Do you realize what this loss to Pittsburgh means

Just what are the expectations for preseason games? They don't count in the standings, yet when the Bills loses, the fans get upset. People should watch a preseason game and judge how individuals perform, while forgetting about the team and the game's outcome. It's all about individual performance, especially considering the Bills used limited numbers of defensive stunts and blitzes and offensive plays.

So Buffalo lost 20-0 to the Steelers at Pittsburgh's Heinz Field Thursday night. So what? Rob Johnson showed evidence that he's trying to get the ball off quicker. Rookie left end Aaron Schobel showed that he can be a consistent presence in an offensive backfield. Kwame Cavil, battling for a fifth wide receiver spot, showed his hands are questionable. Left end Bryce Fisher showed he can be a great addition to the line's rotation when the season opens. The special teams showed that despite a new coach and two good performances vs. the Eagles and Bengals, they're still susceptible to mistakes. And kicker Steve Christie showed there are still problems with the field goal kicking unit.

Johnson intangibles improve

Johnson started, played two series, and was two for four with one interception. He was sacked twice. Cruddy numbers certainly. But I thought he made a better attempt at throwing to spots - as Alex Van Pelt does - than to open receivers. He got the ball out fast in a nine-yard out to Eric Moulds for a first down to the Buffalo 47. As Moulds made his cut, the ball was right there. On the initial play of the Bills' first offensive series, he threw a quick pass to Larry Centers, running a curl out of the backfield, which the back took for 14 yards. These are things Johnson must do in the Mike Sheppard offense.

Johnson also fumbled an exchange between him and Billy Conaty. That went for an incomplete pass. And he was sacked for an eight-yard loss, in which he held the ball too long, and a six-yard loss, which he could do nothing about - linebacker Jason Gildon blitzed, with Travis Henry trying to block to no avail. Gildon flicked him aside and made the tackle on Johnson.

In all, Johnson showed signs that he's learning to throw quicker.

Special teams break down

Brian Moorman's second quarter punt from the Buffalo 46 was a woeful 32 yards. It had no hang time. Consequently, the coverage team wasn't aptly set up and Steelers returner Troy Edwards took it down the left sideline for a 78-yard touchdown return and a 13-0 lead. Kenyatta Wright and Jay Foreman had the best shots at Edwards, but couldn't make the tackle.

Moorman had been impressive in the last two preseason games. His net average for this game was 37.8 yards and because of the touchdown return, the Bills gave up an average of 19.4 yards. Moorman also had an inexcusable touchback. His did have three punts inside the 20 and kicked a long of 51 yards.

And what about Steve Christie? He missed two field goals. His 22-yards hit the right upright and his 40-yarder was wide right. Christie has been brutal this preseason. And since he's not kicking off, field goals are the only things the veteran is being asked to do. But he's not doing it.

Complications with having a new long snapper (Dan O'Leary) and holder (Jay Riemersma) are thought to be the blame. But give me a break. Christie was a free agent this off-season; if he went somewhere else, he would have had to have a whole new setup anyway. Field goal kickers bounce from team to team and the mechanical setup of the play is often never discussed. There are always new snappers and holders.

Christie must work this out - whether it's the snapper, holder, or his approach is too quick. But Buffalo won't wait for long to try other people if it loses some close games on account of him.

Third down defense not good in first half

With the first- and second-team defense playing the first two quarters, Pittsburgh was four for 10 on third downs. Kordell Stewart hit Brian Shaw for a 36-yard gain on a long post route down the middle of the field during a third and six from the Pittsburgh 27. On a third and eight from the Buffalo 35, Stewart found Marke Bruener for a 10-yard gain that Cowart stopped. Cowart should have had him behind the marker, but Bruener slipped it and fell forward for the first down. Five plays later, Pittsburgh had a third and 2 from the Buffalo 3 but Stewart skyrocketed a ball intended for wide receiver Plaxico Burress. That led to a 3-0 Pittsburgh lead. On the Steelers' second series, which the second-team line did not play, they converted a third and nine and a third and three for first downs.

I suspect the nickel and dime coverage will improve once the team blitzes and brings pressure. Buffalo has not done much of that in the preseason.

Schobel noble

Rookie right end Aaron Schobel, playing with the second teamers, was all around the ball. He finished with two sacks and four tackles. He consistently used his speed to get around the Steelers backup left tackles. On one running play the ballcarrier went past him, but after he made his cut, Schobel ran to him and made the tackle for a minimal game. It looks like the rookie is feeling more comfortable and will be a valuable rotator in the Bills defensive line system. Left end Bryce Fisher, under tackle Leif Larsen and strongside linebacker DaShon Polk also recorded sacks with the second team.

Running backs not as good

Buffalo rushed for 89 yards, with third-stringer Curtis Alexander leading with 47 yards on 10 carries. Alexander may have played himself onto the team because he seems to be a crafty runner who doesn't need much to gain yardage. Rookie starter Travis Henry had two good runs of four yards and nine yards. He's not a great pass blocker when he stays in.  Sammy Morris had two runs for two yards and left the game with a sprained ankle. Shawn Bryson had six runs for six yards. Why is it these two players seem to average a yard apiece when they run and Henry and Alexander average multi-yard numbers? That cannot bode well for either of them.

T. Brown debuts

New third-string quarterback Travis Brown made his Buffalo debut. He started out well, but fizzled later on. His third and 10 pass from the Buffalo 19 with five minutes and 11 seconds left was intercepted by Hank Poteat. It led to an eight-yard Tee Martin touchdown pass for a 20-0 lead. Brown was 11 for 22 for 85 yards. He was sacked twice and had happy feet on occasion when things weren't open. Brown did release the ball quickly and undoubtedly knows the offense far better than Pete Gonzalez or Jack Hawley demonstrated - probably because he spent time with offensive coordinator Mike Sheppard in Seattle.


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