Ball Security. This needs to be Chan Gailey's number one concern in practice this week. Taking care of the ball is not only not fumbling, but it's catching the ball as well. If Buffalo does this well, they win this game, possibly with ease. Fred Jackson is losing the ball at a fairly alarming rate. He's the team's best offensive weapon, he touches the ball a lot, and he needs to do something different to hold onto the ball. Lee Evans was terrible, both dropping balls and his drive-killing fumble. Leodis McKelvin has got to stop carrying the ball away from his body. Add in Stevie Johnson's drops, and you have an area that Gailey and the coaching staff must address, and fast.
Stevie Johnson. I'm not about beating dead horses, so I'll keep this short. Stevie: don't try to be a primadonna receiver. You've had to work too hard to get where you're at. Treat this the same way you treated your demotion earlier in the year. Focus, don't stop working, and get serious.
Run Defense. To be more specific, interior run defense. I think Buffalo did a decent job setting the edge. I also think that certain linemen did very well. Some Buffalo linemen did poorly, and the inside linebackers, particularly the "Mike" inside linebacker, need to do a much better job closing down run lanes. Rashard Mendenhall had too many runs where the first tackler was Donte Whitner. Along with this, the front seven needs to tackle the runner better.
Defensive Player Improvement. As mentioned, I thought certain members of the line did well. Alex Carrington looks like he could be a monster as a five-technique end. He's strong enough to match up with the offensive tackle, and too quick for most guards. Torell Troup was beating blockers and stacking at the point of attack well. While most players can look like an All-Pro against Jonathan Scott, Chris Kelsay continues his strong play. Whitner is fast becoming one of my favorites on the defense. He is consistently hammering ball carriers. Jairus Byrd made a big play. Kyle Williams played as we've come to expect: disruptive. Heck, even Aaron Maybin had a decent quarterback pressure. If these guys can play together better, the makings are there for a good defense.
Offensive Line Play. Ron does a superb job of analyzing this, so I won't go into too much depth in terms of individual play. The unit itself, though, looked very good. I'm starting to wonder if Demetrius Bell is the long term answer at left tackle. He did a good job with James Harrison. Mansfield Wrotto also did a fairly decent job, though as Ron notes, he's a hold machine waiting to happen. The interior was solid, and Kraig Urbik showed that he's a capable backup. In the offseason, I'll detail how offensive lines are built. It may surprise some that lines are mostly built outside of the first two rounds of the draft and free agency. Good line play comes more from good coaching and continuity, and it looks like this unit is starting to come together.
Chan Gailey's play-calling. This is starting to become a staple of the "good" section. Gailey spread the field all day, generally keeping Pittsburgh out of its base 3-4 defense, forcing Steelers defensive linemen off the field in favor of defensive backs. Good strategy. Gailey ran the ball just enough to keep the defense honest, and toward the end of the game, Jackson began to reel off some good runs. Take out bad execution, and most of the plays Gailey called beat the Steelers defense. The middle screen to Jackson was his second best call all day, and the play action pass to Johnson on the last drive caught the defense napping. Gailey also made great adjustments, as the offense got going after a terrible first quarter. For such a vaunted defense, Gailey was able to move the ball with ease after the first quarter.
Gailey is right: Buffalo has got to learn to win these games if they are going to become a contender. A lot of good came from this, though. We know, for certain, that the offense can move the ball on anyone. We know, for certain, that Gailey and the coaching staff will have this team ready to compete, and will make the right in game adjustments. Buffalo can build from this. Johnson can make this negative a huge positive. This team has a bushel of good players who are learning, and playing fairly well. Maybe Buddy Nix was right when he said the team wasn't that far away from contending. A couple player additions would be nice, but the big step forward will be winning one of these games. With time, it will come.
Next: December 5 at a re-charged Vikings squad. Buffalo will again have its hands full with a power run game and a top-shelf defense.