Bills Offense Can’t Stop Steelers Pass Rush – Week 1 Review

@tzanatian51 deep dives what went wrong in the Bills Week 1 loss to the Steelers.

Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Welp… Week 1 is in the books and the Buffalo Bills are 0-1. Pittsburgh’s defense was the star of the game, dominating the line of scrimmage en route to a 23-16 victory. Buffalo’s defense looked strong after a down 2020 season but the Bills offense was completely out of sync. The offensive line appears to be a much bigger issue than anyone predicted and could be an achilles heel all season. The Bills still looked in control for the first half despite their offensive struggles, carrying a 10-0 lead into halftime. The second half was a different story with the Steelers making big plays at the right times to take control. Pittsburgh’s offense was subpar but they did enough to win the game. They were helped by an elite defensive performance and a game-changing punt block touchdown.

The Good

Defense

Buffalo’s defense returned to the quality play we grew accustomed to in the pre-2020 McDermott era. The pass rush generated frequent pressure and forced Big Ben to get rid of the ball quickly. The run defense also had a strong game, holding 1st round RB Najee Harris to just 2.8 YPC on his 16 attempts. Harris routinely was met within two yards of the line of scrimmage and over half of his yards had to come after contact. The linebacker duo of Edmunds and Milano were much better at finishing tackles. The secondary was lights-out in coverage against an athletic group of receivers, holding the passing offense to 188 yards on over 30 attempts.

Taron Johnson

Johnson was so good he deserves his own section. He led the team with 7 tackles and added 2 passes defensed as well. He is in a contract year and was an absolute dog against Pittsburgh. Arrow is pointing up on the slot corner.

Tyler Bass

Bass picked up where he left off last year and was perfect on the day with an extra point and makes of 25, 37, and 42 yards.

Devin Singletary and Dawson Knox

Two players that fans love to hate, Singletary and Knox were the best players on the Bills offense. Singletary had 72 yards on 11 carries and created chunk plays with ease. He clearly has the confidence of the coaching staff who chose to make Zack Moss a healthy scratch for the contest. Singletary’s shiftiness and yard creation is exactly what this team needs to have an efficient run game. Dawson Knox was dependable and did well with everything he was asked to do. He was a solid security blanket and used his physicality to buy extra yards on dump offs. On one play, he caught a 2 yard check down and powered through 2 defenders to convert a 3rd and 10. Tight end isn’t a focal point of the offense but it was great to see positive contributions from the position.

Return Game

Isaiah McKenzie opened the game with an electric kick return that put the Bills in field goal range. He was shaken up on a fair catch but returned to the game and helped the Bills offense with field position. He was sure handed which is the biggest plus given his history of fumbling. With McKenzie and rookie Marquez Stevenson (short-term IR), Buffalo has 2 speed threats that can flip field position on special teams.

The Bad

Offense

Brian Daboll put together a bad game plan, simple as that. There was no design to minimize the mismatch on the interior line, allowing Cam Heyward to pressure Allen 11 times. Singletary was our best offensive player but was only given 11 carries. Josh Allen was clearly out of sync with his receivers but instead of calling some “get right” plays we forced unsuccessful QB draws and gadget plays. Allen was off on way too many throws. He missed a wide open Emmanuel Sanders, overthrowing the deep ball by a few yards. The Bills’ usually reliable receiving corps also hurt the team with drops. After a poor showing last year, TJ Watt lived in the Bills’ backfield and routinely disrupted plays. The Bills offense deserves all the scrutiny after this performance.

4th Down Decisions

McDermott was surprisingly aggressive on 4th downs last year but his decision making was erratic this game. His decisions are shown in the table below. He made overly safe decisions in clear go situations in the first half and then chose not to kick the field goal on a 4th and 8. That decision started the decline and opened the door for Pittsburgh to mount their comeback. In the 4th quarter he correctly chose to try a 4th and inches but ran a poorly executed backwards pass to Breida that lost 7 yards. Josh Allen is 6’5″ and could easily have gained the yard on a sneak. These inconsistent decisions really hurt the Bills offense and contributed to the loss.

Benching Moss

Zack Moss hasn’t shown anything special since he was selected in the 3rd round last year. That said, he is still an exceptional pass blocker. Knowing the opponent and our own team, Moss was an obvious choice to keep active to help support pass blocking. Buffalo opted to go with Breida at RB2 who did nothing to help the Bills offense. This move was a real head scratcher and Moss was openly upset about it on Twitter.

The Ugly

Penalties

Buffalo finished with 8 penalties costing them 81 yards. The offensive line was called for holding on 4 plays with Dion Dawkins earning 2 of those. Levi Wallace was called for both holding and pass interference, although the PI was questionable. Tre White had an interception called back on a phantom holding. I wish the calls would’ve been less one-sided but the team earned the scrutiny they received. There were other infractions by the offensive line that were declined by Pittsburgh. McDermott was clearly upset with the penalty issues from his team.

Fumbles

Josh Allen fumbled twice, continuing a problem that has always followed him. He only lost one but he palms the ball like Shady McCoy which increases the chances of losing the ball. Singletary also fumbled twice which is a chronic issue for him but at least none of those were lost. When the offense is stumbling, shooting ourselves in the foot is the last thing we need.

Offensive Line

The line was so bad that it deserves to be called out again. The Steelers pressured Allen 24 times with 11 of those coming less than 2.5 seconds after the snap. They hit Allen 8 times, 5 of which came from TJ Watt. Neither tackle could handle their assignment. Dion Dawkins looked out of shape which was a concern given his Covid case. The interior was even worse. Jon Feliciano was our worst player in the playoff loss to Kansas City and we rewarded him with $6M per year. He was terrible again today, allowing Cam Heyward to destroy our offense. I expect our tackles to figure it out and be a strength this season but the interior will continue to be a major weakness.

What’s Next?

Up next, our Buffalo Bills travel to Miami to take on the current division leaders. Josh Allen has played his best football against the Dolphins so hopefully the Bills offense bounces back with a strong performance. The Dolphins offense has speed and QB Tua Tagovailoa is trending up. The defense will need to have another strong showing. This loss is just one game so there’s no need to panic yet. The Steelers silenced the doubters and the Bills had a reality check. McDermott preaches responding to adversity and I expect this team do exactly that.

Look out for our Week 2 preview coming later this week. On to Miami!

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