BBD Assistant Editor: Joe Marino
The Buffalo Bills fell to 1-2 in the preseason after dropping Saturday night’s contest against the Pittsburgh Steelers by a score of 19-16. A lack of sound situational football, particularly on offense, kept the Bills from winning despite some positive play from their defense. The Bills only punted twice in 13 offensive series, while they controlled the ball for more than 35 minutes and ran 35 more plays on offense, but they only scored one touchdown.
The biggest positive of the game for the Bills came in escaping with no major injuries, including No. 4 overall pick Sammy Watkins, who left the game in the first quarter with a rib injury but was reported to be “fine” by NFL Media’s Ian Rapoport.
Quarterbacks: Decent night for Manuel, bad game for backups
EJ Manuel and the starting Bills offense have had a hard time finishing drives and have yet to score a touchdown through three preseason games.
On Saturday, Manuel had a few poor throws but was able to deliver accurate footballs with anticipation to Robert Woods on two occasions to convert third downs. They have an apparent chemistry and Woods firmly belongs as one of the Bills’ top three options at receiver. Manuel checked the ball down a bit more tonight than he did last week against the Carolina Panthers, but that was more dictated by the defense and was a sign of maturity on Manuel’s behalf.
He is clearly the most comfortable quarterback on the Bills offense, which has moved the ball consistently with its first-team unit despite the lack of scoring production this preseason. Altogether, Manuel completed 17 of 27 passing attempts for 148 yards with one interception.
Behind Manuel, Thad Lewis was erratic with his passes Saturday while Jeff Tuel showed poor arm strength and pocket presence. The Bills not only need Manuel to take a major step forward but based upon the play of his backups, they need him to play every offensive snap this season. The Bills cannot be feeling confident in the backup quarterback situation right now.
Marrone on if he’s satisfied with #Bills backup QB play: “No”
— Buffalo Bills (@buffalobills) August 17, 2014
Defensive line depth
The Bills’ starting defensive line is among the best in the league but it’s their backups who have continued to impress this preseason, particularly defensive tackles Stefan Charles and Landen Cohen on Saturday.
Charles was credited with two sacks and was again a disruptive, penetrating force. Cohen continued to show quickness off the ball and was active on the other side of the line of scrimmage. The emergence of those two players has left Alan Branch’s roster spot in jeopardy, as he did not enter the game until about halfway through the fourth quarter. The Bills defense held the Steelers to just 254 total yards, including just 35 rushing yards on 18 rushing attempts.
Carpenter kicks off
With Dustin Hopkins out due to a groin injury, Dan Carpenter handled the kickoff duties and boomed all five of his kicks into the end zone, four of which resulted in touchbacks. If Carpenter can consistently do that, there is no need for the Bills to keep two kickers, so they should keep another position player.
Ups and downs for offensive line
There were some mixed performances from this group on Saturday night, but let’s start with some positives. Seventh-round pick Seantrel Henderson continued to hold his own as the team’s starting left tackle. The Bills ran the ball for 150 yards as a team and running lanes were consistently open. Fifth-round pick Cyril Richardson continued to impress as he fights for a starting job at guard. He opened running lanes, sustained blocks and actually performed better as a pass blocker against Pittsburgh.
Two Bills who struggled Saturday were Doug Legursky, last year’s starting left guard, and Cyrus Kouandjio, their second-round pick and backup right tackle.
On a key 3rd-and-1 situation, Legursky allowed so much penetration that his opponent made a tackle for loss from the backside on an outside run the opposite direction. Legursky continues to show that he cannot create movement or anchor well enough to be relied upon.
Kouandjio performed better until he gave up a strip sack to Steelers rookie pass-rusher Howard Jones late in the game that resulted in a turnover and ultimately set up a game-winning chip shot field goal for the Steelers. Kouandjio is nowhere near ready to contribute on Sundays as an offensive tackle.
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and wide receiver Antonio Brown hooked up for some impressive plays, including a 76-yard touchdown and another long third-down conversion, but two young players on defense who really impressed were rookie linebacker Ryan Shazier and second-year safety Shamarko Thomas.
Shazier was simply everywhere Saturday night as he racked up 11 tackles in the first half alone. He was closing fast on run plays, made a tackle on special teams and provided tight coverage while intercepting a pass and breaking up another. He looks like he will be a major factor on the Steelers defense for a long time to come.
Thomas also looked great. He closed in a hurry and made some impressive tackles in the boundary to prevent big gains against the Bills starting offense.
Tags: Alan Branch, Antonio Brown, Ben Roethlisberger, Buffalo Bills, Cyril Richardson, Cyrus Kouandjio, Dan Carpenter, Doug Legursky, Dustin Hopkins, EJ Manuel, Jeff Tuel, Landon Cohen, Pittsburgh Steelers, Ryan Shazier, Seantrel Henderson, Shamarko Thomas, Stefan Charles, Thad Lewis