After a couple of days of semi-fractious practices in Latrobe, the Bills took on the Steelers at Heinz Field. The Bills were aiming to build on the positives from last week in Carolina and fans were hoping to see more growth and cohesion, particularly with the offense.
The Bills game plan took an early blow with Sammy Watkins taking a shot to the ribs from Ryan Shazier. Watkins was withdrawn from the rest of the game as a precaution and early reports seem to suggest that it’s nothing serious for the Bills 1st round pick. I’m not suggesting that Shazier meant it but Sammy did embarrass him in college last year, taking him helmet-first on a road trip.
After a balanced first drive, an erratic throw on the run by EJ Manuel brought out Dan Carpenter to put the Bills 3-0 up from 37 yards.
The Steelers replied in emphatic fashion. Ben Roethlisberger took time out of his busy rape schedule to help tear the Bills secondary a new one. A mix-up between Corey Graham and Duke Williams set Antonio Brown free and he flew past the flat-footed Da’Norris Searcy for a 76 yard touchdown. Shaun Suisham missed the extra point attempt (I don’t know how either). Steelers led 6-3.
On the Bills next drive, the lingering animosity between the two teams showed when, after a CJ Spiller run, Steelers safety Mike Mitchell was flagged for taunting. Mitchell obviously took the same “Being a Prick 101″ classes as Donte Whitner: “If you can’t play, just talk”.
The drive ended 2 plays later with Manuel being intercepted by Shazier on a pass intended for Scott Chandler. Credit where credit is due, Shazier had a great showing. No shying away from it being a poor throw though. It’s his own fault for throwing to “Molasses” Chandler in the first place, a man who was run down by a 303-pound defensive lineman over 20 yards.
Working with a short field, that man Roethlisberger was at it again. He found Markus Wheaton in the corner of the endzone with a peach of a pass. You can easily criticize Stephon Gilmore for not turning back and locating the ball but the throw was so good, I’m not sure he would have stopped it if he had seen it.
After a Carpenter FG to make it 13-6 and a couple of stuttering series from both teams Nickell Robey (the world’s greatest nickel midget), came up with an interception off Landry Jones. The Bills worked down to the goal line only to show the same penetrative prowess as the 14 year old version of myself, failing to convert on 4th down. 13-6 at halftime.
As it’s only preseason, nobody really cares about the 2nd and 3rd string players enough to carry on reading so I’ll make it brief:
- Thad Lewis was awful, ‘Tuel Time’ wasn’t much better.
- The gloriously named Boobie Dixon benefitted from Nate Hackett showing that he isn’t a complete idiot at the goal line. Boobie leaped majestically like a salmon to score, tying the game at 13-13.
- Stefan Charles and Landon Cohen continue to make fools out of their opposition. If you haven’t seen Cohen’s fumble return yet, do it now.
- Randell Johnson keeps getting better every week.
- And I know people want to get on the back of Cyrus Kouandjio for becoming the human turnstile at the end of the game but at least he spared us watching preseason overtime.
Ultimately, the Bills lost 19-16 but, as they say, it’s only preseason.
There are a few positives to take from the game. Despite having two physical running backs, we held Bell and Blount to a combined 11 yards from 7 carries. Apart from a couple of plays (one resulting in an intentional grounding call), the first string offensive line gave EJ a pretty clean pocket despite starting Doug Legursky. The continuation of Stefan Charles’ progress and the emergence of Landon Cohen is making it easier to stomach the sudden disappearance of Alan Branch. Most importantly, it seems as if everyone got out of the game healthy. Not to mention, TJ Graham didn’t look bad returning kickoffs and punts. I’m just surprised he caught the damn things.
I’ll just take a second to defend Cyrus Kouandjio. I don’t know where some of the vitriolic comments are coming from. Maybe it’s the pre-draft narrative about his knee, maybe it’s something to do with him playing for Alabama. He had 2 bad snaps at the end of the game and nobody mentions a thing about everything decent he did before. I’m not soft in the head just because he was one of ‘my guys’ during the draft process, I’m not immune to his struggles but calls for him to be cut after 3 preseason games are idiotic. He’s going to need work and patience and he’s going to be worth it. Rushing him at this point for the sake of a Week 1 return on a pick would be counterproductive.
We move onward and upward to Tampa Bay next Saturday, As good as it’ll be to be back on home soil, it’ll be especially poignant as it’ll be the first game at the Ralph without THE Ralph. Hopefully the occasion, the crowd and the familiarity of home sparks the offense to produce a couple of touchdowns that are sorely needed.