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The Spy: What Lies Beneath the Surface of The Vaunted Pittsburgh Steelers Defense?



The Buffalo Fanatics is “BACK AT IT AGAIN, to quote the great Rico of TBF. We are proud to present a brand-new column known as “The Spy.” In this column, we aim to delve deeply into the subject matter of an upcoming opponents’ team that may be worthy of exploring in detail.

In our sights for this Sunday’s behemoth matchup between the Buffalo Bills and Pittsburgh Steelers is the Pittsburgh Defense. Surely, the Pittsburgh defense will be able to wreak havoc on the Bills’ high-powered offense; or will it? Pittsburgh has played in close, gritty, and grinder games all throughout the 2020 season. Most of these games have finished with relatively low scores considering the offensive explosion across the league in this very odd season. Only one team has scored more than 26 points against the Steelers, that team being the Philadelphia Eagles… of all teams (insert Josh Allen NFC East sass here).

Though Pittsburgh cannot be invalidated for, or help for that matter, who is on their schedule, it cannot be denied that they have had a quite easy strength of schedule. In simple terms, they have not played many top-quality teams. That said, the Steelers D has been able to slash and cut through opposing offenses with their hyper-aggressive defensive front, hawkish linebacking corps, and refined 3-4 scheme. (We will touch on this more later.)

All that said, the Steelers D has been decimated by injuries, especially so this week. Combined with offensive stagnation, the Steelers begin to look vulnerable despite their elite reputation and record. What is the qualitative threat of the Steelers D?

SPY 1: Injuries

According to the Steelers’ latest injury report and as of this writing, only two players are designated OUT for Sundays’ game.

  • CB Joe Haden
  • LB Robert Spillane
    Note that Spillane was already filling in for Bud Dupree who is OUT for the remainder of the season

Lets’ start with Joe Haden, a seasoned veteran who shows a valued and complete skillset despite advancing in age in this league. Haden posted a defensive touchdown in the previous week versus the Washington Football Team and shows consistent play. Losing Haden puts pressure on the yet untested Steelers CB depth. The Bills will have an opportunity to exploit this just as Cole Beasley did against a practice squad slot corner in the Bills/Niners’ game.

Furthermore, greater pressure will be put on the Elite Safety, Minkah Fitzpatrick, who will have to assist even more in secondary communication/coordination. In addition to that, Fitzpatrick will likely have to spend more energy flying around the secondary to reinforce weak points and to read Josh Allen (an increasingly difficult task in 2020).

Robert Spillane being out is… in a word: MASSIVE, as implications go. Being the filler for injured starter, Bud Dupree, the Steelers will now have to likely turn to Avery Williamson. The Steelers acquired Williamson earlier in the season from the New Jersey* Jets. Though he has spent some time on the roster, he has played truly little time on the field. His inexperience in the Steelers’ defensive packages will be a vulnerability; conditioning may be a factor too when it comes to snap counts and the drain of a full game as a starter.

What is more important is the ripple effect that this turn of events has had and will continue to have on defensive MADMAN TJ Watt. TJ Watt is a game wrecker; there is no arguing that. If left unblocked or unchecked, he makes game-altering plays and is undoubtedly in the running for DPOY. Having posted 12 sacks on the year (a league-leading number) and a 92 grade according to PFF, the numbers bear out the threat.

TJ Watt will be up against much longer odds to make successful rushes with the weakening of the defensive line overall, to include the loss of Devin Bush early in the season, who commanded the Linebacking corps and made defensive calls. With a third-stringer in Williamson opposite (laterally) TJ Watt, Watt can be more easily controlled or at least limited by Bills’ blockers. Expect this factor to be on the Bills’ radar given the way that the Bills’ OL prepares.

Recently, as a guest on WGR 550 radio, retired Steeler CB, and current media member, Ike Taylor, elaborated on the TJ Watt – Bud Dupree relationship, saying words to the effect of… the two players feed off one another.

SPY 2: Defensive Scheme

The Steelers’ defensive scheme is extremely complex. One way in which this is so is that defensive linemen and linebackers are extremely dynamic in their pre-snap movement and movement immediately following the snap. This is to say that these players will give opposing offenses varied and confusing looks, move with subterfuge in mind, and will execute snaps with violence of action. Vicious rushes are expected, stunts, and complicated blitz packages. According to “Behind the Steel Curtain,” the Steelers’ philosophy is to attack at all costs. The numbers show this to be true as the Steelers rank 1st in blitz percentage. This factor will be plainly clear to Bills QB, Josh Allen, who has improved his passer rating against pressure considerably this season, up to 114.0 according to ESPN. Josh Allen may have to be strategic in getting the ball to his weapons in a quick and efficient fashion (a capability he has shown he CAN execute).

SPY 3: Steelers Defensive Weakness

Currently, the spy determines that the greatest weakness of the Steelers’ defense is injuries and to a lesser but related extent, cumulative fatigue. The Steelers will have played three games in 12 days following Sunday night’s matchup. The fact of the matter is the Washington Football Team was able to accumulate yards, drives, and most importantly, points, against this defense. There is NO logical reason to believe that the Bills explosive offense cannot do the same.

SPY 4: Steelers Defensive Strength

Conversely, the greatest strength of the Steelers Defense at present is its’ pure, unadulterated aggression. This Defense prides itself on a killer instinct and its’ ability to not only consistently frustrate offenses but dismantle them entirely (a la Steelers blowing out the Cleveland Browns AGAIN). If the Bills bog down in the 3rd quarter or remove their foot from the proverbial gas pedal, the Steelers defense will key on such woes.

With the aggression, it acts as a force multiplier in that it can magnify the amount of confusion that the Steelers adore to cause. Josh Allen and Bills blockers will always need to be aware of the location of Steelers playmakers. Allowing gap and edge penetration will leave Josh Allen with a chaotic and unstable pocket from which to throw. Invariably, that is not the preferred situation to be in despite Josh Allen’s elite athleticism and movement capabilities.

Verdict & Attack Strategy Possibilities

The Bills are ranked 1st in passes executed on 1st down and throw to their receivers as much as the best teams in the league, if not more. What might be more advantageous to incorporate into this week’s game plan is increased usage of Tight Ends and/or Running Backs in the passing game and sustaining the illustrious Allen – Beasley connection. #BringTheLettuce

What is to lose in throwing to Dawson Knox more? He is coming off a hot game (by his standards) last week, and the Bills need to find out more about what they have in him. Devin Singletary and Zack Moss have shown flashes in the passing game and increasing throws to them could throw the Steelers defense off-balance given that it is an atypical pattern of play for the Bills’ offense.


Significant attention has been paid to the Steelers’ complaints on social media of late regarding COVID mishandling and perceived unfairness perpetrated upon them via schedule adjustments and the like. This type of activity often points to frustration. In many cases throughout NFL history, frustration can become a disease for a team that spent significant time on a “high” preceding the frustrations.

In Closing, please follow The Buffalo Fanatics on all platforms, trust the process, and GO BILLS!

Let us know in comments sections, what you think of “The Spy” column.