Remember MySpace and the "Top 8" friends? This is kind of the same thing! Each week an SCU contributor chooses five specific Pittsburgh Steelers every fan should keep their eye on in the upcoming game. Yes, the choices are just as difficult as choosing those friends on MySpace too! (Except we aren't forced to keep Tom as one of them!)
The last time Fitzpatrick made a major splash play for the Pittsburgh Steelers defense, he scooped up a forced-fumble and returned it for 36 yards (vs the Cincinnati Bengals). Haden has grabbed three interceptions in the last two weeks (two against the Arizona Cardinals). Both of these Steelers defensive backs have been having a fantastic season. When one has been quiet, the other has stepped up big. In Week 15, in a game where tight defense will be key against Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills offense, Fitzpatrick and Haden should play significant snaps and contain Allen as they apply solid coverage against the Bills' receivers. A clutch takeaway by one, or both, isn't out of the question. And if they draw zero penalties, that would be extra icing on a cake the Steelers would love to eat as they head into the final stretch of the 2019-20 NFL regular season.
Although there is a good chance that James Conner is healthy enough to dress on Sunday, head coach Mike Tomlin has yet to be clear as to whether he'd allow the young running back to do so. Tomlin said that Conner would be evaluated as he practiced this week. While Conner has been sidelined due to a shoulder injury, Benny Snell and Kerrith Whyte have gotten significant time in the Steelers' offensive backfield. With Jaylen Samuels dealing with a groin injury, it may be Whyte's time to shine this week.
Tomlin said that the amount of snaps and work that is given to young players with the team is managed in a thoughtful manner. "I think exposure is good," Tomlin told the media this week. "There are a couple caveats to that. There is too much exposure. Too much exposure can be negative... We want them to be young people on the rise as we get to this portion of the season."
Since joining the Steelers, Whyte has been a nice addition to the run game in tandem with Snell. In three games, Whyte has carried the ball 14 times for 94 yards. Last week he caught his lone target for nine yards. Whyte has also been handling some of the kick return duties, grabbing 112 yards on six returns.
Along those same lines, Tomlin and the coaching staff have been thoughtful in how they've played the receivers while JuJu Smith-Schuster has been recovering from injury. Last week, Diontae Johnson showed why he was the guy to watch. While Deon Cain has been a nice addition to the roster, this week may be the game that sees Devlin Hodges finding James Washington with the hot hands for big plays. Washington has really emerged and matured during the absence of Smith-Schuster this season and hit the 100-yard receiving mark against the Cleveland Browns in Week 13 (111 yards on four targets for four catches). If Smith-Schuster does suit up on Sunday, the Bills will be less focused on Washington - setting him up for some chunk plays.
This Week 15 matchup is expected to be a fairly close slugfest due to the playoff implications for both the Steelers and the Bills. That means that a guy that has been spoken of very little this season (after nearly being literally tossed under a bus last season) - Chris Boswell - will be called on to be solid in his performance in the placekicking department. If the Steelers offense has trouble putting points on the scoreboard, it will be critical that Boswell find that wizard within. Through 15 weeks of play, Boswell has been near-perfect, successfully kicking 25-of-25 extra points and 26-of-28 field goals.