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Stillers-Bills Pregame Outlook

September 26, 2001 by Still Mill


Stillers @ Bills Preview  (Game #2)

The Stillers finally get to play some football after the 3-week hiatus caused by the tragedies of 9-11.�� They face the reeling Buffalo Jills, who have shown more Jill than Jack en route to stumbling out of the gate with 2 severe whippings at the hands of the Saints and the Colts.The Stillers, of course, are still smarting from the thorough beating they received in their opener down in Jacksonville, so both teams come into this game winless and still feeling the sting of their received thrashings.I attended the Stillers-Bills game up in Buffalo two years ago, and you can be sure that the Bills fans, despite the sad sack play of their team the first two games, will be revved up and plenty loud.

* When the Bills have the ball, they�ll bring an offense that has seen its share of problems thus far in �01.Their O-line, led by Fina and Brown, is an average unit, at best, and that�s before they got nicked by injury.Starting guard Ostroski is out for the season, and his replacement, Corey Hulsey, is in his first full NFL season.Center Bill Conaty is banged up.They�ll also start a rookie at RT, 3rd rounder Jonas Jennings.With the departure of Flutie, Rob Johnson has finally grabbed the QB chores all to himself.It remains to be seen if Johnson has the toughness, leadership, and durability to maintain his starting job for a whole season.To be sure, Johnson is a gifted passer who, when hot, can get the ball on target with ok velocity but deft touch and accuracy.�� On the other hand, Johnson is easily rattled in the pocket, and if beaten about by linemen and LBs, will tend to get happy feet &/or rush throws.The ground shows some promise thus far in �01.�� Rookie 2nd rounder Travis Henry has a load of potential, and after two games is probably getting better acclimated to the speed of the NFL game.Ageless veteran Larry Centers, who was picked up in a shrewd front office move, will start at FB.Centers gives Johnson a reliable asset out of the backfield, and could present a problem if the Stillers are not diligent in keeping an eye on him.TE Jay Riemersa -- a Michigan TE who actually produces pass receptions, unlike the one on the Steeler roster -- serves as a very capable threat for the Bills.He�s not flashy or mega-athletic, but Riemersma is clever and reliable.�� Ironically enough, the nifty play in game #1 by Jax TE D. Jones, in which he rolled to the ground and snuck out across the field, was an exact replica of a TD play Riemersma scored against the Stillers in the loss up in Ralph Wilson Stadium back in �99.The Stillers have had problems clamping down on TEs throughout the entire preseason and in the Jax loss, so limiting Riemersma will have to be a must.Because of these problems, I expect Buffalo to try to get him the ball early and often.The Bills WR corps is, thus far in �01, exceptionally average.�� Moulds is their �go to� guy, but he�s a far cry from the real go-to types like Jimmy and Rod Smith.On top of that, he�s a bit nicked up and is listed as questionable.(Then again, so was Jimmy Smith, and he torched the Stillers unmercifully in game #1.)Peerless Price starts at the opposite spot, and thus far this season he�s been out-peered by just about every receiver in the league (except ours, of course).The bad aspect of the Bills roster is that their #3 and #4 receivers give them next to nothing, so it�s entirely incumbent on Price and Moulds to get the job done downfield.�� Overall, it would seem that the Stiller defense matches up well against this crew.I can�t see the Bills pounding the ball consistently on the ground with success.The danger will be through the air, where Johnson and Moulds/Price could finally get untracked and hook up for a few big plays, especially if the Stillers play that Mamby Pamby, no-pressure defense that they used so futilely down in Jax 3 weeks ago.The key matchup will be Stiller OLB Jason Gildon against rookie starting right tackle Jonas Jennings.Not only is Jennings a greenhorn rookie, but he�s also gimpy from a strained hip flexor.Gildon, the supposed Pro Bowler, was a complete no-show in the loss to Jacksonville, getting thoroughly dominated by a rookie tackle making his first ever NFL start.�� With the kind of game ROLB Joey Porter had versus Jax, the Bills will be more than savvy enough to avoid Porter and run the ball at Gildon.�� The Stiller pass pressure was non-existent versus J-ville, and it�s going to be on the shoulders of �Big Jason� to abuse this gimpy rookie and harass the scared Johnson into poor throws and INTs.

* When the Stillers have the ball, it�ll presumably be the same old Whalecrap running Offense, along with the Nickel&Dime, Dink and Dump passing Offense.Sure, Cowher has had 3 weeks to change things up, but considering that he had 9 months since last season to �change things up� it doesn�t seem plausible that 3 weeks is enough time.Bettis should get plenty of work, due partially because he got only 14 carries in the Jax loss, and because the Bills defense is banged up and susceptible to the running game.�� Stud LB Sam Cowart is out indefinitely from injury, and along with the injury last week to tough rookie LB Brandon Spoon, the Bills LB corps has been decimated.Just as they did against the Colts last week, expect the Bills to put 8 men up at the line of scrimmage.Because their front 7 is fairly ordinary; because of the injuries to Cowart and Spoon; and because the Bills have no fear of the anemic Stiller passing game, I�d be stunned if Bills head coach Gregg Williams, formerly the Titans� DC who knows the Stillers all too well, didn�t do this.RT Marvel Smith will have his hands full against veteran DE Phil Hansen, and if Smith continues to struggle Hansen is more than capable enough to take advantage of it.The Bills secondary got exposed badly last week in Indy, but then again most secondaries will have long days against that top-3-in-NFL passing attack.Clements and Winfield are solid CBs, although neither starting safety is terribly gifted.The key matchup will be the passing game�s ability to make Buffalo pay for the 8 man fronts.�� Throwing 4-yard curls against an 8-man front isn�t going to make Buffalo pay at all.Although on paper we should be able to whup up on the battered Buffalo front 7, the 8-man fronts and aggressive run-blitzing will make yardage hard to come by for Doughboy Bettis.This gutless, low risk, low reward offense is going to have to get the ball to receivers on the move 15 and 20 yards downfield, in order to pull away some defenders from the line of scrimmage.

* Spec Teams: Probably a pick �em here.�� Neither team seems to have a significant edge.Of course, come game day in Buffalo, lousy weather and brisk winds can make the special teams an adventure.On the Stillers side of the ball, let�s hope that Cowher --- supposedly a special teams guru -- has figured out how to protect his punter from the man lined up directly over the snapper.Hopefully Josh Miller won�t have any ill effects from the beating he took on the blocked punt versus Jax.�� Hank Poteat could give the team a good boost with a decent return.�� Bills kicker Steve Christie is out with injury, but Jake Arians has filled in adequately in his place.

* Synopsis:As I noted in my previous article (see Layoff a Hindrance, not Help), the 3-week layoff does the Stillers no good whatsoever.The Jills, on the other hand, are licking their wounds from two pretty good beatings at the hands of 2 playoff-caliber teams, and will most likely come out breathing a lot of fire and pent-up aggression.Had the Stillers been able to tune up on both sides of the ball and make some much-needed adjustments in the canceled game against Cleveland, I think they�d have been able to handle the Jills.And let there be no doubt --- Coach Bill Cowher would love nothing more than to beat Bills GM Tom Donahoe, whom he�d forced out of Pittsburgh in the well-documented power struggle in, and following, the 1999 season.This really should be a winnable road game, but I fear that overt slop and over-conservatism will lose out to a revved up Bills team that, facing the prospect of an 0-3 start, will make the big plays that win the football game.The Bills, who have won 7 straight home games against the Black and Gold, will prevail over a sloppy, meek Steeler team, 17-16.


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