Saturday, August 25, 2012
Observation deck: Steelers-Bills
By Jamison Hensley
Ben Roethlisberger looked like his old self for the first time this preseason in the Steelers' 38-7 victory over the Buffalo Bills.
It took until the third game of the preseason for it to happen. It also took the Steelers getting backed up to their end zone with under two minutes left in the first half.
Not sure whether he suddenly felt comfortable in Todd Haley's new offense or he just got ticked off after getting penalized for 12 men in the huddle, but Roethlisberger marched Pittsburgh down the field on an 11-play, 98-yard drive that he capped with a six-yard touchdown pass to Antonio Brown. He completed seven of eight passes for 92 yards on that drive.
For most of the preseason, it's been a conservative passing attack for Roethlisberger. Even his longest pass of the preseason -- a 57-yard touchdown to Brown -- was the result of a long run after a short throw.
In Buffalo, after a sluggish start that featured four dropped passes, the key play was Roethlisberger throwing a deep back-shoulder toss to running back Jonathan Dwyer for 33 yards to convert a third-and-9. He then finished off the marathon drive by hitting Brown with 13 seconds remaining in the first half.
Here are some other thoughts from the Steelers' third preseason game:
- Head coach Mike Tomlin called the injury to the right knee of right guard David DeCastro "potentially severe" after the game. He is scheduled for an MRI on Sunday. DeCastro was carted off early in the first quarter after right tackle Marcus Gilbert fell on the leg of the Steelers' first-round pick. Ramon Foster is adequate if you need him to fill in, but he is a marginal starter over an entire season. That's why the Steelers used the 24th overall pick on DeCastro.
- The other injury concern is defensive end Brett Keisel, who has a mild high-ankle sprain, according to Tomlin. He is expected to be ready for the season opener. The Steelers have less of a worry at this spot because they have a solid replacement in Cameron Heyward, a 2011 first-round pick.
- Other than that long pass to Dwyer, Roethlisberger didn't really try to stretch the field. He went deep one other time, but Emmanuel Sanders dropped the throw down the right sideline. Mike Wallace is reportedly ending his holdout Sunday.
- Outside of that final drive in the first half, the Steelers offensive line had problems moving a physical Buffalo defensive front. Foster and left guard Willie Colon got pushed back in pass protection, and there were few running lanes for Isaac Redman (24 yards on 12 carries). On one play, center Maurkice Pouncey got called for holding after he grabbed the left leg of Kyle Williams. Even on Redman's touchdown run, he had to push back two Bills defenders who met him in the hole.
- Forcing turnovers has been a priority for the Steelers, who finished last in the NFL last season with 15 takeaways. Pittsburgh came away with three turnovers against the Bills, forcing a fumble and intercepting Bills backup quarterback Vince Young twice. The Steelers converted touchdowns off all three turnovers.
- Brown remains the focal point of the Steelers' passing attack, especially with the absence of Wallace. He caught seven passes for 108 yards and two touchdowns, including a 39-yard touchdown from Byron Leftwich. But Brown should've had better numbers than that. He dropped two passes from Roethlisberger early in the game.
- The Steelers have to figure out a way to set the edge better in the run game. Bills running back Fred Jackson gained most of his yards by breaking to the outside. He made safety Troy Polamalu look bad in the open field on a 15-yard run. Polamalu, though, rebounded to strip the ball away from Shawn Nelson in the end zone and intercepted Young early in the third quarter.
- With James Harrison still out, it was expected that LaMarr Woodley would be the key to the pass rush. On Saturday night, Woodley was more of a presence in pass coverage. He should've intercepted a deflected pass in the first quarter (he dropped it after Bills receiver collided into him) and he later got his hand on a pass while dropping back.
- The Steelers backup quarterbacks are making this a tough decision for the coaching staff, although I still see them giving the job to Leftwich. Last week, Charlie Batch was the first to replace Roethlisberger and he completed seven of 10 passes for 84 yards. On Saturday night, Leftwich took over for Roethlisberger and finished 5 of 8 for 105 yards and two touchdowns.