Saturday, November 9, 2013

Four Point Stance: Bills at Steelers


The Buffalo Bills (3-6) look to avoid a three-game skid this Sunday in Pittsburgh against the Steelers (2-6), and they'll be helped by E.J. Manuel's return. The rookie quarterback has missed the last four games with a knee ailment, and Buffalo's passing offense has been in flux in his absence.

The Bills have also fallen victim to injury woes at receiver, which will carry over into this week. Wideout Robert Woods will sit with an ankle injury, and fellow rookie Marquise Goodwin has struggled of late with a hamstring. The two have combined for more than 500 yards and four touchdowns to date.

The Steelers have had the Bills' number at home in the past and have a lot to prove following a second-half meltdown against the AFC East-leading Patriots last week. New England put up three touchdowns in the fourth quarter en route to a 55-31 victory, which set a record for the most points ever allowed by the iconic organization.

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, however, was still able to put up four touchdowns and could be a problem for a Bills defense that has allowed 26 points per game. Buffalo's dynamic pass rush will look to get to Big Ben early and often.

When the Bills have the ball:
Buffalo's run game has been the rock of its offense with all the quarterback drama that's gone on, and that will likely continue Sunday against a run defense in the cellar in terms of yards per game allowed (131). C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson were collaboratively the best they've been all season last week against a usually stout Kansas City Chiefs line, and it'd be no surprise to see the two get another 30 or so touches again this week. Expect the air attack to be tempered a bit to start with Manuel getting his legs back under him and the Steelers pass rush at full tilt early. Buffalo has allowed 28 sacks already this season.

When the Steelers have the ball:
Roethlisberger has averaged just 34 sacks per year the past three years, but thanks to a nonexistent running game and an injury-plagued line, Pittsburgh is on track to allow 60 this year. Those numbers don't bode well against a defense ranked third in sacks at the moment (29) and has been pretty efficient in the past two weeks despite a pair of losses. The unit desperately needs another game like it had against the Baltimore Ravens, however, where it forced five interceptions, as the team currently holds a minus one turnover rate. That could very well happen this week against a pass-happy offense like Pittsburgh, particularly with the health of the secondary continually improving.

Red zone efficiency. Buffalo's defense has been downright stingy on its side of the field of late, allowing only one red zone possession the past two games. The squad currently touts the league's seventh-best red zone defense, which doesn't bode well for a Steelers offense that's struggled inside the 20. Big Ben and the crew have come out with touchdowns on only 46 percent of their red zone possessions, while Buffalo's crew has been even less consistent at 42 percent. Whoever converts early will put an enormous amount of pressure on the opposing offense and may force a turnover or two.

Buffalo has struggled against the storied franchise in its history, currently 8-12 against Pittsburgh all time. The Bills have particularly struggled on the road against the Steelers, winning only one game in the Steel City in eight trips. Buffalo lost its last matchup with Pittsburgh in overtime at the Ralph, though the defense held Roethlisberger to zero touchdowns. Fred Jackson tallied 163 all-purpose yards and a touchdown, while Stevie Johnson was held to just 68 yards on seven catches. A win Sunday would break a five-game losing streak against the Steelers.

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