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Bills vs. Steelers: Week 2 preseason preview

Notes and insights into the Steelers’ Week 2 preseason matchup with the Bills...

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Buffalo Bills Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

As the Steelers get ready to host the Buffalo Bills for each team’s second preseason game it seems an appropriate time to take a brief look back at the series history as well as a look forward to some things we might see in Saturday’s game. Kickoff is set for Saturday, August 19 at 6:30 p.m. from Acrisure Stadium in Pittsburgh.

While the Steelers hold a 17-12 advantage in regular season and playoff games historically, the Bills have won three of the last four meetings. The Steelers’ lone recent win was the 23-16 season opener two years ago in a game that featured the Steelers blocking a punt and recovering the block for a TD.

The Steelers and Bills played most recently in the 2022 season, with their meeting in Buffalo being the first career start for QB Kenny Pickett. Pickett was thrown straight into the fire as the Steelers were 14-point underdogs and on the road. While the game was a complete mismatch with Buffalo winning 38-3, Pickett was allowed to sling it all game and threw for 327 yards that day, his career high.

What’s new in Buffalo

Buffalo finished last season 13-3 behind one of the best offenses in the league. They used their first-round draft pick on pass-catching tight end Dalton Kincaid, even though they already have Dawson Knox at tight end and his 15 TDs over the past two seasons. The Bills chose not to retain guard Roger Saffold. They brought in free agent Connor McGovern and drafted O’Cyrus Torrence in the second round as they look for an improvement at both guard positions.

Defensively the biggest change was letting LB Tremaine Edmunds leave in free agency. Third-round pick Dorian Williams is one of several players trying to earn that spot next to All-Pro Matt Milano. Retaining their own free agent safety Jordan Poyer to pair with Micah Hyde leaves the Bills strong over the middle when considering Milano plays in front of them.

Things to look for when the Bills have the ball

As the Bills are working two new starters into their offensive line, they tried to run up the middle in last week’s game vs. Indianapolis on four of the first five snaps. These plays were more successful when the runner bounced outside after not finding any room to navigate in the middle. Expect a continued effort to run the ball between the tackles to sort out the offensive line, even while Josh Allen is playing quarterback this week.

While their offensive line continues to gel, expect Cam Heyward and the Steelers’ defensive front to control the line of scrimmage, leaving the linebackers clean to make plays. If this plays out, this will be an opportunity to evaluate Cole Holcomb, Elandon Roberts, and Kwon Alexander.

While all available starters are expected to play, Larry Ogunjobi has been ruled out of this game and it will be interesting to see who gets his snaps. After a relatively invisible 2022, Isaiahh Loudermilk has been reported to have had a solid training camp, and this could be a make-or-break opportunity for him.

As the Steelers have a slew of new players in the defensive backfield I wouldn’t expect much blitzing from the defense instead looking for coverage evaluations of many including Joey Porter Jr., Keanu Neal, Patrick Peterson, and Chandon Sullivan.

The Bills may very well use two tight end sets between veteran Dawson Knox and rookie Dalton Kincaid to work the middle of the field and test the Steelers’ reconstructed backend.

What to watch for when the Steelers have the ball

Kenny Pickett completed 6 of 7 passes last week, including a touchdown. More of that would be lovely, and he should have plenty of opportunities to get it done. Much like the Bills worked their running game early last week because they need to figure out their offensive line, the Steelers’ question is the passing game, so expect play calls to be skewed in that direction. In Pickett’s lone drive of Week 1 in the preseason, the Steelers passed on 7 of 10 plays. It would be surprising if they didn’t throw it on at least 60 percent of Pickett’s plays again this week.

Something that may have gone under the radar last week is that with Pickett and then Mitch Trubisky in the game, the Steelers attempted 11 passes with four of those targets over the middle. It would seem a greater effort is being made to attack the middle of the field. Hip-Hip-Hooray!

Similar to the Bills, Pittsburgh has a rookie tight end in Darnell Washington that they love to use in two tight end sets, potentially exploiting that question mark at linebacker next to Matt Milano.

Steelers-Bills Family Ties

  • Former Pitt Panther Damar Hamlin played 22 snaps and recorded three tackles for the Bills against Indianapolis last week, a mere eight months after suffering cardiac arrest and needing to be resuscitated on the field in a January game against the Cincinnati Bengals. Congrats on an amazing recovery!
  • Former Steeler special teams ace Tyler Matakevich was activated from the Physically Unable to Perform list this week. “Dirty Red” re-signed with the Bills this spring for one year and $2.5 million.
  • Steelers CB Levi Wallace and QB Mitch Trubisky both joined the Steelers in 2022 after playing previously for the Bills.
  • Bills head coach Sean McDermott and Mike Tomlin were teammates at William and Mary. Tomlin played receiver while McDermott was a safety.

It’s hard to predict what will happen in any game, especially in preseason. Hopefully, your enjoyment of the game is enhanced a bit with these tidbits and insights.

Here We Go!