3TFO: Bills @ Steelers, Week 10
If this Pittsburgh Steelers’ season isn’t over already, it’s getting close to that stage, with perhaps only the lack of a solid sixth team in the AFC keeping them with the faintest of post season hopes. This week they host a Buffalo Bills team that are in the same boat, with six losses of their own.
The Bills are expecting to have rookie first rounder quarterback EJ Manuel back in the line up this weekend, and perhaps the most important thing for the second half of their season is getting more out of him as he continues to grow as a quarterback.
Either way it’s a game that has plenty of interesting matchups despite both teams having losing records, so with that in mind, let’s take a look at the key areas to focus on.
Buffalo’s Wide Receivers vs Pittsburgh’s Cornerbacks
As documented by Sam Monson in this week’s Analysis Notebook, in spectacular GIF form, the Bills are lucky to have a route runner the caliber of Stevie Johnson (+2.1). Sam does a much better job than I could at describing what Johnson does, so I’ll leave that up to him, but suffice to say he’s one of the most difficult receivers in the NFL for opposing cornerbacks to cover. He hasn’t been helped by some subpar quarterback play this year, but has still racked up 423 yards through eight games. Around Johnson the Bills have gotten flashes of production from rookies Robert Woods (-0.8), who had an impressive Yards Per Route Run average of 3.20 in the Week Four win over the Baltimore Ravens, and speedy Marquise Goodwin (+2.4). He has added big plays in the past three weeks, with a reception of at least 26 yards in all three games.
The Steelers may be without Ike Taylor (-6.1) on Sunday, with the cornerback suffering a concussion, however even if he does play, it’s worth noting he’s had his struggles this year. Allowing 470 yards through the air, and with no interceptions and just four pass breakups, he is currently our 93rd rated player at the position. Opposite Taylor, William Gay (+1.3) was having a good year up until Sunday’s game with the New England Patriots, where he allowed 98 yards after giving up just 202 in the first seven games. Likewise, Cortez Allen (+0.0) seems to have recovered from a poor game against the Minnesota Vikings in Week Four, allowing just 75 yards in the four games since.
Buffalo’s Offensive Tackles vs Pittsburgh’s Pass Rush
Despite the struggles from left guard Colin Brown earlier in the season, which lead to his release, the Bills’ offensive line has performed well in pass protection. Through the first nine weeks of the season they are our 7th ranked unit, with a Pass Blocking Efficiency Rating of 79.9. That’s impressive given that, in just six games, Brown accounted for 26 of their. 94 total pressures. Their offensive tackles have been particularly impressive with both Cordy Glenn (+11.0) and Erik Pears (-2.0) ranking in the top 15 amongst all offensive tackles in terms of PBE. Glenn has been the real highlight in his second year in the league and, while he has dropped off some after allowing just a single hurry in the first four games, he has still been solid after that fast start.
Interestingly, we likely won’t see Glenn against the Steelers’ top pass rusher, Lamarr Woodley (+9.2), with all 166 of his pass rushing snaps at outside linebacker coming from the opposite side. Woodley hasn’t always been the most consistent pass rusher for the Steelers, but he has really stepped up this year when they needed him to. He has already eclipsed last seasons sack total, with five through their first eight games. More than that, he already has 30 total pressures, after amassing just 26 throughout the 2012 season and currently ranks third among all outside linebackers with a Pass Rushing Productivity of 14.3. The problem for the Steelers has been opposite Woodley, with Jarvis Jones (-3.1) and Jason Worilds (-4.1) combining for just 22 total pressures, including just three sacks and three hits. That’s not good enough, and it’s unlikely to improve going against Glenn on Sunday.
Heyward over Hood
Coming off their bye week in Week 5, the Steelers made the decision to name Cameron Heyward (+6.1) at defensive end over fellow former first round pick Ziggy Hood (-5.3). It’s a move we at PFF have been banging the drum for (for a while for now) and it has paid off well for Pittsburgh. Hood’s struggles have continued while Heyward has flourished in his four starts, including the second best performance of his career in Sunday’s loss to the New England Patriots.
Rushing the passer 29 times, he registered two sacks, two hits and a hurry, giving him a Pass Rushing Productivity Rating of 15.2, second best amongst 3-4 defensive ends last week. Add to that his solid work against the run, where both of his tackles resulted in a defensive stop, and it’s easy to see why we were so impressed. It’s a move that really should have been made some while ago, but the fact that it finally has been improves the Steelers defense going forward.
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