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Top 3 Things We Learned

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Top 3 things we learned from Bills vs. Steelers | 2023 Preseason

Top 3 vs Steelers preseason

1 — Bills self-inflicted wounds deemed "unacceptable"

Even in the preseason, the Bills hold themselves to a high standard and expect to win no matter who's in the game. Going in with that mindset made it that much more surprising the Bills lacked execution in all phases of the game out of the gate. 

Whether it was chunk plays allowed by the defense — Pittsburgh had first quarter TDs of 62 and 25 yards — or the first team offense punting on its first three possessions, Buffalo lacked a spark from the opening kick. 

The most concerning part according to head coach Sean McDermott were the penalties from both sides of the ball, many of which had considerable impact on the outcome of the drive. The Bills committed 12 penalties for 90 yards in the first half compared to just two by the Steelers.

"Unacceptable. Absolutely unacceptable," McDermott stated postgame.

QB Josh Allen, who played the first three series, went three-and-out on the first drive on the heels of a 7-0 deficit. By the time he got the ball back for a second series, Buffalo trailed 14-0 and had possessed the ball for less than two minutes.

"I think on the offensive side of the ball, just lack of detail," Allen said.

Things started to turn Buffalo's way in the second offensive series though only for a moment. Allen had chunk gains to Gabe Davis (15 yards), Stefon Diggs (14 yards) and Davis again (14 yards) to move the ball across the Pittsburgh 40-yard line.

But self-inflicted wounds kept them from advancing any further as RT Spencer Brown was called for an illegal block that wiped out a 6-yard gain by Deonte Harty. A false start by LG Connor McGovern and a holding call against Brown that negated a 35-yard gain to Davis set the offense back to an unmanageable 2nd & 34.

"Pre-snap penalties, some post-snap penalties -- those are going to happen -- but you can't have the pre-snap ones. So a lot to learn from," Allen said, alluding to the four false start penalties.

Buffalo's defense also had costly errors, three pass interferences and a defensive holding in the first half to give Pittsburgh a fresh set of downs.

Allen's statline of 7 of 10 for 64 yards reflects a solid passing performance for the star QB, though he would've much rather preferred to put points up on the board during what could be his only preseason outing.

"We're just going to get into our film room and get back to working against our defense for the time being. The start of the season is a couple weeks away, so we've got to be prepared and focused on that and get ready for the Jets on Monday night," Allen said.

2 — 2023 draft class flashes

One of the bright spots in this game belongs to the Bills 2023 draft class, with multiple players having nights to remember.

After a quiet preseason debut last week, the Bills made it a point of emphasis to get TE Dalton Kincaid involved with the passing game early. Josh Allen immediately looked Kincaid's way on the team's first offensive snap of the game for a pickup of eight yards.

"Kincaid came out and made some really nice plays for us, and that's a positive sign," Allen shared.

The 25th overall pick saw extended action even when Matt Barkley subbed in. The two displayed good rapport and Barkley with connected Kincaid two times in the second quarter with the tight end picking up gains of 21 and 16 yards. The rookie generated separation working over the middle on both completions, using quick footwork to establish inside leverage.

Kincaid was the only Bills pass-catcher in the first half to record multiple gains of 15-plus yards.

Second-rounder O'Cyrus Torrence continued to make a case for the starting right guard position. McDermott thought the rookie handled himself well playing against the Steelers starting defensive line.

"I would just say that is a good front. And it is different than – it's a different spacing from the week before. So, this being a 3-4 defense, versus a 4-3 the week before is new for him," McDermott explained.

Third round pick LB Dorian Williams had another strong performance leading the Bills in total tackles with four. It's the second-straight week the Tulane product has led Buffalo's defense in tackles.

Against the Steelers, Williams showed his speed in attacking the ball and nearly got home for a sack against backup Mitch Trubisky in the second quarter.

In the second half, fifth round WR Justin Shorter was the go-to target for Kyle Allen.

Shorter, who didn't record a catch last week, ended up leading all Bills receivers Saturday with 47 yards on five catches as well as a team-high six targets. The wideout used his 6-foot-4 frame on several of his grabs, including a 17-yard TD where he absorbed contact after making the catch near the goal line and hung on for the score late in the game.

3 — Bills backup QB competition remains ongoing

Over the last two weeks, McDermott has said the primary backup spot behind Josh Allen is an open competition between Matt Barkley and Kyle Allen. With only four quarters of preseason football left, McDermott said that spot is still up for grabs following Saturday night.

In a role reversal from last week — in more ways than one — Barkley got the nod with the second team offense to open the second quarter. He appeared last week as the team's third QB and tossed two second half TD passes versus the Colts en route to a 23-19 win.

In Pittsburgh, Barkley did not have the same success. The 32-year-old played in four series: he threw interceptions on the first three and lost a fumble on the final series.

"The first one was in the red zone, the ball was a little bit high and got tipped," McDermott recalled. "And then he had one or two tipped at the line of scrimmage. Give them credit, and they got their hands up when they needed to get their hands up to affect the quarterback and that led to interceptions."

Kyle Allen came in mid-way through the third quarter and took a step forward in his comfort level compared to a week ago. Allen led the Bills' only two scoring drives and completed 80% of his throws. 

Josh Allen observed the game from the sidelines after he being subbed and watched intently when Barkley and Kyle Allen were in to see where the offense could improve. He said Kyle Allen's touchdown drive during the two-minute drill in the fourth quarter was some of the best execution of the night.

"Obviously getting a two-minute drive there at the end, working that with Kyle. I think he did a good job making decisions," Josh Allen said. 

The Bills will have one final crack at their evaluation process for the season as they travel to Chicago next weekend to play the Bears on Saturday, Aug. 26 at 1 p.m.

Check out the best game photos from the second preseason game in 2023. This gallery is presented by Gabe's Collision.

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