Bills vs. Steelers: Steelers Week 2 Game Preview
After practicing together Wednesday and Thursday at the Steelers training camp complex in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, the Bills and Steelers will meet in a preseason game Saturday at 7:30 p.m. ET at Heinz Field.
The Bills and Steelers were civilized practice partners compared to the Raiders and Cowboys, but the second practice wasn't as peaceful as the first. A potential melee was quickly extinguished, according to Scott Brown of ESPN.com.
Etiquette that Tomlin raved about takes a break. Pushing at end of a play draws players from both sides onto field. Order quickly restored.— Scott Brown (@ScottBrown_ESPN) August 14, 2014
These joint practices capped three weeks of training camp at Saint Vincent College. The Steelers (0-1) will try to bear the fruit of their labor with a win over the Bills (1-1).
Steelers' Week 1 Recap
The big play came back to haunt the Steelers defense when Rashad Jennings' 73-yard touchdown run against the starters gave the Giants a 7-3 lead in the first quarter. The Steelers allowed 11 plays of 50 or more yards last season, more than any team in the NFL.
Buffalo is ranked 18th in the NFL with 274.5 yards per game during the preseason. Its longest offensive play is a 32-yard reception by Chris Hogan. Bills quarterback EJ Manuel has a 71.9 passer rating. Jeff Tuel (73.7) is the team's top-rated preseason passer.
If the Steelers' first-team defense can prevent big plays, it will be a step in the right direction.
Dri Archer, a rookie drafted in the third round, provided the Steelers' biggest highlight in the preseason opener with a 46-yard reception on a screen pass. Archer was the fastest player at the NFL Scouting Combine with a 4.26-second 40-yard dash. His ability to score every time he touches the ball is a reason to watch Saturday's game even if it means nothing in the standings.
News and Notes
Offensive Starters To See More Action
The Steelers' offensive starters were used for 14 snaps in the preseason opener, and Ben Roethlisberger played even less than that. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin plans to keep the first-team offense in the game longer on Saturday, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. The first team played into the second quarter in last year's second preseason game.
Rookie inside linebacker Ryan Shazier, the Steelers' prized first-round pick, began practicing in a limited capacity Monday after missing the preseason opener with a knee injury, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. He'll be a game-time decision Saturday, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
Shazier took part in a full practice (from what I saw). That should make him ready to go Saturday. #TRIBSteel— Mark Kaboly (@MarkKaboly_Trib) August 15, 2014
Munchak Pushes to Keep Nine Offensive Linemen
New offensive line coach Mike Munchak wants the Steelers to keep nine offensive linemen on the roster, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Munchak was a Hall of Fame guard for the Houston Oilers and coached the Oilers and Tennessee Titans' offensive line for 14 years. The Titans fired him as head coach after the 2013 season, and his hiring was a coup for the Steelers. So on cutdown day, his opinion on offensive linemen will carry a lot of weight.
The problem is, it's hard to find nine players deserving of a roster spot after the way the backups performed in the preseason opener. Bruce Gradkowski and Landry Jones both were sacked once, and Steelers quarterbacks were hit four times and hurried eight times, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). The only starter charged with any of those was left tackle Kelvin Beachum, who gave up a quarterback hit.
The understudies will have to make major strides to bolster Munchak's case to leave nine offensive linemen on the opening-day roster.
Long Snapper Goes Down
Steelers long snapper Greg Warren suffered a torn meniscus during practice on Wednesday and is expected to miss four weeks, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
The Steelers' long snapper since 2005, Warren is one of five players on the roster who won two Super Bowls as a Steeler.
Undrafted rookie Bryce Davis will handle the long-snapping duties for now, but the Steelers also signed Luke Ingram, who was in camp with them last year.
Steelers announce signing of long snapper Luke Ingram. Spent time in camp with them last year.— Scott Brown (@ScottBrown_ESPN) August 14, 2014
Preseason Games Don't Count, But...
The Steelers haven't won a preseason game since they defeated the Carolina Panthers 17-16 on Aug. 30, 2012 at Heinz Field. It turned out to be a hollow victory because rookie linebacker Sean Spence suffered a knee injury that sidelined him for two seasons.
Staying healthy is more important than the score in preseason games. Nonetheless, after a 0-4 preseason in 2013, the Steelers started the regular season 0-4 and finished 8-8. It was the Steelers' third winless preseason since 1970. They went 0-4 in the 1987 and 2006 preseasons and won eight games in the regular season both times, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
So a win in one of their three remaining August games would provide the Steelers with a springboard toward a better September than last season.
Bills Also Have an Extra Game
The Steelers again face a team that has played one more preseason game than them. The Giants defeated the Bills 17-13 in the Hall of Fame Game, which kicked off the preseason on Aug. 3. Both the Bills and Giants are scheduled for five preseason games.
All injury statuses from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Greg Warren has a torn meniscus and likely won't be available for the start of the season. Ryan Shazier has a bruised knee and hasn't played in a preseason game. Jarvis Jones, who had a sack against the Giants, has been dealing with tightness in his groin, according to Steel City Insider.
If Shazier and Jones don't play, that's more action for the bottleneck of linebackers who are fighting for a roster spot.
X-Factors and Matchups to Watch
Bills' Pass Rush vs. Steelers' Offensive Line
The Bills have four sacks in two games during the preseason and were second in the NFL with 57 sacks last season. Ben Roethlisberger was sacked four times in the Steelers' 23-10 win over the Bills on Nov. 10 last season. He was sacked just seven times in the final seven games after that.
However long the starters are in the game, the Steelers' pass protection will be tested against the last team to sack Roethlisberger more than three times. And the backups must play better than they did in the opener.
Sammy Watkins vs. Steelers Linebackers
Bills rookie receiver Sammy Watkins, the fourth overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft, makes his living on intermediate routes. He caught 240 passes in three years at Clemson and averaged 14.1 yards per reception, according to College Football Reference. He's caught three passes for 21 yards in the preseason. When he goes over the middle on Saturday, he'll have to deal with a deep corps of Steelers linebackers.
There's a logjam for roster spots behind rookie Ryan Shazier, Lawrence Timmons, Jarvis Jones and Jason Worilds.
Howard Jones, an undrafted rookie from Division II Shepherd University, recovered two fumbles against the Giants and returned one of them for a touchdown. Sean Spence took another step in his improbable comeback from a gruesome knee injury when he forced Eli Manning into a third-down incompletion.
Dan Molls, an undrafted free agent last year, was the Steelers' leading tackler with nine. Vince Williams added five tackles, and rookie sixth-round draft pick Jordan Zumwalt made five tackles despite missing most of spring workouts because of academic requirements and then injuring his groin in training camp, according to Steel City Insider.
Watkins, who caught 101 passes for 12 touchdowns at Clemson last season, will put this bunch to the test.
Steelers' X-Factor of the Week: Lance Moore
The Steelers signed Lance Moore as a free agent from the New Orleans Saints during the offseason. The 5'9" veteran is projected as a slot receiver.
Moore has 364 career receptions, more than any other receiver on the Steelers roster. However, he went from 65 catches in 2012 to 37 last season. The 31-year-old played just three snaps in the preseason opener and didn't catch the one ball thrown his way.
If he sees more action Saturday, the Steelers should have a better idea of how much Moore has left in the tank.
The Steelers offense will score its first touchdown of the preseason, and Shaun Suisham will kick three field goals. That will be just enough for the Steelers to get the preseason monkey off their back.
Steelers, 16, Bills 15
Statistics are from NFL.com, unless otherwise noted.