PITTSBURGH – The Pittsburgh Steelers’ defense has certainly carried the weight of the team’s fortunes on its shoulders throughout the 2019 season.
More often than not, some sort of chaos via sacks, forced fumbles, interceptions or whatever was needed came at just the right time while Pittsburgh won 8 of 9 games starting in Week 6.
Was Sunday’s 17-10 loss a case of “Atlas shrugged” or the Buffalo Bills proving to be just as strong defensively?
While allowing 261 total yards – averaging 4.1 yards per play – Pittsburgh certainly held up its end of the bargain statistically. There were moments, however, where Buffalo (10-4) managed to do just enough to keep drives alive or get the ball to the end zone.
Let’s offer judgement on some of those key moments where the defense came up just a bit short.
You know? When the Bills scored points.
• Exhibit A: Josh Allen’s 12-yard scramble on a third-and-18 snap from the Steelers’ 48 jumps to mind. What followed was a 10-yard completion to John Brown on fourth-and-6, keeping the chains moving late in the first quarter.
On the other end of the quarter break, Allen capped the drive with a 1-yard run, one play after Devin Singletary juked his way to a 14-yard gain.
That blasted defense, right?
Maybe not. Buffalo was afforded luxurious field position at the Steelers’ 40 when Jordan Berry skied a 22-yard punt.
Who to blame?: While the Steelers did allow Buffalo to make up the 8 yards lost on a first-down sack and then some with Allen’s scramble, the Bills’ decision to go for it on fourth down never happens if the ball wasn’t at Pittsburgh’s 36 … A spot where Buffalo had to move the ball 4 yards to reach. Give about 50% of the blame to the defense.
• Exhibit B: Stephen Hauschka booted a 36-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter to tie the game at 10. Prior to that, Buffalo had started at the Pittsburgh 18 and picked up a first down to put the ball at the 8 before Frank Gore was stuffed on back-to-back carries before Singletary also lost ground.
Buffalo got the ball at the Pittsburgh 18 thanks to Tre’Davious White’s interception at the Bills’ 33, which he returned 49 yards to set his team up in pristine field position.
Who to blame?: This was maybe the defense’s best effort of the evening given circumstance and performance to keep Buffalo to just three points. Maybe 0.1% of the blame goes on the defense for not forcing a turnover.
• Exhibit C: Buffalo moved the ball 70 yards in seven plays, thanks to a 40-yard pass on the possession’s first play from the Bills’ 30. Allen and Brown hooked up on that deep ball, with Steven Nelson getting flagged for interference on the eventual catch. So that chunk of yardage was happening no matter what.
The Bills scored six plays later when tight end Tyler Kroft caught a 14-yard pass from Allen while safety Terrell Edmunds lagged behind in coverage. It was the last salvo in Buffalo’s 17-10 win.
Who to blame?: This is 100% on the defense. Buffalo picked up over 25% of its total yardage in seven plays, as opposed to the 191 yards in 57 other offensive snaps. Atlas shrugged and he shrugged hard on this series.
• Exhibit D: Devlin Hodges tossed four picks, was sacked four times all while five rushers combined for 51 yards on 15 attempts. Pittsburgh also lost a fumble inside the Bills’ 10 when Diontae Johnson coughed up the ball on a rush out of the wildcat formation.
Who to blame?: A better question to ask “who to credit?” The answer is Buffalo’s defense and the credit is 100%. In what was promised to be a rock fight, the Bills delivered bigger plays on defense more consistently, which feels like a foreign concept given how well Pittsburgh has played.
All in all, Tennessee’s loss to Houston means that Sunday’s loss was a pride hit and assurance that Pittsburgh will sit on the No. 6 seed in the AFC playoffs if the Steelers reach that destination. Any trip to the playoffs should come with a high percentage of credit to the defense’s overall body of work in 2019.