After the Buffalo Bills’ epic Week 4 comeback against the Baltimore Ravens, the team didn’t want to play from behind and came into Week 5 against the Pittsburgh Steelers with one thing in mind: domination. The Bills didn’t trail once and held the Steelers to zero second-half points in the 38-3 onslaught. There wasn’t much worry from Bills Mafia entering this game because of head coach Sean McDermott’s record against rookie quarterbacks, but the injury report was still concerning.
Although defensive tackles Jordan Phillips and Ed Oliver returned from their injuries, safety Jordan Poyer, linebacker Tremaine Edmunds, wide receiver Isaiah McKenzie and tight end Dawson Knox were unable to suit up. Keep in mind, that list doesn’t include players like wide receivers Jamison Crowder and Jake Kumerow and defensive back Christian Benford.
Nonetheless, Bills Mafia was confident in the offense to get the job done and that’s exactly what they did. It’s a shame we all don’t get to see quarterback Josh Allen play all four quarters every game because he was from another planet on Sunday.
Offense (56 snaps)
The offensive line was once again fully healthy coming into this game but only guard Ryan Bates and tackle Spencer Brown registered 100% of snaps. This essentially means nothing because the Bills were up 38-3 by the start of the fourth quarter, resulting in most starters sitting. I’ll continue to stress this point every week, but the health of this offensive line is absolutely instrumental to the team’s success. A positive from the starters sitting is the opportunities for center Greg Van Roten (14%), guard David Quessenberry (14%) and tackle Bobby Hart (20%) to register some snaps in case injuries continue to plague the team.
The run game looked a bit better this week, totaling 6.7 yards per carry as a team. Running back Devin Singletary led all backs in snaps yet again (54%) and tied Allen for a team-high 42 rushing yards. Rookie running back James Cook registered only 10 snaps but made the most of his limited opportunities, totaling four carries for 31 yards and a touchdown. His 24-yard touchdown that increased the lead to 38-3 showcased his speed and change of direction, something this Bills backfield is severely lacking. Something to note is fullback Reggie Gilliam’s season-low 12% of snaps, but this isn't much of a concern because he led the team in special teams snaps.
Wide receiver Gabe Davis has been quiet the last few weeks despite leading in snaps but we can forget about that now after his Randy Moss-type performance. Entering the game, the Bills only had five active wide receivers for the second straight week with practice squad receivers Tanner Gentry and Isaiah Hodgins making their NFL debuts. Davis led the corps in snaps (84%) but rookie wide receiver Khalil Shakir’s snap count (70%) and Hodgins’s production with just 13 total snaps are very promising. It’s very possible Shakir competes with McKenzie for the slot position and further solidifies his role in this offense. Shakir has potential to become the “YAC merchant” for this offense, something that can help open up this offense even more. Hodgins caught 4-of-6 targets for 41 yards and looked quite comfortable in his debut. Can you imagine a fully healthy receiving corps comprised of Davis, Diggs, Shakir, McKenzie, and Hodgins?
With Knox sidelined, tight end Quintin Morris was next man up, totaling 38 offensive snaps. He’s been impressive over the last few weeks but had a fumble on the goal line where the Steelers recovered. Surely, this doesn't cost the Bills the game but it’s worth noting regardless because stupid turnovers tend to kill the Bills in close games. It was also just a weird play call from offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey.
Defense (75 snaps)
Last week, I talked about the appreciation for Buffalo’s linebackers and their availability, but may have jinxed it with Edmunds being ruled out. Linebacker and usual special teamer Tyrel Dodson stepped up in his absence, out-snapping linebacker Matt Milano, 63 to 50. Obviously, Milano sat for a majority of the fourth quarter but this is just another example of how deep this Bills roster is and how the “next man up” mentality is a real thing in this locker room. It’s always nice to get rookie linebackers Terrell Bernard and Baylon Spector some defensive snaps when they normally play special teams so the confidence and familiarity can build.
The backup safety duo of Damar Hamlin and Jaquan Johnson continues to impress and step up when their names are called. Hamlin has been a solid replacement for safety Micah Hyde and Johnson looked much more composed this week compared to Week 3. Johnson was the only other player to register 100% of snaps besides rookie cornerback Kaiir Elam. The cornerback trio of Dane Jackson, Taron Johnson and Elam played well but it was clear Elam struggled a bit guarding wide receiver George Pickens. The Steelers targeted him all game long but Elam was able to get some revenge, picking off quarterback Kenny Pickett. Cornerbacks Cam Lewis and Siran Neal were able to register some defensive snaps late in the fourth quarter and wow was Neal impressive. Neal totaled four pass breakups in less than two defensive possessions. Only ten players have had more than that total this entire season.
The defensive line was back to full health for this matchup, which is massive because the defensive rotations are endless when everyone is available. Despite only accumulating three sacks, the defense recorded five tackles for losses and seven QB hits. Defensive end A.J Epenesa and defensive tackle Tim Settle led in snaps (55%) with veteran defensive tackle DaQuan Jones not too far behind (49%). It’s clear Oliver was eased back into things registering only 33% of snaps but that’s to be expected, and with the depth the Bills have they can afford to rest him till he’s absolutely 100% healthy. Phillips exited the game early in the second quarter after he re-aggravated his hamstring injury.
Special Teams (25 snaps)
22 snaps, 88%: FB Reggie Gilliam
18 snaps, 72%: LB Tyler Matakevich, RB Taiwan Jones, CB Siran Neal
15 snaps, 60%: LB Terrell Bernard, LB Baylon Spector, LB Joe Giles-Harris
Others: K Tyler Bass (14 snaps, 56%), CB Cam Lewis and TE Quintin Morris (13 snaps, 52%), P Sam Martin (9 snaps, 36%), WR Khalil Shakir (5 snaps, 20%)
With Edmunds sidelined, Dodson was next man up, leaving the special teams without a key player. This is why Gilliam registered 88% of special teams snaps and barely any on offense and why linebacker Joe Giles-Harris registered 60%.
Running back Taiwan Jones muffed the opening kickoff resulting in Shakir taking over all return duties. Shakir flashed a few times but did make a mistake by not fielding the punt, letting it roll all the way inside the five. Regardless, it’d be nice to see Shakir continue to act as the return man considering he is explosive and has good hands.
Kicker Tyler Bass was busy this week totaling 14 snaps with punter Sam Martin totaling nine. The Bills unfortunately punted once in the fourth quarter when the backups were in, resulting in some boos from Bills Mafia in the stands. Trust me, it’s a good thing when your fanbase is booing as the punting unit comes out on the field when you’re up 38-3.