ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (WIVB) – In both wins against the Steelers in 2019 and 2020 the Bills defense forced turnovers and both wins were close games.
Last season the Bills won 26-15 in a game where Levi Wallace had an interception and Taron Johnson came up with a pick-six. Two years ago, Buffalo won 17-10 where the defense had five takeaways with four interceptions and a fumble recovery.
But third time was a charm for the Steelers as they won this time around in a game where the Bills defense had no takeaways.
“Each one of those games previously were close games, we said this is probably gonna be another close game, the takeaways by our defense will probably be the difference,” Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said Monday.
“I asked the guys in our meeting, I said Jordan [Poyer] what do you think was the difference in the game, why did we not come away with a W. He told the whole group we didn’t take the ball away. And to me and all of us on defense was the difference.”
Poyer also harped on that in his postgame press conference saying they couldn’t find one way to take the ball away which is unfortunate for the Bills because defensively, the pretty much did everything right outside of that. Were they perfect? No. Did they give up some big plays in the second half? Yes. But the defense is not the reason they lost the game, in fact it’s the reason Buffalo had a shot to win it for as long as they did.
But there were opportunities to come up with some turnovers. One that sticks out is Mario Addison had a strip sack but the Steelers were able to recover. Another is Tre’Davious White picked off Ben Roethlisberger in the second half but it was wiped out by his own holding penalty.
Despite shutting the Steelers out in the first half, taking away their running game, limiting Roethlisberger to just 188 yards passing, sacking him twice, Pittsburgh was able to make a couple big plays in the second half that really turned the momentum in their favor.
On their offensive touchdown drive, Wallace took a very bad, 26-yard pass interference call. Then Roethlisberger continued to pick on him as two plays later threw his way to Diontae Johnson in the corner of the end zone that Wallace couldn’t break up.
“Overall I thought he did a good job. There’s gonna be some moments where those 50-50 balls might not go your way, it just happens. Even the best corners in our league, you just gotta win your share of them and I thought he did. I thought he made some good tackles for us yesterday, he was in good position,” Frazier said.
“It’s unfortunate the one that they did get in the end zone, I mean he got his hands on it, you’d like to be able to get that out but that’s the one that kind of I’m sure sticks in his mind but he was in good position most of the day and made some good plays for us. Just unfortunate you can’t make every play.”
The number two cornerback starting job opposite of White was a big question coming into training camp and the preseason as every year Wallace is fighting for his spot. So when things don’t go his way, the questions keep coming especially as the Bills’ depth at the position is not very strong.
“If they decide that you’re gonna be the guy that they target you have to make a play to get them off your back and Levi does that, he made some good tackles for us, he was in good position for us and if they keep throwing it at him which the next opponent may try to do the same thing especially when we get in situations where we have to play a little bit more man, then he’ll have to make those plays to back them away and he will,” Frazier explained.
But overall, the defense was strong and there were bright spots within the unit.
We saw that heavy rotation on the defensive line as they constantly used different combinations at defensive end and defensive tackle. The run defense was also a strong spot as they took that element away from the Steelers, limiting them to just 75 yards rushing and rookie Najee Harris to just 45.
“I thought our entire d-line did what we were hoping would happen and that was controlling the line of scrimmage. Their longest run was that reverse but other than that we pretty much controlled the line of scrimmage and we were able to get after the quarterback and make him get off his spot. Really pleased with the way our defensive line handled things,” Frazier said.