Top 3 Individual Matchups
1 – Kyle Williams vs. Ramon Foster –Williams had one of his best games last week penetrating into the backfield. Foster might need some assistance in handling the Buffalo Pro Bowl DT down in and down out.* *
2 – Aaron Williams vs. Heath Miller –Miller is a size mismatch for most and a security blanket for Roethlisberger in the passing game. Williams has been asked to handle tight end assignments before and will need muscle up with the big pass catching target.
3 – Stevie Johnson vs. William Gay –Johnson figures to be an even more frequent target with Robert Woods unlikely to play Sunday. Gay leads the Steelers with five pass breakups on the season.
Bills Top 2 Advantages
Good advantage – Red zone defense –The Bills rank sixth in the NFL in red zone defense. They've held opponents to a touchdown percentage of just over 46 percent (46.7%). In fact they've allowed just one red zone possession the last two games. Pittsburgh's offense has struggled in the red zone this season with just 11 touchdowns on 24 trips (45.8%) good for 30th in the league.
Best advantage – Run game –Buffalo's run game has its home-run threat back now that C.J. Spiller is pretty healthy. Knowing the Bills had the seventh-best rushing attack without that big play element the past month or so presents a daunting task to Pittsburgh's 31st ranked run front.
Bills Number 1 Must
Limit big plays –The Bills did their best job of limiting big plays last week holding the Chiefs to just one play of 20 yards or more. Against the Steelers, who have relied on big plays for points with 37 plays of 20 yards or more (7th in NFL), Buffalo will have to keep Ben Roethlisberger from completing long passes downfield on broken plays.
Run downThe Steelers have long been known as a stout defense when it comes to stopping the run. Mike Tomlin's 2013 squad is having a tough time living up to that history. Through eight games Pittsburgh's run defense giving up over 131 yards a game on the ground to rank 31st in the league.
Opponents are averaging 4.2 per carry and have scored 12 rushing touchdowns on the Steelers in eight games. If the Steelers defense maintains their current average when it comes to stopping the run, they'll post the worst single-season run defense for Pittsburgh in 48 years (1965, 148.6 yds/gm).
Passing fancyFrom 2004-2012 the Steelers have been one of the better rushing teams in the NFL. They rank ninth in the league in rushing yards per game over that nine-year span averaging 123. In 2013 their run game has disappeared. Pittsburgh ranks a shocking 28th in the league as they're managing just under 74 rushing yards a game (73.6).
Part of the problem is the Steelers don't even try to run the football most games. They pass the ball by almost a 2:1 margin with 309 pass plays to 167 run plays this season. Pittsburgh is running the ball just a third of the time (32.8%). That's why they have the third-fewest runs of 10 yards or more this season with just 13 in eight games. Pittsburgh calls just 22 run plays a game to rank 30th in the league (21.9).
Slow startersPart of the reason Pittsburgh is throwing so much is they're often behind quickly on the scoreboard. Through the first half of their season the Steelers have been outscored by a better than 3:1 margin in the first quarter (61-19). Their 19 points scored in the first quarter over their first eight games is the fourth-lowest total in the league.
This way for big playsPittsburgh has led the league in pass defense three of the last four seasons, and though they rank a very strong fourth in the league against the pass this year, they've been susceptible to big pass plays of late. They've only allowed 22 pass plays of 20 yards or more this season, which is second-best in the league.
However, five times in their eight games they have given up a pass play of 50 yards or more. Last week against the Patriots they surrendered a 57-yard pass to Danny Amendola and an 81-yard touchdown to Aaron Dobson.
They've also given up three run plays of 50 yards or more, which ranks 31st.
No take, plenty of giveAnother dramatic change this season that doesn't line up with the Steelers history has been their inability to take care of the football. Pittsburgh sits at the bottom of the AFC in takeaway-giveaway margin this season at minus-11.
The Steelers haven't taken care of the football with 17 giveaways including eight lost fumbles, but the defense has been even less effective taking the football away. They have just four interceptions and two fumble recoveries in eight games. It's the second-lowest takeaway total in the NFL.
Shorter fieldsThe Steelers sit atop the league in kickoff coverage, but Pittsburgh is also struggling in some other areas of their kicking game. They rank 30th in net punting average, which is partially explained by the better than 10-yard average they're allowing to opposing returners on punts (23rd in NFL).
The worst byproduct of their coverage struggles is readily apparent in their opponent's average field position this season. Pittsburgh ranks 29th in the league in opponent's average drive start, which is almost at their opponent's own 31-yard line (30.8). Believe it or not it's even worse at Heinz Field where they're allowing opponents an average drive start of their own 36-yard line (36.1). That's the worst field position allowed in the NFL.
Quote of the Week"Hopefully we can get some stability at the position. EJ is a guy that we wanted to be back there. We've got him back there now and I know he's excited to get the opportunity to come back. I know he'll come out and play well for us. To get some stability there a guy that's going to be there for us the remainder of the season hopefully is something that can help this offense move in the right direction."
--RB Fred Jackson on EJ Manuel's return
Stat of the WeekBen Roethlisberger has been sacked 31 times in the Steelers' first eight games. It's the most that Roethlisberger has been sacked in his first eight starts of any of his 10 NFL seasons. Pittsburgh's quarterback has been sacked once every 10 drop backs this year.
Milestones in reachFred Jackson needs three receiving yards to join Thurman Thomas as the second player in team history to post 4,000 rushing and 2,000 receiving yards.
Stevie Johnson needs one catch to move into ninth place in team history (Peerless Price, 288).
Mario Williams needs three sacks to match a personal single-season best (14 in 2007).
Final NoteThe Bills defense has allowed just two rushing touchdowns all season.