Buffalo Bills: 5 Things We Learned About the Bills vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
The Buffalo Bills played their final home preseason game on Saturday night in front of a packed Ralph Wilson Stadium, in what many believe to be the final tuneup game before the regular season starts.
The Bills offense struck early on an impressive second drive that was set up by a long strike from Ryan Fitzpatrick to slot receiver David Nelson and capped off by a two-yard touchdown scamper by Fred Jackson.
The offense struggled to capitalize on opportunities for the remainder of the game, and the Steelers found ways to capitalize on multiple Bills turnovers, including a badly timed fumble by C.J. Spiller within the Bills' 20-yard line.
The Defense Looks in Regular-Season Form
The defense held Pittsburgh scoreless on their first five drives to begin the game, only giving up points after Spiller fumbled at the Buffalo 18-yard line. Until then, they had put the offense in the driver seat to control the game, but they couldn't capitalize on the opportunities.
The starters still haven't forced a turnover during their time on the field in the first three preseason games, but those will come with time.
The important thing is that the front four continues to get pressure on the quarterback. Sacks are an obvious reflection of good pressure, but it is important to note how much opposing quarterbacks have been throwing off their back foot. Eventually those types of throws will lead to the aforementioned turnovers and become a staple of the new-look Bills defense.
It's also worth noting that Mario Williams had his first two "sacks" as a Buffalo Bill, although they don't count on his actual career total. Williams will be fun to watch next to the Bills' big defensive tackles as the group grows together and learns how to play with each other.
Ryan Fitzpatrick Continues to Make Unwise Decisions
Fully healed from the broken ribs, Fitzpatrick has supposedly looked great in practice over the last week. With a final tuneup needed for an offense that has looked unremarkable at best, fans were looking for some improvement from the last two preseason contests. The first few drives looked promising, but some stalled because of a few drops and good pressure by the Steelers defensive line.
The run game got going early, which is to be expected with an offensive line that will shine in run blocking but struggle with pass blocking. As I've mentioned in other articles, the Bills will need to set up the passing game after effectively establishing a consistent run game. Knowing what they had with Jackson and Spiller on the ground, Gailey and Fitzpatrick turned their sights to getting the pass game up and rolling.
The results were mixed, as Fitzpatrick found room over the middle multiple times but struggled to get the ball to his top receiver, Stevie Johnson. Part of that was because of good defense by the opposing corners, but Fitzpatrick also foolishly forced the ball into tight spaces that just weren't there.
Johnson finished with three catches on nine targets from Fitzpatrick. It would have been beneficial for the team to get both David Nelson and Donald Jones more involved, as both will be key in games where Johnson is being shut down.
The Bills Are Hoping Fitzpatrick Never Gets Hurt
One week after taking the lead in the backup quarterback competition because of an impressive performance against the Vikings, Vince Young struggled mightily against both the Steelers' starters and reserves. His first pass of the night was right into the mitts of All-Pro safety Troy Polamalu and ultimately was an accurate depiction of the night that Young would have.
He did some nice things, of course—finding a rapport with rookie T.J. Graham and third-string running back Tashard Choice—but his bad decisions directly led to 14 points. The two interceptions in the second half were inexcusable and the result of trying to make something out of nothing.
Unfortunately for the former first-round pick, these were the exact kinds of mistakes that have plagued him his entire disappointing career. The unfamiliarity with the offense excuse can only go on for so long, Young needs to step up and take a hold of his roster spot, or the Bills need to find other avenues to fill the position.
Colt McCoy anyone?
Terrence McGee Is Confirming Our Worst Suspicions
Terrence McGee, a 10-year veteran out of Northwestern State, was able to suit up for the first time this preseason and played like a man that has predictably lost a step. McGee's game has been based on speed and top-notch ball skills that made him one of the top corners in the AFC for four seasons early in his career.
Injuries have since robbed his speed and consistency to play the position at a level he once could.
I've had McGee on the outside looking in for the final 53-man roster, which is slowly coming together with only one preseason game remaining. Most of my peers have disagreed with that thought, giving the corner the benefit of the doubt of receiving one of the final roster spots.
McGee's usefulness as a cover corner and return man are no longer his strong suits. With younger players on the roster to fill those roles better than McGee at this point in his career, it would be best for the team to move on.
If any example is needed, the Antonio Brown touchdown following Vince Young's interception is a good one. Brown, albeit a speedy receiver, embarrassed McGee and safety Da'Norris Searcy on a post route for an easy 39-yard score.
Tashard Choice Made His Claim for the Last Running Back Spot
Earlier in the week, I criticized Choice for his inability to gain yardage at a consistent clip. In case there was ever an injury to either Jackson or Spiller, Choice would see a good chunk of carries much like he did in 2011. Choice has continued to show the same ineffectiveness he displayed at the end of last season; until tonight that is.
Choice carried the ball decisively and displayed impressive vision on his way to 50 yards on seven carries. He also pitched in with an 18-yard catch where he turned a "stink sandwich into an ice cream cone."
Not one game does a player make, but the arrow is pointing up for Choice. I'll admit that I was likely too harsh on the back, but I'll remain skeptical until we see another solid performance like Saturday night.
As of now, Choice will get the nod over Johnny White because of his familiarity with a Gailey-run offense.