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Steelers 27, Bills 15: Three things we learned

What’s to be learned from a preseason drubbing? We’re glad you asked.

NFL: Preseason-Buffalo Bills at Pittsburgh Steelers Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Buffalo Bills ran their starters for over a quarter in Saturday night’s 27-15 preseason loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, and things did not go particularly well for the road team. Penalties, turnovers, and early big plays allowed by the defense and special teams overshadowed quality moments from Josh Allen and the starting offense, and the team was held scoreless until the fourth quarter of a snooze-fest.

What’s to be learned from a preseason drubbing? There’s always something.

Bad football sucks, even with no stakes

Buffalo’s starters and top reserves of note played the majority of the first half, during which the Bills turned the ball over twice, committed 12 penalties, and went into halftime trailing 21-0.

The penalties were especially brutal. They negated big plays by the starting offense, sustained multiple Steelers drives, and ranged from pre-snap infractions to personal fouls. By the time the evening ended, Buffalo had committed 13 total penalties and turned the ball over four times.

Even for savvy fans wise enough to cotton on to the evaluative nature of exhibition games, bad football is deeply unpleasant to watch. This was no exception. The team has plenty to clean up before the games start to count, and it starts with this easy stuff.

Significant concern for the O-Line

The Bills now seem to have lost two reserve offensive tackles in the space of a week, with the sudden retirement of Brandon Shell followed up by what looked to be another brutal, season-ending leg injury to Tommy Doyle on Saturday night. Depth on the edges is now of pressing concern, and is even more worrying considering the continued struggles of the team’s starting tandem of Dion Dawkins and Spencer Brown.

Allen completed 7-of-10 passes for 64 yards in what could be his lone preseason appearance, but the lasting memory will be watching in terror as Buffalo’s $258 million perennial MVP candidate ran for his life as unblocked defenders chased him around in a meaningless game. Dawkins and Brown certainly weren’t alone in their struggles, but both committed penalties and looked outmatched taking on Pittsburgh’s talented and athletic edge rushers.

There’s a lot in flux up front, and the Bills are going to need Dawkins and Brown, in particular, to solidify their play before taking on the New York Jets in Week 1.

Bullish on Buffalo’s receiving options

Despite all of the concerning play from all three phases in the first half, there’s still plenty to be optimistic about. For me, most of that optimism centers around Buffalo’s passing game — which makes sense, as it remains the team’s obvious strength — and their secondary receiving options, in particular.

Gabe Davis (2 receptions, 29 yards), Dalton Kincaid (3 receptions, 45 yards), Deonte Harty (2 receptions, 12 yards) and even Trent Sherfield (1 reception, 21 yards) all made significant contributions in the first half. Davis and Kincaid, in particular, looked excellent, which bodes well for a Bills offense that desperately needs both to contribute in a major way this season to keep things freed up for top receiver Stefon Diggs. The early signs for both of these players are promising.

This team is always, and only, going to go as far as Allen, his right arm, and the guys catching his missiles can take them. Despite everything else that went on around them during their first action of 2023, there’s no reason to be down on this group at all — as long as they’re given time to make their plays.

What else caught your eye tonight, Bills fans?