clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Bills vs. Steelers, opponent preview: Pittsburgh (and Buffalo) by the numbers

There will be charts!

Pittsburgh Steelers v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

For a short while in Week 18, fans of the Buffalo Bills joined together with fans of the Pittsburgh Steelers to root for the same outcome. To the delight of both fans, the Tennessee Titans did take down the Jacksonville Jaguars to ensure Bills and Steelers playoff berths. We all know now that Buffalo upgraded their ticket with a win over the Miami Dolphins, but that’s a tangent to that story.

Two teams and fan bases united a week ago will now be foes as only one can continue on. Let’s take a little deeper look at individual matchups in anticipation of the Super Wild Card Weekend contest.


Steelers Rushing Game

Often I take a little more time to color code but for purposes of today’s charts, the highlighted portions of these charts (courtesy of the NFL) are things I feel are worth discussing. On offense, the Steelers’ rushing game is overall mediocre. Runs off the left tackle are a glaring exception, as they’re the fourth-best team in the league for average gain in this direction. Pittsburgh doesn’t shy away from them either, with only five teams running toward this part of the field more often. Runs off right end appear to be a weakness but are somewhat infrequent, making it harder to tell if a few outlier bad runs are skewing things.

On the defensive side of things, they’re again mostly average. They have what appears to be an elite defense toward the left end. Once again, sample size makes this harder to truly gauge but the safe bet is there’s some validity here with an entire season of data. The same goes for the right end, where the script is 100% flipped. If Buffalo has a good running game toward the right end it could be an easy exploit. That sounds like a good segue to another chart.

Bills Rushing Game

On offense, the Bills are quite good running to that right end. If I’m interim offensive coordinator Joe Brady, I’d concoct a few runs that direction as this strongly favors Buffalo. Similarly, the Bills’ left end numbers suggest they may just as well not even try this week. Buffalo’s run offense have no real weak spots aside form that and have areas of strength up the middle and toward the left tackle. These matchups favor the Bills.

Buffalo’s rushing defense is overall not great. Their best area of the field, left tackle, matches up well with Pittsburgh’s strength and should be a bit of a push. The Steelers should have the edge against Buffalo’s defense by the numbers, which is concerning for a game likely to be played with wind and snow as major factors.

Steelers Passing Game

This season the Steelers have not had a strong passing game, overall. The short middle of the field in particular has been atrocious. Interestingly, passes to the deep middle have a very high average gain despite a mediocre completion percentage. That suggests that when the Steelers have hit deep middle passes, they’ve been really deep.

Let’s pump the brakes a second. Pittsburgh is on quarterback number three this season, so how much of this applies to Mason Rudolph? I’d add in a representative chart from Next Gen Stats, but there isn’t a “representative one.” Here’s a link for all his charts.

The best I can tell from charts, Pittsburgh with Rudolph seems to try and exploit certain areas they like. In Week 16 against the Cincinnati Bengals it was both sidelines, avoiding the middle of the field. Against the Seattle Seahawks in Week 17 it was the shallows and right side of the field. In Week 18 they focused on shorter passes toward the middle of the field to face the Baltimore Ravens.

The deep middle passes seem to be more of the game plan with Kenny Pickett and Mitchell Trubisky than Rudolph. With such a small sample size, it makes getting tendencies for Rudolph a little tougher, but it’s a safe bet that if they try something early they’ll keep coming back to it. Especially if the early attempts are successful.

On defense they have really good numbers as highlighted short left, short right, and deep left. They seem really bad on passes deep right.

Bills Passing Game

For that deep right issue Pitt has, Buffalo has had success there and, weather permitting, I like that matchup on paper. A lot. Buffalo’s short middle and short right will face off against the Steelers’ better defense to some degree but that short middle looks to be a big advantage for Buffalo.

Somehow the Buffalo Bills went an entire regular season without completing a SINGLE pass labeled as deep middle. Not. A. One. They attempted about once a game. Maybe it’s not destined to happen. Maybe they’re due. I really want it to be the latter.

For defense, notice that the numbers are nearly all highlighted. Buffalo has been either very good or very bad. The safeties are doing well covering the deep middle with truly elite numbers. Short left passes are defended incredibly well as are short middle. Short right, deep left, and deep right passes are problem areas. Lucky for Buffalo the areas they seem to suck at defending are not areas where Pittsburgh seems to have excelled.

Remember what I said above though. If the Steelers and Rudolph find something they like, it looks like they’re return to the well over and over again.


The Final Straw

It sure looks like weather will be a factor, which means maybe focus more on the run game information. That said, there have been games where the Buffalo Bills have demonstrated passing game success in less-than-ideal weather and perhaps it’ll be one of those days. This season Buffalo has done a lot of damage with short passes too, which should remain on the table. On paper there’s very little reason to say the numbers favor Pittsburgh but as noted above, there are areas where the Steelers can try to leverage and turn the tables. Pittsburgh will try to make this a close, ugly game where a couple plays can make a big difference.

The Bills have the firepower to sustain drives even if the weather turns to garbage. If they remain true to what they’re good at, take deep breaths and execute — Buffalo should find themselves hosting at least one more playoff game this season.