Rookie quarterback E.J. Manuel will be returning Sunday after injuring his LCL back in week five. There’s no doubt containing him will be a large part of the Steelers’ defensive game plan. With so many defenders keeping an eye on the running ability of Manuel, there may be room to throw the ball by the Bills’ offense, and that may be what it takes for Manuel to lead his team to victory over the Steelers.
The Bills’ passing attack didn’t exactly thrive with Manuel at the helm in the first five games of the season. In those games, Manuel threw just five touchdowns to three interceptions. In addition, the young quarterback wasn’t able to complete a high percentage of his passes, leading to difficulty moving the ball. It’s a problem the Steelers, despite their recent struggles, can probably capitalize on if given the opportunity.
That’s not to say the Steelers are set to tee off on Manuel. This is a case where statistics don’t tell the whole story.
Statistically, the Pittsburgh Steelers are doing well against the pass. They’re allowing just 210 yards per game through the air and have only surrendered 9 passing touchdowns all season long. The stats don’t, however, tell us how often the Steelers offense gives opponents the ball with a short field, and that’s not mentioning the fact that the Steelers rank 31st in the NFL in rush defense, ahead of only the Jacksonville Jaguars.
What’s that tell us? Well, the Bills will have to play a smart game to topple Pittsburgh in their own stadium. Buffalo can’t afford to give the Steelers any points, because frankly, the Bills’ offense won’t function well coming from behind.
Instead, the Bills should allow the Steelers to play into their hands. Buffalo has intercepted 12 passes this season, and if the Steelers continue to play at their current level, there will be some passes up for grabs that the Bills can turn into easy points.
Against the Steelers, there is no single key to victory. Although this season has been awful by Pittsburgh standards, the Steelers still have enough talent to challenge any team in the league when they’re actually playing up to their own level, something that hasn’t happened very often this season.
That being said, the game will likely be determined by the Bills’ strategy and execution, not the Steelers. The Bills have all the necessary tools to jump ahead early and cruise once they have a large enough lead over Pittsburgh. Many of the matchups presented by this game should favor the Bills, and although their young quarterback is just coming off an injury, he shouldn’t have to play out-of-this-world football to hand his team the win.
The one nugget that is going for Pittsburgh is the fact that they’re not looking at a playoff berth anymore. Yes, they could theoretically get themselves back into the race, but that’s a long shot at best. That should allow them to play far looser and far faster than they have all season. They may not be in the playoffs, but they can still spoil other teams’ seasons and that’s about as fun, right?