Clash of AFC titans: Steelers vs. Bills
For the first time this year, the Pittsburgh Steelers are coming off a loss and it’s just in time to face another top AFC team, the Buffalo Bills, on Sunday night at Bills Stadium.
Pittsburgh (11-1) and Buffalo (9-3) are both close to clinching a playoff spot. The Steelers need only to win, while the Bills need to win and have several other games go their way. Pittsburgh also can sew up the AFC North title with a win coupled with a Cleveland loss.
The Bills have won two straight, including Monday night’s 34-24 win over San Francisco, while Pittsburgh’s hopes for an undefeated season were dashed in an earlier Monday game, a 23-17 loss to Washington.
“We just had our first loss — this is a chance for us to learn and grow from (that),” Steelers defensive tackle Cam Heyward said.
The game will feature what looks to be some high-level matchups.
This could be one of the bigger tests for a Steelers offense that has relied more and more on the passing game with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. A lack of a running game — including just 21 yards rushing against Washington — could help explain why Pittsburgh has been held to under 20 points the past two games.
Another explanation could be the absence of No. 1 running back James Conner, who has missed the past two games but is expected back for the Buffalo game after coming off the reserve/COVID-19 list Wednesday. Center Maurkice Pouncey also could come off that list.
“Hopefully, we can get it fixed,” said Roethlisberger, who expanded his concern to the bigger picture.
“This is a very, very good football team,” he said of the Bills. “We’re going to their place. Looks like crappy weather, night game, cold — all the perfect elements that come with playing playoff-caliber football teams and in playoff-caliber situations at this time of the year.”
In Roethlisberger’s counterpart, Buffalo’s Josh Allen, the Steelers will be facing a top-caliber quarterback.
Three times this season, Allen has thrown for at least 375 yards and three touchdowns, with a passer rating of at least 130. That includes Monday night. He is the AFC Offensive Player of the Week for the third time.
“He’s very similar to Ben (Roethlisberger) — a young Ben — who can extend the pocket and make plays with his feet as well,” Heyward said.
This week, Allen will go up against a Pittsburgh defense that ranks first in points allowed (17.6 per game), second against the pass (199.8 yards per game), third overall (300.5 ypg), and employs linebacker T.J. Watt, who leads the NFL with 12 sacks.
“It’s pretty impressive,” Buffalo offensive coordinator Brian Daboll said.
Allen said the Bills’ offense is confident, “but we’ve got a really tough challenge with Pittsburgh. They’re coming off a loss, so they’re going to be trying to win this game. So are we. So we’ve got to put our best foot forward.”
Although Conner and Pouncey could return for Pittsburgh, cornerback Joe Haden (concussion protocol), linebacker Robert Spillane (knee) and kicker Chris Boswell (hip) didn’t practice Wednesday.
Buffalo held a walk-through Wednesday, with defensive tackle Quinton Jefferson (hip) and safety Jaquan Johnson (ankle) the only two who did not participate.
The game also is a matchup of former William & Mary teammates in Steelers coach Mike Tomlin and Buffalo coach Sean McDermott.
–Field Level Media