In the Pittsburgh Steelers starters' final "dress rehearsal" of the preseason, the team will be traveling to Buffalo to play the Bills in Ralph Wilson Stadium. This will be the final time fans will see the team's starters play significant snaps until September 10th when the season opens with the Steelers playing the defending Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots in Foxborough.
The game Saturday also provides a tremendous opportunity for one of the weaker areas on the team's defense - the secondary. After being torched by Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers offense in the opening drive Sunday, the unit will look to rebound against a mediocre passing attack in Buffalo.
After facing the reigning NFL MVP in Aaron Rodgers, facing the likes of Matt Cassel, Tyrod Taylor, E.J. Manuel and/or Matt Simms should be music to the ears of a unit looking for one final confidence booster before heading into the regular season.
Through 2 preseason games, the Bills have rotated quarterbacks with any number of signal callers getting snaps with the first team, while the remaining quarterbacks fill in with the second and third string players. Against the Carolina Panthers in Week 1 it was Manuel who lead the team in passing, going 4/8 for 77 yards, averaging 9.6 yards per attempt and throwing a touchdown with no interceptions. Taylor and Cassel had very similar nights, both throwing for just under 50 yards and completing over 50-percent of their passes.
In their second preseason game, Manuel led the Bills again in passing while going 9 for 14 with 111 yards, averaging 7.9 yards per attempt and throwing one touchdown and no interceptions. Taylor put up another stellar stat line, but has failed to throw a touchdown pass in the preseason to date. This may be the main reason Bill's head coach Rex Ryan has given Manuel the start Saturday against the Steelers.
Manuel might have won the quarterback competition in the short-term, but Manuel is also known for risky throws and poor ball protection. In other words, Manuel will give the Steelers a chance to capitalize on making plays Saturday.
Outside of the Bills' quarterback situation, they have some unique weapons at their disposal on the perimeter. LeSean McCoy ranks near the top in the NFL in terms of running backs who can catch the ball out of the backfield and Sammy Watkins was a top-rated draft pick for a reason. Nonetheless, whether those players see the field Saturday or not, the Bill's offensive roster is a far cry from the Packers unit the Steelers just faced.
It is against an offense like the Bills where the Steelers secondary should be able to keep things locked down and in front of them at all times. The Steelers haven't made many plays in the secondary in this extended preseason, and have only 7 passes defended through 3 preseason games, not to mention not having registered an interception yet throughout the preseason. The Steelers' secondary simply hasn't been around the ball that much to even make plays, let alone get their hands on one to actually create a turnover.
Against the Bills, and coming off a defensive performance where the defense eventually generated 6 sacks, despite a lackluster start, the Steelers weakest link should be looking to make a big step in the right direction Saturday. That step would be by performing well against the sub-par passing attack of the Bills.