The Steelers conquered and slew the beast. After a lackadaisical start offensively, the Steelers roared back to beat the Bills 23-16.
There was a multitude of factors that allowed them to do just that, but regardless, they beat a potential Super Bowl contender in a hostile environment, and their offense did not even play that well. What takeaways can there be from the Steelers’ victory over the Bills?
This Pass Rush Can Be Special
There are things to describe the performance of this pass rush against what is a really solid offensive line. The dismantling of players like Dion Dawkins, for example, was unreal. T.J. Watt did not look like a guy who had just been acclimated to contact four days prior. Melvin Ingram looks like an absolute steal off the street. Alex Highsmith appears to have taken the next leap.
Meanwhile, Cam Heyward was his usual All-Pro level self. Everyone else just pitched in and had a solid game themselves. From Watt to Carlos Davis, there was no weak spot.
There is certainly a part to that rotation up front that keeps everyone better. This is a diverse group of pass rushers who can keep each other fresh with little to no drop-off. The Steelers barely even felt the loss of Stephon Tuitt and that speaks volumes.
“We stress getting four-man pressure.,” Heyward said. “You can’t just rely on your blitzes. You’ve got to be able to mix it up. When we’re getting him with four-man, that makes us a hard team to beat. We feel like we have quality rushers, inside and out and when we get those opportunities, we feel like we have to success. Our back end does an amazing job. They kept a lid on everything. When we have that going from the back end to the front end, it’s pretty nice to see.”
It was those four-man pressures that allowed the Steelers to work extravagant rotations on the back end of the defense. They never had to dial up blitzes because, to say the least, the Steelers pass rush was just that good. It is that rotation with Highsmith, Watt, and Ingram that might be that special, though.
“I can’t say enough about the number of people that we played up front and the way that they collectively got after them,” Mike Tomlin said. “Those three edge guys that you guys have been asking a lot about, Watt and Highsmith and Ingram, they delivered today.”
Regardless of the outlook on this win, one thing is certain, and it is that the Steelers pass rush could be that special. If they can dismantle an offensive line like Buffalo’s, they can do it to just about anyone.
The Offensive Line is a Worry
While the Steelers’ offense found some of their identity in the second half with more success than they had in the first half, do not overlook the struggles the Steelers’ offensive line had throughout the game on both fronts. In the run game, there was minimal movement up front.
In fact, the Steelers were often actively pushed back at the point of attack. There were a few nicely blocked plays, and Pat Freiermuth helped spring those nicely, but there was not a lot to write home about there. The team looks aggressive, but they did not look great.
In pass protection, Ben Roethlisberger was being hit repeatedly. There were a few breakdowns in the natural protection, and Dan Moore had some trouble as well. Mostly, against wide-9 techniques, Moore seems to struggle to get to his set point. Chuks Okorafor was also mediocre at best. This will need to be the big thing that improves over the next few weeks. The upside is there, but even in a win, the offensive line was not great.
Tre Norwood is the Secret Weapon
Well, Keith Butler did say he had a secret weapon, and it was not expected to be anyone of significance, but it turned out to be none other than Tre Norwood. Working in a lot of sub-packages and defensive back heavy personnel, Norwood worked from the slot and as a deep safety throughout the game. To say the least, that was unexpected but even more miraculous was how good Norwood was in those opportunities.
Norwood was aggressive and a sure tackler. Not only that, he was sound in his assignments. His presence allowed the Steelers to move around Minkah Fitzpatrick as they wished. Fitzpatrick was over the middle of the field as a robber, in the slot, and also in his usual free-safety tole. Norwood and Fitzpatrick essentially switched off in their roles. It was a great idea to get the rotations in there and confuse Allen. If he can continue to make plays like that, Norwood has a bright future.
Schematically, Matt Canada’s Scheme Looks Good
Well, for the final takeaway, the Steelers did not do anything crazy offensively. In fact, at times this offense looked similar to how it did in 2020. However, there were little things that make Canada’s offense stick out in a good way. First, the quick screens are effective. That is the first time in a long time where the Steelers got legit tread off the screen game. More encouraging is that they are working because of window dressing that goes from pre-snap right into the play.
Moreover, subtle things like using JuJu Smith-Schuster vertically and down the field. Allowing Roethlisberger to take advantage of things to the middle of the field. These are not drastic changes, but they are key things the Steelers needed to do coming into the year. Now, the final part will be adding a robust play-action package to open up that middle of the field more. If they can do that, this offense should have more life to it than it did for a good portion of Sunday.