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After practicing together Wednesday and Thursday the Pittsburgh Steelers and Buffalo Bills will have seen enough of each other, by Saturday night when the square off in their preseason week 2 matchup, that they may have to pull some new tricks out of their hats to show something new.
Not surprising 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 before getting out of hand.
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 Buffalo Bills (1-1).
After the Steelers lost their preseason opener 20-16 to the New York Giants, they will be looking to redeem themselves and another play like the one from that game that is burned into their memory, the 73-yard touchdown scamper by Rashad Jennings to give the Giants an early 7-3 lead, can’t be allowed to happen again. The Steelers allowed 11 plays of 50 or more yards last season, more than any team in the NFL and that showed in the Giants game.
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.
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, such as Sean Spence, who are fighting for a roster spot.
What To Look For
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: Dri Archer
When the Steelers drafted the speedster Dri Archer, the plan was simple, find ways to get him the ball and allow his speed to create plays. With his first NFL play, a 46-yard reception on a screen pass, he showed exactly what he can do as a pro and the more the Steelers use him the more dangerous he will become.
Look for the Steelers to try to create a few more touch for Archer this week, most likely on the ground or via special teams as the kick and punt return ace. This kid is a star in the making and the Steelers will want to feature him as much as possible.
The Steelers offense will score its first touchdown of the preseason, and Shaun Suisham will kick a couple field goals. We also see the second team adding a touch down of their own and that will be just enough for the Steelers to get the preseason monkey off their back.
Steelers, 20, Bills 13