The Pittsburgh Steelers enter their fourth preseason game of 2015 on Saturday afternoon against the Buffalo Bills. Here are key items to watch for in what will be the second-to-last prep game before the regular season begins as well as the final game before the first roster reduction must be made:
Roethlisberger and Vick
After a week of polarizing discussion regarding the signing of Michael Vick among Steelers fans, they will get their first opportunity to get a look at him in black and gold under center. The Steelers are likely to give Vick as many offensive reps as possible as he makes a case to be number two behind Big Ben over Landry Jones.
Bills coach Rex Ryan knows Vick intimately, and regardless of this being basically an exhibition and evaluation, may turn up the heat just to test his own defense’s readiness to face big opponents this season. Ryan loves tough defense, period. Expect handy competition.
The Steelers would do well to keep Roethlisberger healthy and limit his participation. There is no real need to test him or fate this week.
E.J. Manuel and the Bills receivers
Manuel will get the start per Buffalo, by Ryan isn’t risking Sammy Watkins, Robert Woods, Chris Hogan or Percy Harvin as receivers this week. That means the Steelers defensive backfield will be facing guys fighting for the fourth or even fifth roster spot at the receiver position. Chris Gragg has three catches for 53 yards, Deonte Thompson has four for 96 yards and Marquice Goodwin has five for 53 yards.
Manuel has an opportunity to expose issues the Steelers still have at cornerback and safety. This will be a big week for coach Carnell Lake to push Cortez Allen, Shamarko Thomas and Brandon Boykin to show who desires the starting job at their respective positions. It will be a nice opportunity for a final evaluation as to who is willing to step up to stick around this season. The Steelers defense needs leadership and better communication and this week is a must-do situation if Pittsburgh wants to field a competitive squad to prevent long-yardage passing plays.
After Martavis Bryant made one of the worst possible decisions in breaking the league’s substance abuse policy, facing suspension, the Steelers need Coates to show up in a major way this week. Time for dropped balls to be a thing of the past. Coates has a unique opportunity to really showcase his worth and if he falters, it will make a statement that cannot be ignored.
Overall Steelers preview
The Steelers expect increased pressure from their defensive front seven as they quietly hope Cody Wallace and Doug Legursky can help manage the offensive line. With Maurkice Pouncey and Stephon Tuitt injury victims, this game should give Pittsburgh an idea of the personnel that can continue the journey versus who will get a pink slip. It’s a harsh part of every preseason, but by the third week of preseason, NFL coaches are looking to tie up loose ends, not scramble for solutions.
Pittsburgh is in a tough spot. Blame can be placed on the coaching staff to front office, but discipline appears to be rearing an ugly head that needs to be addressed immediately. Excise it in favor of execution and the Steelers can move forward with confidence. Ignore it and they may be looking at a team that cannot reach the next level.