Buffalo Bills (0-1) at Pittsburgh Steelers (1-0)
September 16, 2007 @ Heinz Field
1:00 PM ET, CBS
Coming off of a devastating loss in their home and season opener, the Buffalo Bills travel to Pittsburgh this weekend with heavy hearts as they deal with the loss of teammate Kevin Everett. The Steelers, meanwhile, are coming off of a dominating 34-7 victory over the Cleveland Browns and will look to put on an equally impressive show in head coach Mike Tomlin's debut in front of the Steelers' home crowd.
Despite the long odds that the Bills face this Sunday, the team still has a good chance to surprise a lot of people by making this a very competitive game. Not counting the emotion the Bills will be playing with in light of their fallen teammate, the Bills happen to have some weapons that can hurt the Steelers - in all phases of the game. A strong, competitive performance this weekend - win or lose - would be yet another confidence boost for the young Bills, not to mention a display of this team's true character. If the team is able to do the following three things, they'll give the Steelers a run for their money:
Offense: Keep Losman Upright
First thing's first: the Steelers have a great run defense. It is going to be very hard for the Bills to get any sort of consistency going in the run game, although Marshawn Lynch is good enough to do a little bit on his own. This Sunday is about the passing attack - specifically, whether or not J.P. Losman can make plays down the field, underneath and with his feet to score points and keep the chains moving.
But even that isn't simple. The Steelers have one of the most creative and lethal blitz packages in the league; with the Bills' offensive line making just their second start together, a defense this unique is cause for concern. The Bills need to control time of possession in this game; effective blitz nullifies drives. It will be essential for Losman to make smart pre-snap reads, align his blockers correctly and be on the same page with his receivers, specifically knowing where his hot routes are. If this offense is prepared to do that, they have the weapons to make the Steelers pay. Roscoe Parrish is particularly dangerous in blitz situations.
Expect the Bills to use a lot of two-back sets with both Lynch and Anthony Thomas in there; Lynch is a great receiver out of the backfield that can hurt the Steelers up the seam, while Thomas is the team's best option at running back in terms of blitz pickup. Robert Royal could see time in the backfield as well as a blitz pickup guy.
Players to Watch: QB J.P. Losman, RB Marshawn Lynch, WR Roscoe Parrish
Defense: Keep Holmes, Miller in Check
It's rare to see a defense give up nearly 500 yards of total offense, but surrender just 15 points and nearly pull out a win. That's exactly what the Bills did to the Broncos last week, and the team needs a repeat performance (scoreboard-wise) this week to have a shot in Pittsburgh. With a more explosive back, a more explosive deep threat and a more experienced quarterback, that just may be difficult to come by.
Six key defenders (DE Ryan Denney, DE Anthony Hargrove, S Ko Simpson, CB Jason Webster, LB Keith Ellison, LB Coy Wire) will miss this one, leaving the Bills' defensive depth highly compromised. It would therefore be incredibly naive to think that the team has a shot at containing Willie Parker or Hines Ward - two veterans who are sure to pick up their share of yards. The keys to this game are Santonio Holmes and Heath Miller.
Both Holmes and Miller are guys who stretch defenses. Holmes is developing into a lethal deep threat, while Miller is a favorite target of Roethlisberger's and is a potentially devastating target against the Bills' depleted safety depth. The Bills simply cannot allow these two to make big plays. Expect the Bills to scheme so that Donte Whitner eliminates Miller's plays up the seam, and expect Jim Leonhard to play deep and keep Holmes in front of him the whole game. Keep those players off the scoreboard, yield the yards to Parker and Ward and you give yourself the best chance to win. Let Holmes and Miller become factors, and watch the Steelers' point ticker blur as they rack up TD after TD.
Players to Watch: DT John McCargo, MLB Paul Posluszny, S Donte Whitner
Special Teams: Flip The Field
Field position is critical in any NFL game. For the Bills, it's essential this weekend - if the team can't make the Steelers earn their yards/points and get big plays to create easier yards/points for themselves, they don't have a shot at winning this game.
Terrence McGee and Roscoe Parrish must play well in the return games to give the offense the best field position possible. Punter Brian Moorman must be consistent on his kicks, pin the Steelers deep and let his coverage units do the work. Perhaps most importantly, however, is penalties - these three guys are more than likely going to make plays like they did last week, but the team absolutely cannot have those plays nullified by penalties (I'm speaking to you, Josh Scobey). Play smart in this department, and the Bills have a clear and definitive advantage. Play young in this department, and the third phase won't be enough of an advantage for the Bills to sneak out a win tomorrow.
Players to Watch: KR Terrence McGee, PR Roscoe Parrish, P Brian Moorman