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Steelers Today's Matchup

Sunday, September 30, 2001

By Gerry Dulac, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

STEELERS (0-1) AT BILLS (0-2)
1 P.M., RALPH WILSON STADIUM
TV: KDKA, WTRF, WTAJ, WKBN
Radio: WDVE-FM (102.5), WBGG-AM (970)

WHEN BILLS HAVE THE BALL

Bills run offense vs. Steelers run defense

Bills rank 3rd in the AFC
Steelers rank 11th in the AFC

The Bills have not done a good job of running the ball in the first two games, primarily because they have fallen behind and tried to throw the ball. Also, penalties -- they've committed 23 in two games -- have hurt field position and down-and-distance. Rookie Travis Henry, a No. 2 draft choice from Tennessee, leads the team with 97 yards on 34 carries, a 2.9-yard average. Fullback Larry Centers was acquired in free agency, but mainly to be a pass-catcher in the West Coast offense. The Bills' rushing totals are inflated because QB Rob Johnson has had to run eight times for 86 yards and WR Peerless Price has run two reverses for 59 yards. The Steelers are expected to be without right DE Kimo von Oelhoffen (ankle), which could hurt their run defense. Rookie Rodney Bailey will replace him, but Bailey is more of a pass-rusher.

Edge: Steelers

Bills pass offense vs. Steelers pass defense

Bills rank 11th in the AFC
Steelers rank 8th in the AFC

Johnson has converted 62.5 percent of his passes (40 of 64) for 417 yards, but that's because he's dumped a lot of short passes to Centers, who has a team-high 11 catches for 93 yards, and tight end Jay Riemersma (7 rec., 52 yds.). He also has been sacked nine times in two games. A lot of sacks are the result of coverage in the secondary. Teams have concentrated on jamming Pro Bowl WR Eric Moulds at the line of scrimmage and taking him out of the passing game. He only has three catches for 48 yards. What that has done is forced Johnson to hold the ball longer that normal, waiting for Moulds to get open. That is not a good prescription for the West Coast offense, which requires a lot of three- and five-step drops. Price, a former No. 2 pick, has only three catches, but one was for a 40-yard touchdown. On top of that, the Bills' offensive line has several injuries. Left tackle John Fina (leg) should play, but right tackle Jonas Jennings (leg) will likely be replaced by former Steelers draft choice Kris Farris. The Steelers need to get a good game from their corners, Dewayne Washington, who was beaten for a 34-yard TD in the season opener, and Chad Scott, who will play with a brace on his injured right knee.

Edge: Bills

WHEN STEELERS HAVE THE BALL

Steelers run offense vs. Bills run defense

Steelers rank 6th in the AFC
Bills rank 13th in the AFC

The offensive line was pushed around and did not create any running room for Jerome Bettis in Jacksonville. When that happens, the Steelers are better off using Amos Zereoue, who has the speed and quickness to create more running room. Zereoue did that against the Jaguars, gaining 60 yards on nine carries. The Bills switched to a 4-3 defense from the 3-4, but they have allowed two 100-yard rushers -- Ricky Williams, Edgerrin James -- in the first two games. Making matters worse, their best defensive player, middle linebacker Sam Cowart, was put on injured reserve and is done for the season. He will be replaced by second-year player Kenyatta Wright. Look for the Steelers to attack the middle of the Bills defense with Cowart out. But expect the Bills to put eight men near the line of scrimmage, with strong safety Raion Hill playing like a linebacker. Bills Coach Gregg Williams used to do that with Blaine Bishop when he was with the Tennessee Titans.

Edge: Steelers

Steelers pass offense vs. Bills pass defense

Steelers rank 13th in the AFC
Bills rank 16th in the AFC

After facing the Colts and Peyton Manning, the Bills feel as though they get a break against the Steelers. Certainly, after two games, their secondary needs one. They have already allowed seven touchdown passes -- four of 39 yards or longer -- and they're allowing an average of 310 yards passing per game. Manning threw for 421 yards and four TDs in last week's 42-26 victory. Until the Steelers prove they can throw the ball effectively, it doesn't matter which secondary they are facing. Kordell Stewart did not do a bad job in Jacksonville, considering he had little time to throw. But his receivers, particularly Plaxico Burress, have to do a better job of getting open. Buffalo's corners, Ken Irvin and Antoine Winfield, are aggressive and like to sit on outside routes. So does their No. 1 pick, CB Nate Clements, who plays in the dime defense. That's how he scored on a 48-yard interception return last week. Burress will enjoy a distinct size advantage on both corners, particularly Winfield, who is 5-8. But it won't matter unless he starts coming down with balls he supposed to catch.

Edge: Bills

SPECIAL TEAMS

P Josh Miller appears to have recovered from a thigh injury. The Bills, meantime, might not know what to do with a punt because they haven't seen one since the opening game. The Colts did not have to punt in last week's victory. Price is the top returner, but he has fielded three for just 10 yards. Their kick returners do not fare much better, averaging just 18.3 yards per return. And their kicker is first-year player Jay Arians, who has converted four of five field goals, including 2 of 2 from beyond 40 yards.

Edge: Steelers

INTANGIBLES

Bills president and GM Tom Donahoe used to work for the Steelers, and his parting with the team in general, and Coach Bill Cowher in particular, was not the stuff of Christmas card greetings. He would like nothing more than to help the Steelers start 0-2 for the second year in a row.

Edge: Bills

COACHING

The offensive and defensive systems being employed by new Bills Coach Gregg Williams are still causing the players to think instead of react. However, he knows how to defense the Steelers because he did it when he was the defensive coordinator for the Tennessee Titans. Cowher and offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey will have to make quick adjustments once they determine how the Bills are going to try to stop them.

Edge: Steelers

KEYS TO VICTORY

To win, the Bills must ...

1. Run the ball. That will force the Steelers' linebackers, wary of short passes out of the backfield, to play closer to the line of scrimmage

2. Score early. The Bills fell behind in the first two games and were forced to throw. That's not good with a suspect offensive line that has some injuries.

3. Be more disciplined. They're committing stupid penalties, witness the 19 they had last week against the Colts.

To win, the Steelers must ...

1. Get a good game from the offensive line. That did not happen in Jacksonville, and the result was no running game and no time for Stewart.

2. Get to Johnson. They have to put pressure on the Bills' QB to disrupt the rhythm of the West Coast offense.

3. Give up the underneath stuff. The defense will have to concede short passes to Centers to take away deeper stuff over the middle.

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