The Pittsburgh Steelers are an uncharacteristic 2-6 heading into their Week 10 showdown with the Buffalo Bills. Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin and his staff are trying to overcome several shortcomings on both sides of the ball, and Pittsburgh is looking at back-to-back seasons without a playoff berth since a three-year stretch from 1998-2000.
One of the Steelers' longest-standing issues has been the protection in front of franchise quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Things are especially bad on that front this year, as Roethlisberger has already been taken down a whopping 31 times through eight games, and has been sacked five times in a game on four separate occasions this year. In last week's 55-31 loss at the hand of the New England Patriots, Roethlisberger was sacked five times, hit a bunch and turned the ball over three times - but he also threw for 400 yards and four touchdowns.
A closer look at how the Patriots pressured Roethlisberger revealed a pretty basic game plan, as detailed in the slides above: New England spent most of the day sending four pass rushers in an effort to keep Roethlisberger, one of the best the game has ever seen at extending a play, in the pocket. Roethlisberger was his usual self, shaking off a couple of would-be sacks to make big plays down the field, but New England also did enough to harass him into some errant throws and mistakes.
Make no mistake: Roethlisberger is still excellent, and he has a deep stable of explosive skill players that are capable of ripping off big chunks of yardage. No game plan against Big Ben is foolproof, as evidenced by the fact that New England, in doing a lot of good things against him, still gave up gobs of yards and points.
Look for Mike Pettine and the Bills to employ a similar defensive strategy this week: they'll spend most of their day rushing four, though Pettine being Pettine, we'll probably see him blitz more than the Pats did on Sunday. The idea is to send four, have them win a winnable matchup against the Steelers' overmatched offensive line, and cover as thoroughly as possible to try to pick up some coverage sacks and force some bad decisions. Buffalo did similar things in Week 2 against Cam Newton, who was sacked six times and held to 15 rushing yards in a Bills win.
Mario Williams, for the record, has played against Roethlisberger and the Steelers twice previously in his career, both as a member of the Houston Texans. He recorded two sacks in both of those games.