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3 key matchups to follow for Bills at Steelers | Scouting Report



1. John Brown vs. Joe Haden

Buffalo's top receiver and the Steelers top veteran corner will be an intriguing individual matchup. Brown has been a consistent producer. Haden has been solid for the most part with a team-leading 15 pass breakups and three INTs. But he's also given up four touchdowns.

2. Cody Ford vs. T.J. Watt

Pittsburgh's sack leader will be a handful for Buffalo's rookie right tackle. Ty Nsekhe might be healthy enough to return to platoon with Ford. Either way Watt will need to be accounted for on every play.

3. Levi Wallace vs. Diontae Johnson

If Ju-Ju Smith-Schuster returns to Pittsburgh's lineup this week, this matchup will bear watching. The Steelers rookie receiver isn't especially consistent but is a potential game breaker.


Pressure and takeaways

Pittsburgh's defense leads the league in takeaways (33) and in sacks (48) as one has often catered to the other for the Steelers this season. The Steelers have had at least two takeaways in all but two of their 13 games played in 2019, and at least four sacks in all but four of those games.

Conner, Smith-Schuster ready to return?

Conner and Smith-Schuster have each missed the last three games with shoulder and knee injuries, but both are targeting a return to the lineup this Sunday night against the Bills. Hurt by the team's quarterback situation, Smith-Schuster has just one 100-yard receiving day in 2019. Both Conner and Smith-Schuster practiced fully on Wednesday.


Put offensive burden on Hodges

Pittsburgh's offense has been effective enough running the ball of late and it's allowed undrafted rookie QB Duck Hodges to serve as a game manager. The Steelers have averaged 140 yards on the ground in their last three games, all victories. If the Bills can neutralize the Pittsburgh run game, they can put the burden of the offensive production on Hodges and get after the young signal caller.

As the Bills prepare to play the Pittsburgh Steelers, scroll through to view photos from previous matchups between the two opponents.


--Duck Hodges is the first undrafted rookie QB to win his first three starts in 32 years. He hasn't been asked to do a lot and he's done just enough to keep opposing defenses honest. Completing better than 71 percent of his passes, Hodges is averaging 8.53 yards per attempt with four touchdowns against two interceptions for an impressive passer rating of 103.2.

--Wildcat alert! With an inexperienced player at quarterback, Pittsburgh offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner has occasionally made use of the Wildcat formation with the tailback taking the direct snap. The last time they used it was against Cleveland two weeks ago and it worked with some success. Jaylen Samuels was the ball handler.

--Last week Pittsburgh's offense made frequent use of a sixth offensive lineman in their offensive formation, using reserve OT Zach Banner as a tackle eligible for their run game. Late in last week's game at Arizona they even used two extra offensive linemen, deploying both Banner and backup C BJ Finney.

--As much as the Steelers takeaways have been a headline for them this season, even more significant is what Pittsburgh does with those interceptions and fumble recoveries. They rank third in the league in points off turnovers with an eye-popping 104. That point total represents 40 percent of their total points scored this season (259).

--One reason Pittsburgh's defense has been so successful in sacking opposing quarterbacks is the work they do on first down. The Steelers rank third in the league in first down run defense giving up just 3.6 yards per carry on first downs. It often leads to third down passing situations allowing Pittsburgh to get after the QB. The Steelers also rank third in the league in yards per play allowed overall (4.82).

--The Steelers offense has been stubbing its collective toe in the red zone of late. In their last three games, Pittsburgh has found the end zone just twice in their last 11 trips inside the opponent's 20-yard line. They rank 30th in yards per play in the red zone managing just over two yards per play (2.09). Even their goal-to-go situations have been a struggle, as they've converted just two of their last six over the last three games.

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