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Top 6 storylines to follow for Bills vs. Steelers | Week 5

Dawson Knox (88). Buffalo Bills vs Pittsburgh Steelers at Highmark Stadium, September 12, 2021. Photo by Ben Green
Dawson Knox (88). Buffalo Bills vs Pittsburgh Steelers at Highmark Stadium, September 12, 2021. Photo by Ben Green

We are into the thick of it as the Bills roll onto Week 5 in the 2022 season. The Bills are back at home after two weeks on the road to face the team who gave them their first loss last season.

Buffalo enters the matchup 3-1 and tied for first in the AFC East, while Pittsburgh is 1-3 and last in the AFC North.

Here are 6 things to know for Sunday's game against the Steelers.

1. Kenny Pickett time

After switching to Steelers rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett in the second half of last week's game against the Jets, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin has announced Pickett as the starter for this Sunday's game.

Steelers quarterback Mitchell Trubisky started in the first four games of the season, but Tomlin said it's time to move to Pickett because of the spark that he offers.

"In an effort to be better, in an effort to score more points, in an effort to move the ball more fluidly, we decided to go to Kenny in hopes that he will provide a spark for us," Tomlin said during his press conference on Tuesday. "We felt that not only in terms of our ability to move the ball but just in terms of energy. So hopefully that's a catalyst for us as we try to move forward and change the outcomes of some of these games."

Pickett took over for Pittsburgh in the second half of last week's game against the Jets. His first NFL drive resulted in an interception, but the next two finished with touchdowns and gave them a 20-10 lead heading into the fourth quarter. The rookie QB couldn't get it done in his first NFL appearance and finished the game 10 of 13 for 120 passing yards, two rushing touchdowns and three interceptions.

Tomlin said he did consider Trubisky's familiarity with Buffalo when making his decision at QB and thinks he will be a big help in preparation this week. The head coach knows regardless of the QB, Buffalo provides a tough atmosphere.

"Obviously we have a level of concern about the environment we're taking him into, but you have a level of concern about any quarterback that you take into that environment versus that defense and that venue," Tomlin said.

Bills head coach Sean McDermott also addressed the challenge of facing a quarterback who doesn't have a lot of tape.

"You just gotta prepare again for what you know, those are the controllables that we can control," McDermott said. "And other than that, we've got to really focus on ourselves, and we start every week with a healthy amount of respect for the opponent. I think that's a good place to start."

2. Buffalo's familiarity with Pickett

It's tough for any team to prepare for a quarterback who has only played in two quarters so far in his NFL career. The Bills will have that challenge this week as they prepare to face Kenny Pickett in his first NFL start. Thankfully, there are a couple players on the Bills roster who have played a lot more than just a couple of quarters with Pickett.

Cornerback Dane Jackson and safety Damar Hamlin both played collegiately at University of Pittsburgh with Pickett. Jackson overlapped with Pickett from 2017 to 2019, and Hamlin played with the QB from 2017 to 2020.

In August, Hamlin was asked about playing against his former teammate in October.

"That'll be awesome that we're able to do that," Hamlin shared. "We will definitely probably jersey swap at the end of the game."

Both Jackson and Hamlin should play on Sunday as both are healthy. We will see if their familiarity with Pickett and his tendencies comes in handy.

3. How the Bills and Steelers stack up

This will be the fourth-straight year the Bills and Steelers face each other. Buffalo has won two out of last three, but Pittsburgh beat the Bills 23-16 in Buffalo's home opener last season.

This season, the Steelers are 1-3 heading into Sunday's game and have lost the last three games. On offense, they're averaging 18.5 points per game (tied for 23rd in the NFL), 278.8 total yards per game (30th) and are scoring touchdowns in the red zone 66.7% of the time (tied 6th).

On defense, they're allowing 22.5 points per game (15th), 383 total yards per game (24th), allowing quarterbacks to complete 60.3% of their passes (9th) and allowing teams to score 60% of the time in the red zone (18th). The Steelers are still without one of their most important weapons on defense in linebacker T.J. Watt as he is still on IR. Pittsburgh is 0-7 when Watt is not on the field.

Tomlin said when you're playing against a team like the Bills it would be nice to have 12 or 13 defenders out there.

"You better deal with Josh Allen and his unique skillset," Tomlin said. "He's an elite passer. He's an elite runner or creator. It's challenging, it's simple mathematics. They got some receivers like (Stefon) Diggs that require some attention."

Through four games, the Bills are averaging 28.5 points per game (5th), 412.5 total yards per game (3rd) and are scoring touchdowns in the red zone 64.3% of the time (10th). On defense, they're allowing 14.5 points per game (2nd), 234.5 total yards per game (tied 1st), allowing quarterbacks to complete 64.9% of their passes (18th) and allowing teams to score 70% of the time in the red zone (24th).

4. The second half Bills

The Buffalo Bills have played impressive football in the second half of games to start the 2022 NFL season. Last week against the Ravens, the Bills were down 20-10 heading into the third quarter and scored 13 points in the second half to beat Baltimore 23-20.

Buffalo is outscoring their opponents 63-7 in the second half, which leads the NFL. In the third quarter, the Bills have outscored opponents 44-0. In the fourth quarter, Buffalo has outscored opponents 19-7.

One reason why the Bills have been able to score so many points in the second half of games and allow so few is because they have a +7 turnover margin in the second half (1st in the NFL).

Bills offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey said they were able to bounce back in the second half of last Sunday's game due to their ability to weather the storm in Baltimore, both literally and figuratively.

"I think at the end of the day for us, executing and just focusing on our job and doing that was the biggest key for us," Dorsey shared.

5. Injury updates

Both the Bills and the Steelers are dealing with the injury bug.

In Monday's press conference, Sean McDermott announced WR Jamison Crowder broke his ankle and would be put on IR and WR Isaiah McKenzie was in the concussion protocol.

McDermott also said the following players who missed the Ravens game are improving – DT Ed Oliver (ankle), DT Jordan Phillips (hamstring) CB Christian Benford (hand), WR Jake Kumerow (ankle) and OL Justin Murray (foot).

"We'll see where they go this week," McDermott said. "Our hope is they're back out there."

CB Tre'Davious White is able to return to practices this week as the Reserve/PUP rules state a player can't play for at least the first four weeks. But McDermott did not give a definitive timeline on White's activation.

"He continues to improve in his rehab and we will get him back out there when he's ready," McDermott said of White.

Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin announced during his press conference on Tuesday that they were monitoring injuries with the following players – S Terrell Edmunds (concussion protocol), S Minkah Fitzpatrick (knee), CB Cam Sutton (groin/hamstring), DT Cam Heyward (elbow/ankle) and CB Ahkello Witherspoon (hamstring).

"Witherspoon, you should anticipate him still being out," Tomlin said.

6. Familiar faces

There are plenty of connections between the Bills and Steelers. By now, most Bills and Steelers fans know that the head coaches of both teams were teammates at William and Mary from 1993-1994.

Linebacker Tremaine Edmunds will face his brother, Steelers safety Terrell Edmunds, for the fourth-straight year. They are the first brothers in NFL history to be selected in the first round of the same draft.

Steelers cornerback Levi Wallace will play against his former team on Sunday. Wallace played for the Bills from 2018-2021 and started in 52 games. Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said Wallace was one of his favorites and looks forward to seeing him.

"We had a lot of success with him playing for us," Frazier said of Wallace. "He's just a great guy and was a tremendous player for us. So it's going to be with mixed emotions to see him wearing another uniform. I look forward to seeing him and getting the chance to say hello."

Steelers quarterback Mitchell Trubisky spent the 2021 season with the Bills as a backup to Josh Allen. Bills offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey said Trubisky was a big help in the quarterback room last season.

"Obviously got a lot of respect for him as a player, but then he's a great human being, great person, was a great guy to have around as well," Dorsey said. "He was somebody we were able to learn from through his different experiences and the different things he's been through throughout his career."

Linebacker Tyler Matakevich will play against his former team on Sunday. Matakevich played in 63 games for Pittsburgh from 2016 -2019.

Check out the Bills celebration photos from the sideline and locker room following the 23-20 win over the Baltimore Ravens.

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