The Buffalo Bills defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday night, gutting out a 17-10 victory to clinch a playoff berth. The Bills have sewn up at least the fifth seed and, at 10-4, are off to their best start through 14 games since the 1993 season. Pittsburgh still sits in the sixth spot in the conference at 8-6, and they control their own destiny in terms of earning a place in the AFC Playoffs.
Buffalo’s defense was excellent this week, forcing five turnovers in a contest that most people (accurately) assumed would be a defensive struggle. Here is how our five players to watch this week fared.
QB Josh Allen
All hail the King in the Fourth! (Credit for that goes to our own Josh Rawdin, who typed it in our Slack channel last night). Allen was good enough throughout the game against a stout Pittsburgh defense. While he didn’t complete a ton of passes, he also didn’t attempt many, finishing the night 13-of-25 for just 139 yards and a touchdown. He added an interception on a high throw to Cole Beasley that the wideout was able to touch with both hands. Allen certainly could have thrown a better ball, and Beasley could have caught it. Ultimately, that was Allen’s only turnover. He added 28 rushing yards rushing and a one-yard rushing touchdown, bringing his TD total on the season to 27.
The big takeaway from this night was the “big-boy” throws that Allen made in big situations to keep the game alive. The first was a fourth-down conversion to John Brown (on a drive where Allen took a bad sack on first down, then scrambled for 12 yards on 3rd and 18). The second was a 40-yard completion to Brown on a beautifully thrown go-route. Finally, he hit Tyler Kroft on a 14-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter to give the Bills a lead they would not relinquish. My favorite part about that last throw was the way that Allen manipulated the defense, turning his shoulders and looking at the trips-bunch to his left before coming back to find a wide-open Kroft in the front-right corner of the end zone. It was a great play call and design by offensive coordinator Brian Daboll, but it was Allen’s execution that made the play. Overall, it wasn’t a night where you’d see the box score and think Allen was great, but he made enough plays to rack up another “W” in the most important statistical column of them all.
WR Cole Beasley
It was a really disappointing night for Buffalo’s No. 2 receiver, as he only hauled in one pass for six yards. Beasley was targeted six times, dropping one third-down pass that would have led to a first down early in the game. He couldn’t come down with a high throw from Allen that hit him in both hands, leading to an interception by Steven Nelson. As good as Beasley has been over the last month or so, there have been too many times where he has dropped passes that hit him square in the hands or his body. Beasley struggled to separate over the middle, forcing Allen to throw outside (to great success, especially when looking at John Brown) last night.
TE Dawson Knox
Right position, wrong guy. Knox was the target on Buffalo’s first play of the game, and he caught an 11-yard laser from Allen that was threaded into tight coverage. Knox did a great job blocking throughout the night, as he sealed the edge on a few of Devin Singletary’s longer runs. However, it was Tyler Kroft who caught the big pass, not Knox. Allen only targeted his tight ends twice in the game, but he connected on both passes.
DE Jerry Hughes
Looking at Hughes’s stats from Sunday, it appears that he was a total non-factor in the game. That’s because he literally did not register a statistic in the game—no tackles, no QB hits, nothing. However, if you look at what the Bills did in terms of pressure, Hughes’s impact becomes clear. On more than one occasion, the Bills brought an extra rusher from the secondary—often, it was Taron Johnson or Micah Hyde—from behind Hughes. Analyst Cris Collinsworth noted on one of those pressures that “the end on that side” looped inside, drawing a double-team from Pittsburgh’s offensive line, leaving Hyde an easy lane to Devlin Hodges. Hughes showed that statistics mean nothing when it comes to a player’s ability to impact the game. Just because he wasn’t the guy making the play doesn’t mean he didn’t help the play to be made.
LB Tremaine Edmunds
Big game on the big stage against his big brothers. Edmunds led all Bills in tackles with eight, and he added one tackle for loss and one pass breakup, as well. Only his brother, Terrell Edmunds, had more tackles among any player in the game. On more than one occasion, Buffalo’s 21-year old middle linebacker was spotlighted by the broadcast team for his instincts and athleticism in containing Pittsburgh’s running game. Aside from two long James Conner runs, where he gained 15 and 17 yards, respectively, Buffalo held the Steelers to 13 carries for 19 yards on the day. Edmunds was a big part of the reason why Pittsburgh had to throw so often, which left their quarterback a sitting Duck in the pocket against Buffalo’s pass rush.