Bills have just run Allen up the middle? Well, the push that the Bills offensive line wasn’t going to allow that to happen, so they tried something different...to no avail. I would’ve even accepted a 5-wide set with an Allen draw. Would it have netted a different outcome? Who knows, but at least Allen would’ve been moving forward instead of throwing it backwards.
All in all, the Buffalo Bills were served a slice of humble pie on Sunday with their loss to the Steelers, and if recent history has shown us anything about the Bills, is that when they lose, they return with a greater sense of purpose and a renewed focus. Let's hope they are able to right the ship before playing Miami next week.
Photo Taken from Buffalo News