Wow…that was hard to watch. The Buffalo Bills traveled to Pittsburgh Sunday to play a struggling Steelers team, and flat-out got outplayed. Pittsburgh’s 31st ranked defense looked like the defense that won them 2 championships in the past decade and their offense looked to be clicking on all cylinders against our defense. Here are some game notes of, what in my opinion, was the worst the Bills have looked all season.
E.J. Manuel came back after missing the previous 4 games with a sprained knee. Manuel looked awful. I expected him to be a little rusty after missing so much time, but he looked really, really bad. I don’t know if it was the game plan Coach Marrone put in place to ease him back into action, but he refused to throw the ball down field. It seemed like every pass was in the air for 5 yards or less. Manuel also looked to be hobbled by his knee injury still. He has shown that he has a knack for using his legs to keep plays alive, but he looked a little gimpy Sunday. I think Manuel should have sat out another week to get some reps in practice and to further rehab his knee. I wouldn’t have minded to see Thad Lewis out there for one more game.
Buffalo could not get their running game going. C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson combined for 95 yards on the ground, almost 50 yards fewer than their season average. Some of the blame can be put on the offensive line. The o-line could not open up any lanes for our dynamic duo to run through. Plus, it became apparent after the first few drives that Buffalo’s game plan was to run the ball often, and the Steelers were stacking the box. Buffalo only took advantage of the Steelers obviously waiting for the run once, using play-action to get a decent chunk of yards at the end of the 3rd quarter.
Buffalo also continued to struggle to score touchdowns in the red-zone. Buffalo was ranked 31st in the league in red-zone touchdown percentage going into Sunday, only scoring touchdowns 45% of the time they are inside their opponents 20 yard-line. On the first drive of the game, the Bills were stuffed twice on the ground, and E.J. threw an uncatchable fade to Stevie Johnson in the corner of the end zone to force the Bills to settle for a field goal. This is going to have to improve going forward.
The offense as a whole looked really bad. At one point, Buffalo punted on 8 consecutive drives. 4 of those failed possessions were 3-and-outs. Just an abysmal performance by the Buffalo offense.
Defensively, Buffalo continued to struggle to stop the run. Buffalo allowed the Steelers to run for 136 yards, almost 60 yards more than their season average. This has been an on-going issue for the Bills in the past few seasons. Running backs Le’Von Bell and Jonathan Dwyer were able to rip off 5-7 yard rushes seemingly at will. Buffalo’s front 7 was just allowing itself to be pushed around by the Pittsburgh offensive line.
As far as the secondary is concerned, they allowed too many big plays. Wide receiver Antonio Brown scorched the defense, catching 6 balls for 104 yards. Whenever Big Ben was feeling the pressure, he always seemed to find Brown with no one within 5 yards of him. I mentioned in my preview that Big Ben has made a career of making big plays out of broken plays, and Sunday was no exception. Can’t be too upset because he does it to everyone.
Overall, this was just a horrible game by Buffalo. The Steelers outplayed them from the opening kick-off. Buffalo now falls to 3-7, and out of the playoff picture completely. Although Bills fans will have to wait at least another year to be playing in January, we do have something to look forward to. Buffalo still has the easiest schedule in the league to close the season. So, we may not be making the playoffs, but we can still watch our Bills win a few more games, and once again have us saying, “Next year”.