The final score was not indicative of the battle between the first team units in the Pittsburgh Steelers 38-7 win over the Buffalo Bills. It was actually a closely contested first half as the Steelers went into the break with a 14-7 lead on the strength of a Bills turnover deep in their territory that led to a touchdown.
The big story for the Steelers is the loss of first round guard David DeCastro to a likely season-ending knee injury, further depleting an offensive line looking for continuity. They already look to be adding extra emphasis on the quick passing game as quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was getting the ball out of his hands quickly on a number of passes.
For Buffalo, the first half was a mixed bag as the front-7 of the defense showed their potential, but the offense was extremely inconsistent. Still, the Bills’ offseason moves revolved around building a presence on the defensive line and they will be tough to beat if they continue to control the line of scrimmage as they did against the Steelers.
Pittsburgh Steelers – Three Things of Note
1) Ziggy Making Plays
After grading as one of our worst 3-4 defensive ends the last two years, Steelers fans have to be wondering if they will ever get any production out of former first round pick Ziggy Hood. The Steelers have been unable to replace the strong play of oft-injured and now retired DE Aaron Smith whom Hood has replaced. Perhaps just as pressing is the other side where DE Brett Keisel nears the end of his career and 2011 first round pick Cameron Heyward must show that he’s ready to take the reigns as well. For the Steelers to remain as one of the top echelon defenses on a yearly basis, the two former first round picks must start to contribute.
In perhaps a good sign of things to come, Hood looked up to task in this game. He picked up two stops in the running game while also picking up a hit on Ryan Fitzpatrick via a stunt. Hood continued to make an impact by batting a pass at the line and he later recovered a CJ Spiller fumble that led to Pittsburgh’s first touchdown. The Steelers don’t need Hood to fill up the stat sheet on a weekly basis, but stout play against the run and occasional impact as a pass rusher should suffice.
2) Stalled Out Running Game
With Steelers starting running back Rashard Mendenhall sidelined indefinitely, Isaac Redman assumes the starting role going into the season. There was not much room to run in this game as Redman and the other Steelers running backs were constantly faced with penetration from the Bills’ defensive front. Redman’s best run was a 14-yard burst, though the hole was created by a Maurkice Pouncey hold that negated the play. Redman finished the day with 24 yards on 12 carries.
Running back Jonathan Dwyer didn’t fare much better during his runs with the first team and he finished with only one yard on five carries, though he did contribute 48 yards through the air. The Steelers were unable to move the line of scrimmage and the loss of DeCastro will put even more pressure on the offensive line moving forward.
3) Who’s Replacing James Harrison?
With Pro Bowl LB James Harrison still on the PUP list, second year LB Chris Carter has assumed his spot at ROLB. Carter played only 46 snaps as a rookie, so this preseason is an important chance for him to develop into Harrison’s short term replacement and eventual successor. He was unimpressive in this game as he pressured the quarterback on two of his 16 pass rushes, but neither was a particularly dominating. He picked up a sack, though it had more to do with Fitzpatrick walking into it after feeling phantom pressure. Carter later tallied a hit on Fitzpatrick after beating a Fred Jackson block. In the running game, Carter was handled fairly easily by tight end Scott Chandler who is not exactly a mauler in his own right. On one particular play, Carter lost the edge, but was lucky to have his teammates swoop in to make the play.
There’s no doubt that Harrison’s are difficult shoes to fill considering he’s one of the best all around defenders in the league. While Carter did make some plays against the second unit in the second half, this was not the kind of performance that should instill confidence in Steelers fans while Harrison is injured.
Buffalo Bills – Three Things of Note
1) The Williams’s Working Together
One of the biggest free agent signings of the offseason was Mario Williams coming to Buffalo to give the Bills a fearsome looking front four. Perhaps just as important is defensive tackle Kyle Williams coming off an injury-plagued season after showing dominance in 2010. When healthy, Kyle is one of the best penetrating DT’s in the league and he paired with Mario to show what they’re capable of in 2012. Here at PFF, we often cite the overrated nature of the “sack” stat, and there may be no better indicator than Mario’s two sacks in this game.
With 14:29 to go in the first quarter, the Steelers faced a 3rd-and-10 with Roethlisberger in the shotgun. At the snap, Kyle was too quick for left guard Willie Colon as he shot into the backfield almost immediately, forcing Roethlisberger to step up into the pocket. At left end, Mario was left with RB Isaac Redman blocking him on his way out into a pass pattern. Right as Redman released his block, Roethlisberger climbed the pocket, and the result was an easy sack for the Mario.
It was a similar story with 4:24 to go in the second quarter as the Steelers faced 2nd-and-11 and Kyle once again dominated Colon right off the snap. This time it was the bullrush, as Colon was pushed right into Roethlisberger who stepped up to avoid the pressure. Mario was being handled easily by a double team by RT Marcus Gilbert and Redman before peeling off to sack the scrambling Roethlisberger.
As is often the case, it’s easy to look at the boxscore and see the two sacks for Mario and cite his impact as a pass rusher, but it was Kyle’s domination that made both plays happen.
2) Active Linebackers
As last season progressed, the Bills saw increased production from their linebacking corps, particularly Nick Barnett and Kelvin Sheppard. It looks like it could now become a position of strength this season. Barnett and Sheppard were all over the field making plays, particularly against the run. They will certainly benefit from the improved defensive front, and we may see the Bills move away from last year’s reliance on their dime package.
While there was solid play in the running game, the linebackers did give up some plays in coverage. LB Arthur Moats is battling for the job on the strong side and he was beaten by TE Heath Miller for a first down deep in Buffalo territory. One of the biggest plays of the first half came on 3rd-and-9 from the Steelers 3-yard line as Barnett got beat on a wheel route by RB Jonathan Dwyer for 33 yards to prolong the eventual touchdown drive.
The Bills only played their base defense 28% of the time last season (30th in the league), but it looks like the linebackers will have more responsibility here in 2012.
3) Glenn Impressing at Left Tackle
As was mentioned in our 2nd Round Reviews, Cordy Glenn should be a nice addition to last year’s surprisingly solid offensive line. As a matter of fact he has already been named the Bills starting left tackle. Glenn was perfect in pass protection in this game, though he is by no means a perfect pass protector. He did get beat on the speed rush a couple times, but he was able to recover the block to push the rusher beyond the pocket. There were no charged pressures, but Glenn may struggle against the elite speed rushers in the game.
As a run blocker, Glenn cleared out DE Brett Keisel on one play that sprung RB Fred Jackson for an eight yard gain. The only blip was missing a reach block on Keisel on the backside of a run that led to a tackle, but Glenn has continued to show that he will likely be a steady presence for the Bills as a rookie.