On Saturday night the Pittsburgh Steelers will host the Buffalo Bills in a preseason game. The Bills are 1-1 this preseason after losing to the New York Giants in the Hall of Fame Game and then beating the Carolina Panthers. The Steelers lost to the Giants in their first preseason game. In anticipation of their matchup, the Steelers and Bills are holding joint practices on Wednesday and Thursday.
In 2013, the Steelers’ defense ranked ninth in passing (222.1 YPG) and 21st in rushing (115.6 YPG). On offense they ranked 12th in passing (251.1 YPG) and 28th in rushing (86.4 YPG). Failing to stop teams from running the ball or being able to effectively run the ball themselves is not Steelers football. The Steelers need to improve in both areas in 2014. The Steelers are younger, particularly on defense this year — eight projected starters are 27 years old or younger. On defense, rookie Ryan Shazier has already been named a starter at linebacker alongside Lawrence Timmons. DE Stephon Tuitt, who the Steelers selected in the second round of this year’s draft, will probably crack the starting lineup. To help QB Ben Roethlisberger and the rest of the offense, the Steelers drafted WR Martavis Bryant out of Clemson. Bryant has the big play making ability and can stretch the field. Bryant did have some miscues in the game against the Giants. He muffed a punt return but then fell on it. He also lost a fumble after making a 14-yard reception in Giants territory. Even with those miscues, Bryant could make an immediate impact in Pittsburgh. He has size (6-foot-4, 210 pounds) that the Steelers are lacking. It will be interesting to see if Bryant can eliminate the miscues in the Steelers’ second preseason game and become a great target for Big Ben. The Steelers also drafted RB Dri Archer (two receptions, 50 yards against the Giants) this year and signed free agent RB LeGarrette Blount. Those signings may help the Steelers improve their running game this season.
In 2013, the Bills’ defense ranked fourth in passing (204.4 YPG) and 28th in rushing (128.9 YPG). Their offense ranked 28th in passing (193.9 YPG) and second in rushing (144.2 YPG). The Bills’ biggest acquisition this offseason was when they traded up in the draft to select WR Sammy Watkins out of Clemson with the fourth overall pick. Watkins hasn’t exactly been electrifying so far in two preseason games (three receptions for 21 yards in two games), but he’s been as good as advertised in practice, helping QB EJ Manuel who needs to have a good second season. It will be fun to see what kind of numbers Watkins puts up in his (most likely) very limited time against the Steelers, but even if he doesn’t do anything special, remember it is just the preseason. Watkins will be a special player in the NFL, even with Manuel throwing to him (for at least this season).
In the end the score doesn’t matter because it’s the preseason, but showing progress is important. This is true of all teams at this point, but the Bills really need to start to see some more consistency out of Manuel or they’re going nowhere this season. Bills fans also would love to see something special out of Watkins. Fans in Buffalo can rest easy because even if it doesn’t happen against the Steelers or in the preseason at all, Watkins will prove he was worth the price the Bills paid to get him.
That being said, while Watkins will be electric, the Bills have virtually no hope of making the playoffs this season. The Steelers, however, could possibly win the AFC North, and if they don’t, look for them to be one of the Wild Cards out of the AFC.