And you thought there was a conspiracy against the Pittsburgh Steelers…
Ah, the 90s. The X-Files being the best show on television. The Buffalo Bills getting pounded in the Super Bowl. Some things you could just count on year in and year out. Of course, an uber-geek like myself found it endlessly amusing when the two intersected in a particularly memorable episode where the secretive and ultra-powerful Cigarette Smoking Man revealed he alone was responsible for Buffalo’s annual misery.
Last year, the Bills thought they may have a chance to end a decade long playoff drought and even went with the nuclear option of signing the player more cancerous than pack of smokes, Terrell Owens. Unfortunately, they began the year with a gut-wrenching loss at New England and never recovered. Finishing 6-10, their fifth straight losing season, signaled the beginning of massive changes starting with firing their head coach.
Paul Miller over out BuffaLowDown was kind enough to answer some questions about the current team which started the year 0-8 but has won their last two in a row, including a win last week against a gutless Bengals team which rolled over in embarrassing fashion. Let’s ask Paul some questions, starting with his thoughts on new Bills head coach and former Steelers offensive coordinator, Chan Gailey. My questions in bold, his responses in italics:
How’s Chan working out?
My opinion of Chan Gailey is still up in the air. I mean anyone who is the coach of an 2-8 team isn’t going to be liked by many. But the Bills have shown a lot of heart and character over the past couple of games, and I hope this is a sign that Gailey’s work ethic is finally starting show out on the field. For a 1-8 team to come back from a 28-7 deficit on the road definitely shows that the players are behind their coaching staff, so hopefully things are looking up in Buffalo.
STEELERS DEFENSE vs. BILLS OFFENSE
Last week, Bills wide receiver Steve Johnson went off, catching 8 balls for 137 yards and three touchdowns. He also goofed on “Batman & Robin” (T.O. and Ocho) with his fantastic “Why So Serious?” t-shirt. The No Fun League fined him a cool $5,000 (or 1/5 of what Richard Seymour was docked for sucker punching Ben Roethlisberger). If I had the cash, I’d pay the fine for him.
That was the third time rising star Johnson has surpassed 125 yards in the last five games. He’s in the top 10 for overall receiving yards while his 9 TDs tie him for third among NFL receivers. Combined with multi-time 1,000 yard receiver Lee Evans, the Bills have a true Dynamic Duo.
The offense has began to click since jettisoning draft bust Trent Edwards and turning to former Bengal Ryan Fitzpatrick.
The Bills dropped 49 on the hapless Bungles last week. In fact, it seems you’ve been scoring much better since the Harvard man took over. What’s led to the offensive explosion?
One word confidence. When Trent Edwards was behind center, the wide receivers were basically running their routes for nothing. 95% of the time Edwards settled for the check down, never giving his playmakers a chance. With Fitzpatrick, he is not shy of throwing the ball down the field or into tight spots leaving it up to his receivers to make the catch.
It’s been awhile since the Bills have been any good. Any of those high draft picks working out?
High draft picks working out? Is this meant as a joke? Ha-ha. The main problem behind the Bills being so bad for so long is that they’ve had a terrible time drafting the right player in the 1st round on the NFL draft. Just take a look at some players picked 1st over the past ten years: Erick Flowers, Nate Clements, Mike Williams, Willis McGahee, Lee Evans, Donte Whitner, John McGargo, Marshawn Lynch, Leodis McKelvin, Aaron Maybin & C.J Spiller.
Four of those players are no longer on the team, two of those players aren’t even dressing on Sundays, and the rest (besides Lee Evans) are still up for debate. Hopefully Buddy Nix will be able to change the Bills misfortune in the upcoming NFL Draft.
For the Steelers, it’ll be interesting to see how our rotten secondary handles a pair of bonafide top notch receiving threats and a quarterback who improves by leaps and bounds every week.
Bret Keisel is expected to see his first action in a month although I expect his playing time to be limited since there is no sense in risking re-injury with big games against Baltimore and the Jets looming. The rest of the defense appears healthy as one can be at this time of year so much like last week where they harassed and confused Jason Campbell (when they weren’t being flagged for bogus penalties), how well they fluster a young and inexperienced offense will be the key to this match-up.
STEELERS OFFENSE vs. BILLS DEFENSE
The Bills currently rank 24th in total defense and dead last against the run. Rashard Mendenhall had a somewhat disappointing game last week although he was running behind a really banged up line. Mike Tomlin pulled a surprise switcheroo starting Ramon Foster at RG and is now saying that move is permanent. I’ve said I liked what I saw from Foster, particularly in run blocking, so I’m glad to see him get playing time over hobbled Trai Essex or wretched Doug Legursky.
Let’s talk some Bills defense with Paul:
The Bills aren’t on television much so forgive my ignorance. Who’s your best player we’ve probably never heard of?
Well I take it after last week, the whole world now knows about Steve Johnson. So I will say NT Kyle Williams. I’m sure some of your readers know about Williams since he is having a Pro Bowl type season on a very inexperienced Buffalo Bills defense. Williams is in his 5th season out of LSU, and has a knack at making plays. He is the Bills main run stopper, and has added putting pressure on the QB on his resume. He only has 3 sacks so far this season, but for a 305 lb NT, he is definitely drawing the attention of opposing teams Offensive Linemen.
Big Ben and the offense had their finest showing of the season last week. Another surprise move was inserting rookie Emmanuel Sanders in the #3 slot over Antwaan Randle-El. Look, I like ARE but he is what he is. He’s a middle of the field possession receiver and the Steelers already have two far superior versions in Hines and Heath. Sanders hasn’t impressed as much as Mike Wallace did in his rookie year but has made some nice athletic plays while catching TD passes in two consecutive games.
So, Paul, is there anybody should Big Ben keep an eye out for on Sunday?
Big Ben should look out for Jairus Byrd on Sunday. The second year player made a lot of noise during his rookie campaign with 9 INTS, but has yet to record any so far this season. But, now with the Bills defense finally looking comfortable and players knowing their assignments, I’m expecting Byrd to break out in the final 6 games of the season.
Well, Paul’s optimism aside, this is a game the Steelers should not only win but win in convincing fashion. This is also the type of game I confidently predicted would be an easy check mark in the win column last year only to see the Black and Gold go down in flames of embarrassment. I think this team has learned from last year’s debacle, playing with heart and not taking anything for granted. Against a gutsy Buffalo team which may be over-matched but never backs down, let’s hope they don’t.
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