ReFo: Bills @ Steelers, Preseason Week 2
In a preseason filled with half-empty stadiums and uninteresting games, the Bills and Steelers treated fans to early fireworks leading to a last-second finish. Starters saw the field for nearly the entire first half, with Pittsburgh coming out on with the victory on a field goal as time expired. Granted, the 16-13 affair wasn’t particularly exciting throughout, including 18 total penalties.
But surely more important than the final score is how the individuals looked, as players battled for roster spots and starting jobs. Several young players shined, while others faltered, and the veterans, like Troy Polamalu (-1.4) and Mario Williams (-2.2) appeared ready for the preseason to end already.
Let’s take a look at some of the other notable performances.
Buffalo – Three Performances of Note
Options at Tackle
With starter Cordy Glenn out for the time being, the Bills have gotten an extended look at rookie LT Seantrel Henderson (+2.2) this preseason. Through three games, he appears to be a viable backup at the very least, with his play against the Steelers suggesting he could be even more. Henderson didn’t allow any pressure in his 29 snaps in pass protection, while he got the better of Cameron Heyward on multiple occasions in the running game. It wouldn’t be a rookie performance, however without the false start, the first penalty of his NFL career. He also showed poor effort on a screen, allowing Heyward to tackle the ball carrier for a loss.
Manuel Does Little to Impress
Like Henderson, E.J. Manuel has been on the field a lot this preseason, including 47 snaps against he Steelers. Unfortunately, the second-year QB did little to stand out, averaging just 5.5 yards-per-attempt while completing 17-of-27 passing. Several of those 17 completions went for first downs, though Manual canceled out the few good with a forced interception (Q1, 6:10).
Luckily for him – and unluckily for the Bills — neither Thaddius Lewis (-1.8) nor Jeff Tuel (–2.8) have looked to be anywhere close to being legitimate alternatives as the two continued their dismal preseasons. Lewis had as many interceptions as completions (1), while Tuel threw a would-be interception of his own, saved by the stone hands of Brice McCain on the play, and fumbled the ball with 31 seconds to go. It’s only the preseason, but it’s looking like quarterback play could hold back a talented Bills roster this year.
UDFA Earns More Snaps
Continuing the theme of highlighting young players, the Bills had to have been pleased with the performance of undrafted rookie CB Sam Miller, who saw 15 snaps in his first NFL game action, all coming in the closely contested fourth quarter. He got off to a rocky start, allowing a first down on the first pass thrown in his direct, But he came back strong on his other targets, as he outdueled fellow rookie Martavis Bryant on a pair of contested passes down the field (Q4, 7:10 and 0:49). On the second of the two, Miller knocked the ball away from Bryant and ultimately into the arms of his teammate, giving Buffalo the ball and a chance to win the game with under a minute left. Based on this performance, Miller should see the field before the fourth quarter in Buffalo’s next game.
Pittsburgh – Three Performances of Note
Passing Game Looks Sharp
A good day for the Pittsburgh starters on offense, as they quickly put 13 points on the board on their two first quarter series (though their lone second quarter drive resulted in a punt). Ben Roethlisberger led the way as he completed 8-of-11 passes for 128 yards. The bulk of that yardage came on his second throw of the game, a 10-yard slant that Antonio Brown turned into a 76 yard score. His second touchdown was perhaps more impressive, as he put a perfectly placed pass into the corner of the end zone for Markus Wheaton.
Credit the offensive line too, as Roethlisberger was pressured just twice in 11 dropbacks. The group didn’t have to pass protect for long periods, however, with the QB getting the ball out of his hands in 1.7 seconds on average.
Shazier’s First Action
Saturday’s game provided our first look at Ryan Shazier, who was exciting, though inconsistent, in his debut. The linebacker was active throughout, logging 10 tackles in 37 snaps and flashing the range and athleticism that made him a high first round pick. The splash play was the interception at 6:10 of the first, as he quickly dropped, turned and ran with Scott Chandler, cutting underneath to snag the pass from Manuel. Chandler got him back later in the game, however, when Shazier over pursued after the tight end caught an out route underneath and allowed him to get the Bills in FG range on a third-and-long. His play against the run was similarly up-and-down, as he took himself out of position on a fullback run that went for eight yards (Q1, 13:05), but followed that play up with a display of his speed to stop a C.J. Spiller carry for a short gain (Q1, 11:40).
While Troy Polamalu didn’t play to his usual standard, another Steeler safety came close, as Shamarko Thomas provided some very Polamalu-like plays in his 34 snaps. The second-year player was strong in run support, coming up to make two tackles for short gain (Q2, 1:27 and Q4, 13:04). He also provided the big play, forcing a fumble by Evan Rodriguez early in the third quarter. Also much like Polamalu, Thomas lined up all over, logging snaps at cornerback, slot cornerback, free and strong safety. For a Pittsburgh defense in need of an infusion of talent and youth, Thomas’s performance should provide some optimism.
–Steeler NT Daniel McCullers had a rough go of things in his second NFL game, which included being sealed twice in the running game and missing a tackle-for-loss when he was left unblocked.
–Like their Buffalo counterparts, the Steeler backup QBs had a night to forget. Landry Jones and Bruce Gradkowski combined to turn the ball over three times and complete only 9-of-18 passes.
–For the most part, rookie tackle Cyrus Kouandjio held up well in his 23 snaps in pass protection. That is until the sack he allowed with 31 seconds led to the fumble that gave Pittsburgh the ball in range for the game winning field goal.
PFF Game Ball
While the young guys get all the preseason hype, let’s recognize a vet who played a large role in limiting Buffalo to just 13 points. Lawrence Timmons’ 37 snaps included a forced cut, two tackles for short gain against the run, and a batted pass.
Follow John on Twitter: @John_Maney