Well, that was fun. The Pittsburgh Steelers walked into the home of a presumed AFC Super Bowl contender and outlasted them for 60 minutes. Of course, it was far from a perfect game for the Steelers against the Buffalo Bills. We’ll recap everything that happened in this Steelers-Bills matchup and talk about what the Steelers need to fix moving forward.
Steelers-Bills Recap: 1st Half
Through the first half, this team looked like the one fans saw at the end of the regular season last year. The offense could not get the run game going and Ben Roethlisberger struggled to complete easy passes. Many of the concerns about the new offensive line seemed to be realized. All five players struggled to get any push in the run game and they allowed the Bills’ defense to pressure Roethlisberger repeatedly. Rookie running back Najee Harris ran hard but the blocking did not give him much to work with. But Ben shares some of the blame. He looked like the late-2020 Ben again, missing simple passes, as the offense did not look much different than last season.
Luckily, Pittsburgh’s defense bailed them out repeatedly. They sacked Josh Allen three times, drew numerous holding penalties, and generally harassed Allen all afternoon. Buffalo elected not to run the ball very much. But the Steelers’ defensive backs responded by preventing big plays and tackling well. Regardless, the Steelers’ defense broke once right before the half, when Allen fired a perfect strike to Gabriel Davis in the back of the end zone. Pittsburgh went into halftime down 10-0, punting on all five of their drives (not counting the kneeldown).
Steelers-Bills Recap: 2nd Half
But in the second half, slowly but surely, the Steelers came alive. Tre’davious White nearly picked off Ben early in the drive but it was called back due to holding. The Steelers ended up with a field goal after an errant pass to Najee Harris on third down. On the ensuring Buffalo drive, Pittsburgh forced the first of their turnovers on downs. They drove into the red zone again but could not convert for a touchdown and settled for a field goal. Pittsburgh then forced another turnover on downs via a massive tackle for loss from Cam Sutton. After a big defensive pass interference penalty, Diontae Johnson secured some semblance of revenge against the Bills after last year’s debacle, catching a bobbling highlight touchdown. The Steelers scored 13 unanswered points to tie the game at the beginning of the fourth quarter.
It didn’t stop there. After a massive sack on third down, the Steelers special teams unit redeemed themselves after allowing a huge return on the opening kickoff by blocking a punt and returning it for a quick touchdown. The Steelers held strong at the goal line again after that, forcing a field goal. Pittsburgh got the ball back with about five minutes remaining and bled about two-and-a-half minutes off with some clutch third-down conversions to get into field goal range. Chris Boswell nailed a long kick to extend the lead to 10. Buffalo got down the field to kick a field goal on the ensuing drive. But they used up too much time and could not recover the onside kick to get one last chance.
Steelers fans may have seen shades of the game against the Colts last season when the Steelers’ offense could not get anything going in the first half but came alive in the second to squeak out a win. In this game, that was more understandable, as the offense was starting four rookies in a very new offense. The run game was not pretty for the majority of the contest. But Najee Harris displayed incredible toughness, consistently battling for extra yards when there weren’t any to be had. By the fourth quarter, Harris found more holes and started breaking some for solid gains. Ben Roethlisberger played far from perfect but in clutch situations in the second half, he delivered.
On defense, there’s not much to complain about if anything. TJ Watt played incredibly, even for him, after signing his new contract. The rest of the outside linebackers were also amazing, generating pressure on Allen with relative ease and drawing several holding calls. The secondary also played extremely well, preventing big plays over the top, breaking up multiple passes, and rallying to the ball to make tackles. The stats will look somewhat deceiving but the Steelers’ defense executed their gameplan very well, forcing stops when necessary. The special teams units had some hiccups (opening kickoff, shanked punt) but creating a blocked punt touchdown might fully redeem them.
Obviously, the Steelers have a lot to clean up on offense. The debut Matt Canada offense was not perfect. However, as they leaned more into it, with motions and sweeps, the offense seemed to get going. The Steelers return home next week to face the Las Vegas Raiders, coming off a short week and a long road trip. Hopefully, they can clean up their mistakes during the week and come out firing against Las Vegas.