ORCHARD PARK, NY — The first quarter of the Bills’ regular season is in the books and it was a tale of two halves.
Weeks one and two were pretty much a breeze before the last two have come down to the very end.
In the end, this team’s 3-1 as they welcome the Steelers to town.
On paper, Pittsburgh looks like the perfect candidate for a true “get right game.”
Their offense is 30th in the NFL and the traditionally stout defense currently sits 24th.
But as we saw in the opener a year ago (and throughout his tenure with the Steelers, never having a losing season), Mike Tomlin’s team rarely rolls over without a fight.
Let’s dive into what’s on tap Sunday in Orchard Park.
Rookie QB Gets the Call
The offensive struggles by the Steelers is prompting a quarterback change heading into this game.
Former Bill Mitch Trubisky was benched last week against the Jets in favor of rookie Kenny Pickett.
Pittsburgh is sticking with the first-round pick against the Bills.
It’ll be Pickett’s first career start, one that comes against the top-ranked defense in football.
Sean McDermott and Leslie Frazier’s unit has faced a rookie QB 11 times since coming to the Bills in 2017 (regular season and playoffs).
Those youngsters have a combined passer rating of 59.5, tossing seven touchdown passes to 17 interceptions.
In relief a week ago, Pickett was 10/13 for 120 yards and three INTs, one of which was a Hail Mary on the final play of the game.
He also ran six times for 15 yards and two TDs.
Bills players I spoke with this week acknowledged the challenge facing a QB with limited game tape can be.
There are two guys who know Pickett better than most, as CB Dane Jackson and S Damar Hamlin were teammates with the QB at Pitt.
Not the Same Najee
It’s not just the passing game that’s had issues.
The Steelers have really struggled running the ball as well.
Najee Harris has 202 rushing yards at just 3.5 yards per carry.
Harris game totals have been 23-49-56-74.
It’s a departure from a rookie season last year where he had 1,200 rushing yards and seven TDs.
The Bills defense ranks third in the NFL against the run, allowing 83.8 yards per game. That number ballooned after Lamar Jackson and the Ravens racked up 162 on the ground last week.
Potentially getting Ed Oliver and/or Jordan Phillips back would bolster an already stout defensive front.
More Run Game From the Running Backs
Josh Allen has been the Bills leading rusher in three of their first four games this season.
Overall, his 183 rushing yards are tops on the team.
Sean McDermott admitted this week that this isn’t the formula he wants.
The rushing yards need to come from the running backs.
Devin Singletary is second on the team with 129 yards, but has yet to eclipse 50 yards in a single game.
Zack Moss might be averaging 5.3 YPC, but that’s skewed with 43 of his 84 yards on the season coming on one run.
James Cook is in a similar boat, with 33 of his 58 yards on one play.
So what’s the solution?
Is it simply to run the ball more? Who should get those extra carries?
We saw what Singletary did at the end of last season when propped into the lead back role and given 15+ carries a game.
Some believe it’s time to give the second-round pick Cook more opportunities, even though he’s had issues holding onto the ball in the limited touches he’s seen.
Pittsburgh ranks 24th in the NFL against the run, allowing 131.5 YPG, but is 10th in rushing yards allowed per play at 3.98.
Let’s see if Ken Dorsey tries to ignite the ground attack as his head coach seems eager for a change in how it’s operating.
Banged Up Bills Continues
Five players have already been ruled out for Sunday’s game.
Dawson Knox (foot/hamstring) and Jordan Poyer (ribs) the most notable and up in the air as the week went on.
Christian Benford (hand), Jamison Crowder (ankle) and Jake Kumerow (ankle) were all expected.
Four more are questionable.
Tremaine Edmunds didn’t practice at all this week with a hamstring injury, so the odds seem long that he suits up.
Ed Oliver and Jordan Phillips were limited all week and seem more likely to potentially play.
Isaiah McKenzie remains in the concussion protocol, although he progressed well throughout the week and even made it seem like he’ll go when talking to reporters in the locker room.
Guys like Gabe Davis and Mitch Morse who have been battling things through previous weeks got in multiple full practices and aren’t listed.
On the Line
Josh Allen O/U Passing Yards: 273.5
Kenny Pickett O/U Passing Yards: 202.5
Devin Singletary O/U Rushing Yards: 51.5
Josh Allen O/U Rushing Yards: 40.5
Najee Harris O/U Rushing Yards: 52.5
Stefon Diggs O/U Receiving Yards: 81.5
Diontae Johnson O/U Receiving Yards: 50.5
OUT: S Terrell Edmunds (concussion), CB Ahkello Witherspoon (hamstring)
QUESTIONABLE: CB Cameron Sutton (groin/hamstring)
OUT: WR Jamison Crowder (ankle), WR Jake Kumerow (ankle), TE Dawson Knox (foot/hamstring), CB Christian Benford (hand), S Jordan Poyer (ribs)
QUESTIONABLE: WR Isaiah McKenzie (concussion), DT Ed Oliver (ankle), DT Jordan Phillips (hamstring), LB Tremaine Edmunds (hamstring)
The Bills and Steelers kick things off from Highmark Stadium at 1 pm
**Be sure to tune into Spectrum News 1 after the game for “Buffalo End Zone.” Our LIVE postgame show brings you immediate team reaction as well as highlights and analysis. Join Kevin Carroll, Bills Beat Reporter Jon Scott, and former Bills RB Fred Jackson as they dive into everything from the game. Watch “Buffalo End Zone” after the game clock hits zero.**