As much as they have struggled during the first half of the 2013 regular season, Pittsburgh’s offense at least showed some signs of life last weekend in Foxborough. The unit moved the ball with some consistency through the air and on the ground against the Patriots’ defense, and the Steelers managed to put a season-high of 31 points on the board in a losing effort.
Recent improvements and optimism aside, Pittsburgh’s offense cannot “go through the motions” tomorrow afternoon. The Buffalo Bills are coming to town, and their defense has been quite formidable when it has come to attacking opposing quarterbacks and capitalizing on mistakes and turnovers this fall.
To his credit, Buffalo’s new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine has helped to revamp and improve one of the league’s worst defensive units from the 2012 campaign, and the Bills’ defense has to potential to create plenty of matchup issues on Sunday afternoon.
In terms of collapsing the pocket, Buffalo’s pass rushers could wreak havoc upon Pittsburgh’s much-maligned offensive line and Ben Roethlisberger. After an up-and-down first season with the Bills, Mario Williams has been an absolute force off of the edge for Buffalo this fall and racked up 11.0 sacks. Not to be outdone, defensive tackles Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus have notched 4.0 apiece while newcomer Jerry Hughes has resurrected his career with the Bills and tallied 4.0 of his own as an edge rusher.
Overall, the Bills rank third in the league with 29.0 sacks through their first nine games and they should be licking their chops to drop Roethlisberger who has been sacked 32 times during the team’s 2-6 start. For those of you playing the “home game,” “Big Ben” is on pace to be sacked 64 times by the end of the 2013 regular season. Of course, that is assuming he makes through the rest of the regular season in one piece.
The pressure from Buffalo’s front-seven has also helped their defense create takeaways on a consistent basis this year too. The Bills have picked off 12 passes so far this year and rookie inside linebacker Kiko Alonso is leading the team with four. Defensive backs Jim Leonhard and Aaron Williams have snared three apiece, and the Bills have added three fumble recoveries to their takeaways total over their first nine games as well.
Only three teams have turned the ball over more than the Steelers’ offense in 2013, and their 17 giveaways have been a large reason why they are four games under .500. If the pocket collapses for Roethlisberger consistently or Pittsburgh digs themselves another early first quarter hole, then the Steelers’ offense could be in for a long day against Buffalo’s defense. Turnovers could be ripe for the plundering if Pittsburgh’s signal-caller and offensive coordinator get desperate, and the Bills have the type of personnel to take advantage.
Roethlsiberger must keep his head on a swivel on Sunday, and it would be nice to see Le’Veon Bell and the running backs keep Buffalo’s 18th ranked rushing defense on their toes and extend drives. As I alluded to previously, the Steelers can ill-afford to dig themselves into an early hole and allow the Bills’ opportunistic defenders to pin their ears back and attack to set up turnover-friendly situations.
Although Buffalo is 3-6, they nevertheless have the types players on the defensive side of the ball who can cause problems for Pittsburgh’s offense. The Steelers have “played down” to their opponents far too often during the Mike Tomlin regime, and I just hope that they do not take the Bills’ defense lightly tomorrow.
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