Top 3 Individual Matchups
1 - Marcell Dareus vs. Maurkice PounceyOne of the league's better interior defenders versus one of the league's better pivot men. Dareus and Pouncey is an SEC throwback matchup that should make fans of battles in the trenches very happy on Sunday.
2 - Stephon Gilmore vs. Antonio BrownBrown is one of the most consistent receivers in the league. Tops in receiving touchdowns (11), tied for the league lead in receptions (88) and fourth in receiving yards, Brown usually gets his. Gilmore will have to do something to ensure that he doesn't.
3 - Sammy Watkins vs. Ross CockrellBuffalo will have a couple of favorable receiver matchups if Robert Woods is in the lineup this week, but Watkins has a distinct advantage even at less than 100 percent against his former Bills teammate. The Steelers will have to employ a lot of zone concepts and safety help over the top for this matchup.
**Bills Top Two Advantages
Good advantage - Return game **Brandon Tate has proven to be a quality addition as a return man helping the Bills post top 10 rankings on both punt and kick return. The Steelers are all too familiar with Tate from his days as a Bengal, but Pittsburgh's coverage units have been a bit leaky at times. Tate could have an impact on field position in this game.
Best advantage - Run gameThe Steelers have battened down the hatches in their run front the last three weeks, but they've done it against the 25th, 27th and 31st ranked rushing offenses in the league, including the Colts without Andrew Luck and Cleveland, who is without a viable quarterback. Buffalo's league-leading run game is a completely different animal.
Bills Number 1 Must
Be the better third down teamBuffalo has had their share of struggles in getting stops on third down this season where they rank 22nd in the league. The Bills have to force the Steelers into long down and distance situations on third down to keep Pittsburgh's high powered offense in check. Conversely, the Bills offense needs to keep the chains moving to control the clock and limit the number of Steelers possessions.
Barring the red zone doorOne area where Pittsburgh defense has excelled this season is inside their own 20-yard line. The Steelers have been particularly stingy when it comes to giving up red zone touchdowns. They currently lead the league in red zone touchdown percentage allowed inside their 20. Opponents have managed just a 42.5 percent success rate in crossing the goal line making good on just 17 of 40 red zone possessions.
Tight end emergingLadarius Green was Pittsburgh's only big free agent signings this past offseason. He missed a little more than the first half of the season while he was on Reserve/PUP with an ankle injury. The big tight end (6-6, 250) has appeared in four games for the Steelers and each week his playing time has increased.
Last week was his first 100-yard receiving game of his career when he made six receptions for 110 yards and a touchdown. Green has just 11 catches so far this season, but four have gone for 25 yards or more, which speaks to Green's game breaking ability.
End of half producersGiving the Steelers the ball late in the first half is not a good idea. According to Stats Inc., Pittsburgh leads the league with 72 points scored at the end of the half. That represents almost 25 percent of their scoring on the season. In six of their 12 games the Steelers have put points on the board with less than a minute before halftime, including four with fewer than 30 seconds on the clock.
First half goose eggsWhile their offense is adept at scoring at the close of the half, their defense is proficient at holding the opposing offense off the scoreboard early in games. Pittsburgh has held opponents to a touchdown or less in the first half six times this season. Three of those instances the Steelers pitched a first half shutout. Two of those first half shutouts have come in their last three games (Cleveland, NY Giants).
Run game rollingEver since Todd Haley joined Mike Tomlin's staff as offensive coordinator the offense has gravitated more and more to a passing attack. In fact, Pittsburgh runs the ball less than 38 percent of the time. That's the 10th lowest frequency in the NFL. Lately however, the Steelers have leaned a bit more on their run game and Le'Veon Bell.
In their first nine games they averaged 22 run plays and just over 90 yards rushing per game. Over the last three games the Steelers have averaged 29 run plays and 137 yards on the ground.
The Steelers are unbeaten this season when their lead back goes for 100 rushing yards or more. Bell is averaging 146.4 total yards per game, which leads the NFL.
Bullock or Boswell?Last week K Chris Boswell sustained an abdomen injury in practice late in the week. He wasn't able to dress against the Giants and the Steelers had K Randy Bullock as a backup option to plug in.
Bullock went 3-for-3 on field goal attempts along with an extra point in the win over the Giants. Boswell was still not practicing early in the week.
Quote of the week"This will be a big test for us. We had a tough loss in Oakland, a game where we dominated for two and a half quarters and then they came out and we got dominated. This is a big bounce back week and a good opponent. They're playing at a playoff level. This week and the next several weeks will tell us a lot about where we're going."
-G Richie Incognito
Stat of the weekMike Gillislee has six rushing touchdowns in his last seven games.
Milestones in reachBuffalo's next win will be the 400th in team history.
Dan Carpenter needs eight points to reach 450 as a Bill.
LeSean McCoy needs 51 rushing yards to reach 1,000 for the season.
Tyrod Taylor (1,037) needs 13 rushing yards to pass Jim Kelly (1,049) for second on the team's all-time rushing list for quarterbacks.
Final noteWith three rushing touchdowns the Bills will tie the team record for most rushing touchdowns in a season (26) set in 1975.