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Bills-Steelers game preview

Posted Aug 16, 2014

Buffalo’s third preseason game will have a different spin to it for the Bills.

After spending the better part of the week in Pittsburgh, the Bills also had a pair of joint practices with the Steelers as a lead in to their preseason game at Heinz Field Saturday night. Kickoff is set for 7:30 pm.

Live preparation

Instead of preparing for the Steelers on their own practice field at St. John Fisher with a scout team running Pittsburgh plays, the Bills got to square off against Mike Tomlin’s units for two days at St. Vincent College in Latrobe. Some players said it was almost like live scouting. Having never been through it before however, no one is sure how the familiarity gained from the two practices will impact the game.

“I’m not sure how that’ll work out. I’ve never done this before,” said Eric Wood. “We generally practice against a look team and obviously a look team is not as good as a starting defense is going to be. In this case we went against a starting defense and now we’ll play against them in the game. I have no idea. I’d say you’d probably be a little more comfortable come game time, a little more prepared, but it’ll be interesting.”

“It’s my first time. The last time they did it was the year before I was drafted,” said Kyle Williams. “I don’t know how it will transfer to the game. I do know that we got some good work in against a team that is a perennial power in the AFC.”

The last time Buffalo practiced with another NFL club prior to playing them in a preseason game was in 2005 when they traveled to Green Bay four a couple of days before facing them in preseason action.

Defending power run game

Buffalo’s starting defense has been very good against the run in the preseason. They’ve allowed just 19 yards on 11 carries (1.72 avg.) counting a pair of quarterback scrambles by Derek Anderson in the win at Carolina. Pittsburgh’s power run game will be a whole different ball game Saturday night.

MLB Brandon Spikes is glad to be facing a physical hat-on-hat run game believing that it will provide a much more accurate barometer on just where their run defense is at this point.

“We haven’t seen much of it during camp so just to get a different look and see how we’re going to attack and execute is good,” said Spikes. “A lot of people may have praised us, but we have a long way to go. We’ve been decent and a lot of times we’re giving up two or three yards when it could’ve been tackles for loss. We want to get to that point and that’s what we’ve got to build on. Me personally I want to get the best out of everybody to maximize this defense.”

For Spikes those short gains that he feels should be tackles for loss are plays where the minor details of defending the run are being lost.

“Just fundamentals, steps, all the small things, sometimes tackling, but I think we’ve been doing well with tackling,” he said. “Just the techniques and the execution of the scheme and being on the same page.”

From practice to the game

The Bills passing game took a big step forward this week. Their two days of practices against the Steelers were pretty consistent. Now the task becomes carrying it over to the game Saturday night.

EJ Manuel credits the protection up front for allowing him to comfortably survey the field.

“I think our communication overall has really helped us out,” said EJ Manuel. “Communicating to the O-line as far as picking up their blitzes and the schemes that they do with the fronts, and then also, the receivers buying into what the coaches are telling them to do to get to their destination. We are putting the ball there for them.”

The line however, underwent some more shuffling this week with Chris Williams sidelined by a back injury. So Kraig Urbik has moved to left guard and fifth-round pick Cyril Richardson is at right guard, giving the Bills two rookies among their starting five. That has Urbik wary of being on point with their communication up front.

“Yeah it was pretty good (in practice), but definitely can get a lot better,” said Urbik. “There were some miscues with guys not knowing if the defensive lineman was an end or a three technique. So it’s stuff that we’ve got to know and hopefully won’t have as a problem.”

The Bills starting offense would also like to put a touchdown drive together. Through the first two preseason games they are 0-3 in the red zone.

“One thing I really want to do is score,” said Manuel. “I do not know how much I am going to play, but I know before I come out we would like to have a touchdown as an offense and as a first group.”

The opponent

The Steelers are 0-1 in the preseason after dropping a 20-16 decision to the New York Giants last week. Pittsburgh had trouble slowing the Giants run game. After an early 73-yard touchdown run by the Giants’ Rashad Jennings the Steelers had trouble slowing down Kendall Gaskins and rookie Andre Williams who combined for 81 yards on 17 carries (4.76). Their offense was 2-14 on third down and 0-2 in the red zone in their preseason opener.

Pittsburgh parted ways with some key veterans in LaMarr Woodley and Jerricho Cotchery this offseason and among their more notable signings were RB LeGarrette Blount, S Mike Mitchell and WR Lance Moore. Their top draft choice was Ohio State LB Ryan Shazier, who just returned to the lineup this week from a bruised knee, but was limited. He will be a game time decision along with OLB Jarvis Jones (groin) and LB Vince Williams (concussion).

Long snapper Greg Warren suffered a torn meniscus in practice Wednesday and is out for four weeks. TE Bryce Davis will snap in his absence. The Steelers also signed LS Luke Ingram.