Somehow the Pittsburgh Steelers fooled the Buffalo Bills’ punt protection team by overloading the left side of the line in the fourth quarter Sunday.
Unheralded backup safety Miles Killebrew broke through the Bills’ line to block Matt Haack’s punt, and linebacker Ulysees Gilbert III scooped it up for a 9-yard touchdown return.
Here’s a look at some of the key plays in the Bills’ 23-16 defeat, starting with the decisive special teams turnover.
1. Blocked punt. It appeared that safety Jaquan Johnson was to blame for allowing Killebrew to break through. Johnson was the up-back on the left side of the punt team, protecting behind the line of scrimmage.
Grading the Buffalo Bills after their 23-16 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday at Hig…
Killebrew lined up over Tyler Matakevich, who was at left guard on the punt protection line. The Steelers looped an extra man, Marcus Allen, over the Bills’ left side. Matakevich let Killebrew go in order to get a block on Allen. Johnson had his eyes to the outside and never got a block on anyone. Killebrew broke inside of Johnson.
Matakevich didn’t want to get specific about the Bills’ protection scheme after the game.
“We’ve got to take a look at that, it’d be too early to tell,” Matakevich said. “Our job is just to go straight back and you pick up a new guy. ... We’ve got to get back to the drawing board and see what happened. Unfortunately, we let a guy through and they made a play.”
Haack is a three-step punter. Corey Bojorquez, the Bills’ former punter, is a two-step punter. However, Killebrew broke through so cleanly he might have blocked the punt regardless of the steps. Haack had only one punt blocked in his previous four NFL seasons. Bojorquez had two punts blocked the previous three seasons.
Here’s the big-picture analysis of the Bills’ season-opening, 23-16 loss to the Steelers.
Asked if the block was more due to scheme or good individual effort, Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin said: “Six or half a dozen. I’m appreciative of the effort of Miles, who had the block and O.G., who had the scoop and score. We needed a splash play like that. We spotted them three to start the game.”
Tomlin was referring to the Bills’ opening, 75-yard kickoff return by Isaiah McKenzie.
“So at halftime I heard of the core special teams players, Derek Watt and others, saying we had to even the score from that perspective,” Tomlin said. “We needed splash in that phase of the game.”
2. Fourth-and-1. The Bills went for it on fourth and 1 from the Steelers’ 41 with 13:46 to go.
Frustration boiled among those following the game on Twitter, venting about offensive coordinator Brian Daboll's fourth-down call and displaying shock that reality did not meet expectation.
Maybe offensive coordinator Brian Daboll got too cute. Reggie Gilliam was lined up at fullback, in front of running back Matt Breida. Josh Allen took the snap from center and faked a quarterback keeper off right guard. Allen took a step, stopped and pitched backward to his left to Breida, with Gilliam leading the way.
But Steelers cornerback Cameron Sutton wasn’t fooled. He slashed into the backfield and tripped up Breida for a 7-yard loss.
“It was just something we had anticipated,” Tomlin said. “They had gotten in that structure a bunch – four, five times in the preseason and just given the dive to the fullback. So we figured that would be the next phase of it, to fake that dive to the fullback and flip the ball out. So we talked about it. But you can’t take anything away from Cam Sutton. Just a really aware play and a big-time football play."
Allen would not have been able to execute a quarterback plunge for the first down on the play. He had done that successfully on a third-and-1 run in the second quarter. But the Steelers pinched their defensive tackles in to cover up the gaps on either side of the center.
Allen was off target basically all afternoon, as the Bills’ high-powered offense from a year ago never showed up in a 23-16 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
3. Razzle dazzle. It’s easy to second guess trick plays. When they work you’re a genius. When they don’t, you should have done the obvious.
On a third-and-1 situation from the Buffalo 46 late in the first quarter, Daboll called a flea-flicker, with Devin Singletary pitching back to Allen. The quarterback threw to the left sideline for Stefon Diggs, but the pass was broken up by Sutton.
It was a great play by the Steelers’ fifth-year cornerback. He stayed disciplined by getting on top of Diggs, preventing the deep ball. When Diggs broke off his route and headed to the sideline, Sutton pivoted quickly and deflected an on-target throw.
Here is a quarter-by-quarter look at the Bills' loss to the Steelers on Sunday.
4. Deep and incomplete. Against an elite defense, a quarterback doesn’t get too many chances to make a huge play downfield.
Allen took advantage of one, hitting Gabriel Davis for 37 yards up the right seam in the second quarter.
Allen misfired twice when Emmanuel Sanders was wide open deep downfield. The first was on the Bills’ second drive of the game, going into the wind. Sanders got way behind slot cornerback Tre Norwood for what could have been a 55-yard TD. But Allen’s pass into the wide was overthrown by a lot.
“Just a missed play," Allen said. "I got to trust my guys and I got to put the ball where they can make plays. I didn’t on that first one. That’s something I’m going to think about."
"Those fans are awesome. They were loud. It was very, very loud," Roethlisberger said after the game.
Allen had Sanders wide open up the right seam on the first drive of the third quarter for what could have been a gain of about 30 yards. But the pass sailed high and wide to the right.
5. A non-interception. The Bills were up, 10-0, and could have broken the game open on the third play of the second half. Tre’Davious White intercepted a poor Ben Roethlisberger pass to the left sideline at the Steelers’ 46. But White was flagged for defensive holding on Dionte Johnson before the throw. It was a questionable foul that might have been ignored. Furthermore, the officials missed a holding foul against Jerry Hughes, who hurried Roethlisberger into the bad throw.