The Steelers are facing one of their stiffest tests, if not the stiffest test of the season, as they travel to Buffalo for a Sunday night showdown against the Bills. With the Bills surging behind the play of Josh Allen and the upstart coaching of Sean McDermott, they are a growingly dangerous team for top teams in the AFC. The Steelers are going to be on their A-game in order to bring home a win given their battered defense and struggling offense.
Brian Daboll is a wizard as Buffalo’s offensive coordinator. He has built an offense that works perfectly around the strengths of Josh Allen and it has allowed Allen to blossom into the star he has become today. One thing that is very evident is that this is an offense that likes to get vertical. They attack the seams and try to match up their best guys on safeties. It is a very versatile scheme that attacks both outside the numbers and in the middle of the field. They do sometimes lack sufficient checkdowns on plays, which is interesting and can leave the scheme susceptible to some pressure looks given the lack of options underneath.
This is something that the Bills love to do. Work from the shotgun and spread defenses out. They run an 11 personnel as their base, but they run a lot of 10 personnel out of this look as well. Empty set is usually 10 personnel for the Bills. Especially on third down, they always go to Cole Beasley. Simply clearing out space for him to work underneath is a quick, easy throw that gets Beasley open and allows the Bills to keep their high third-down conversion rate. It is these ideals of spacing, traffic, and conflict that they do to put defenders in binds that allows them to convert third downs at such a high level. Passive defenses like the 49ers, who sat back last week, will get picked apart by route combinations in the Bills offense.
Some of this is just not scheme, however. This is a simple dagger concept where Diggs tries to clear out the underneath for Gabriel Davis who is running a deep dig. The scheme is sound with a wheel route going up the sideline as the third read in case defenses go all out to stop and rotate down on the entirety of the concept. However, the 49ers play this quite well and this is just a dime by Allen. Some things are no longer about scheme with the Bills anymore. They have developed Allen into a star and he makes a few of these throws weekly. It is incredibly impressive.
As far as the defense goes for the Bills, they run a 4-3 that is more reliant on smart defensive back play rather than blitzing. The main principle is that the four-man rush up front can get push and collapse the pocket while the heavy Cover 3 scheme allows the flexibility on the back end to rotate safeties and cornerbacks around the formation. Similar to the Steelers, they love to disguise this Cover 3 look and rotate down a robber. Think of the role the Steelers love to use Minkah Fitzpatrick in for that type of coverage. With a smart scheme that possesses great rotations on the back end, it gives the pass rush the ability to just fly and penetrate to make plays in the backfield. That is the McDermott scheme.
Players to Watch
QB Josh Allen
Quickly on his way to becoming a superstar, Bills quarterback Josh Allen has immense physical talent. Not only does he have a rocket launcher for an arm, but he also runs a 4.5 and can extend plays outside of structure. If there is one guy who might be close to what young Ben Roethlisberger was, it is Allen. He makes the nutty throws and the impeccable plays outside of structure that few can make in this league. Thanks to his improved mechanics, his accuracy is better than ever before.
WR Stefon Diggs
The Bills went out and got Allen a true alpha receiver in Stefon Diggs, who has proven to be that and more. One of the best pure route runners in the NFL, Diggs opens up the Bills scheme in ways that were not possible prior to him arriving in Buffalo. He gets easy separation, is elusive after the catch, and can move around the offensive formation to create mismatches. In particular, it is Diggs’ ability to win in the slot that makes him such an enticing weapon for Allen and gives the flexibility Daboll wants in this offense.
CB Tre’Davious White
He had a two interception game last season against the Steelers, so Steelers fans should be very familiar with star cornerback Tre’Davious White. While he may not have elite long speed or even quickness, White’s fluidity and physicality allow him to man up anybody and shut them down. He is a bona fide player and a stud that the Steelers should be fearful of given their pass heavy attack in recent weeks.
Matchups to Watch
Diontae Johnson vs Bills secondary
The Steelers need a big time offensive day today with a shorthanded defense. The question will be who is the main go to guy to make happen. With some adjustments likely coming, it would seem that the Steelers could go more vertical. Diontae Johnson would be perfect for this. It is rare to find anyone who can cover him one-on-one, and Johnson is the type of receiver that can still give White some trouble with his quickness in and out of his breaks. It should be smooth sailing for Johnson, who is just a mismatch against this Bills secondary. If he goes off, the Steelers offense can put up a lot of points.
Bills receivers vs Justin Layne
There are a few weaknesses for the Steelers, notably at linebacker. The Bills could attack the linebackers, but it is even likelier they attack a weak link defensive back. With such usage of 4 wide receiver sets and the Steelers needing to go dime to counteract that, it should mean Justin Layne gets on the field. The Bills may want to attack him, and it will be up to Layne to make the big plays to make sure he is not the guy to be picked upon. If he can step up in a big way, this defense could bend, but not break.