Heading into their fourth pre-season game of the year, the Buffalo Bills are hoping to rebound from a lackluster performance in Green Bay. They'll get that opportunity this evening when they travel to Pittsburgh to take on the defending world champion Steelers. While the offense, more than any other unit, is looking for a confidence boost, the team as a whole could use a strong performance as the regular season swiftly approaches.
While perhaps the most fascinating Bill of the day, OT Demetrius Bell, will miss the game with a back injury (with RB Fred Jackson (wrist), WR Terrell Owens (toe) and DE Aaron Schobel (elbow) joining him), there is, as always, plenty worth monitoring tonight. As usual, we've got five such subjects for your pre-game perusal after the jump.
Offense looking to... well, score
Nine drives, three points. That's all that Buffalo's first-team offense has been able to muster through three pre-season games, much to the chagrin of critics and the majority of the fan base. Yet largely this same offense, led by QB Trent Edwards, handled the blitz-happy Steelers with ease during the 2008 pre-season. A repeat of that performance would go a long way toward restoring some confidence in an attack that could use every advantage it can muster.
In particular for Edwards, but obviously for the offense as a whole, a strong showing - and perhaps a touchdown - would be a welcome relief.
How will Walker respond?
The big news Friday was an ESPN.com report citing team sources indicating that at least part of the Bills' coaching staff would rather start the aforementioned Bell at left tackle in lieu of veteran Langston Walker, who was tabbed in late April as the replacement for traded two-time Pro Bowl LT Jason Peters. Walker's play has been steady to this point in the pre-season, but concerns remain over the 6'8", 366-pound Walker's ability to adequately protect the blind side of Edwards, who has struggled to avoid injuries.
Bell, as also mentioned, is injured, and will not play tonight. Despite the report, it remains unlikely (though clearly not impossible) that Walker will find himself anywhere other than at left tackle when the season opens. Still, as disconcerting as the report was, Walker now has more to prove than simply whether or not he's capable of manning what is commonly regarded as the most important position on the offensive line. Now, he's got competition to stave off as well.
There are several position battles that, based on how battle participants fare tonight and in the pre-season finale, will undoubtedly help shape up the final roster. We discussed those battles earlier this week at the link provided, so I won't bore you with a recap; of particular interest to me tonight, however, are the battles taking place at tight end, linebacker and defensive end (which we'll explore more in-depth momentarily).
Veterans with something to prove
Speaking of items we've already discussed, we also spent some time earlier this week poring over the names of several veterans clinging perhaps in vain to their jobs. Many of these players fit snugly into the aforementioned position battles. Still, the pressure is on for players like Ryan Denney, Copeland Bryan, Pat Thomas, Ashton Youboty, and now Walker, to perform. It's crunch time - and if the Bell reports are accurate, how gutsy will the coaching staff be at other areas of the roster? Is it safe to assume that any job is safe? These guys can't play poorly if they don't want to find out the hard way.
Maybin makes his debut
Perhaps the only thing that everyone can get excited about heading into tonight's game is the NFL debut of No. 11 overall pick DE Aaron Maybin, who has a week of practice under his belt after ending his holdout a week ago yesterday. With Schobel sidelined with an elbow injury, there's a chance that Maybin could see reps with the first-unit defense - and he'll definitely see reps with the second unit. The pass rush on the whole needs to perform better; we'll get our first glimpse tonight if Maybin has what it takes to provide the shot in the arm the pass rush needs.