Orchard Park, NY (WGR 550) -- The score of the most recent preseason contest for the Buffalo Bills begs one question:
Even though they got blown out, can you still consider that game a step forward? It's the question I asked every player I spoke with in the locker room after the game, and all came to the same conclusion.
It's not the shellacking that took place in the second half, it's the first half performances (outside of the debacle at the end of the first half) that resonate for me.
Let's begin there:
- I came in to the game thinking the Bills needed a few different things to consider it a step in the right direction, and all of them happened. The first was the offense putting together a solid drive that ended with the goal line offense finishing it for a touchdown. It wasn't a drive of the 80-yard variety, but their five-play, 49-yard drive saw Fred Jackson bust loose for the first time this preseason, David Nelson be in sync with Ryan Fitzpatrick on a 25-yard gain, and Jackson topping it off with a second-effort scamper in to the end zone. The second thing I wanted to see was a moment of clarity for Mario Williams and the defensive line. Williams had two sacks, but they were byproducts of the line's work as a full unit. They looked dominant right up until the final Pittsburgh drive of the first half. Lastly, the offensive line took a step together as a unit. Fred Jackson had a 4.9 rushing average on seven carries with the first unit in the game. All in all, it was step forward, until….
- The most polarizing series of plays of the game, of course. Brian Moorman pins the Steelers back on the two-yard line. The Bills defensive line stuffs the run play on consecutive plays, with an illegal substitution penalty sandwiched in between. It seemed like the Steelers were rattled. Then with one play, the rattling turned toward the home side. On 3rd-and-9, Ben Roethlisberger sat in the pocket all day on a failed stunt attempt by the vaunted defensive line, and delivered a back shoulder throw to running back Jonathan Dwyer for a 33-yard gain. And away they went. Nick Barnett seemed to be in the right spot in coverage, but that play is on the defensive line to not give Roethlisberger five seconds to see the whole field. That will be the result almost every single time. The drive went an extra eight-plays and resulted in a touchdown. It's simple for the defense: finish out the half. That was the end of their night, and it was a sour taste in their mouths. We'll see if they learned from it when the first regular season game rolls around.
- While I'm on the sidelines, I jot down brief notes as the game goes along so I can actually come back and write these fun little post-game reaction columns. On four separate occasions, these statements are what I wrote down when it came to Kyle Williams:
(In an effort to save time, I use numbers rather than full names)
1) 95 imposes will on run play.
2) 95 first off the line every time.
3) 95 is just ridiculous.
4) 95 almost stole the hand-off.
I think it's safe to say Kyle Williams had a pretty swell night. He was constantly in the backfield, and for the second straight week he and Marcell Dareus were the class of the Bills' defensive line. If he's not 100-percent, he's certainly doing a fantastic job of masking it. Williams looks like he's back, and what a gain that is for the Bills defense.
- While Ryan Fitzpatrick had his moments throughout the game, he struggled late in the first half in a couple of different ways. On two separate plays within close proximity, he and Stevie Johnson were just on the wrong page and the pass ended up nowhere near the wideout's catching radius. They were talking extensively during the second half, and I'm sure that was a part of the conversation. Fitzpatrick also struggled once again with throws to his left side -- the bugaboo that quarterbacks coach David Lee diagnosed early on in to his hiring. It might be a bit too late to commit the proper lower-body mechanics to muscle memory. Granted, Fitzpatrick didn't have a ton of time, but there were a couple of throws to that side that just didn't come close. Like I said, some of his throws over the middle were on point and it looked the Fitzpatrick of early last season. But on Saturday night, some good came with some bad.
- Leodis McKelvin looked great all night long. He's really embracing his role as the nickel cornerback, and has left head coach Chan Gailey very, very impressed with his abilities in that role. He was a strong one-on-one tackler against Pittsburgh, he had his man in coverage for most the night and stood out as a return man in special teams as well. McKelvin is here to stay, and may just be a very important piece to this Bills team in 2012.
- It was a so-so game for Stephon Gilmore. I liked his feistiness early on, mixing it up with Heath Miller like he does with all his assignments. But there were a couple of plays that bothered me -- and it's to be expected as you go through the pangs of starting a rookie cornerback. The first was less obvious when the ball went to a running back on a passing play. Gilmore, playing in zone coverage, came up to make the tackle. He was the only defender in that area, and rather than go for the sure-fire wrap-up tackle, Gilmore went for the big shoulder hit. The runner bounced off the contact and extended the play enough for a first down. The more obvious blunder? Going for the interception at the end of the first half and whiffing on the ball. If you're going to try and make that play you have to at least get a piece of the ball. It was an aggressive move, and one he may learn from.
- If there was any further questions about whether or not Brian Moorman would win the punting job, they got snuffed out on Saturday. Moorman was just incredible all night long. He pinned the Steelers deep throughout the game. Actually, Bruce DeHaven has to be a very happy man with the way special teams performed against Pittsburgh. They've been very good for a lot of the preseason.
- Prince Miller's jock strap is deeply embedded in the turf of Ralph Wilson Stadium after the way Chris Rainey embarrassed him with his cut up the field. Goodness, gracious can that kid move. I flashed back to nightmares of him when he was with the University of Florida. Just an explosive player.
- I think it's very notable that Naaman Roosevelt had only one snap with the second-team offense against the Steelers. And that one snap came when it was a four-wide receiver set and Brad Smith got nicked up the play before so he had to sit out. It just goes to show the pecking order, and Roosevelt seems to be behind both Ruvell Martin and David Clowney. Not a great omen with cut-down day less than a week away.
- Nothing like watching Vince Young all but take the backup job last week, only to see him relinquish some of that lead in the team's third preseason game, right? Lucky enough for him, I still think the Bills believe that competition is over. But man, was he bad against the Steelers. His first interception came when he threw it against his body and across the field -- two big no-no's for the quarterback position. The second one was a play that needed a ton of velocity to be completed, and instead Young just kind of lofted it in there. A definite step back for him, but like I said, I still think the job is his.
- A few quick hits: Rookie Ron Brooks really needs to quit it with this face-guarding stuff, it's bad technique and something that needs to be left in college. Tashard Choice ran strongly all night and made a statement to the coaching staff in my opinion. Terrence McGee is still a way's away. He just doesn't have the speed and explosion back yet. Delano Howell was yet again solid in run support. John Potter is now 8-for-8 on kickoffs. Yeah, he's making this team.