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Five Takeaways From the Pittsburgh Steelers' Preseason Loss at Buffalo

Martavis Bryant

Martavis Bryant

Oh, the woes of rooting for a popular, historically successful team!

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Sure, the Pittsburgh Steelers have sold out every non-strike game since 1972, get on television a lot, and have won the most Super Bowls.

But with that success and popularity comes the demand from networks to have the franchise in an extra preseason game. And so while almost every other team only has to put up with four of these snooze fests this season, the Steelers must have five.

Pittsburgh's record is 1-3. The Steelers have lost 10 of their last 12 preseason games. And considering the sloppiness the Steelers showed when they allowed the last 30 points of Saturday's game, only the most bleeding-hearted of fans will weep over the fact the roster will be trimmed to 75 by Tuesday at 4 p.m.

1. Your Flat is Open

Two weeks ago Jacksonville backup quarterback Chad Henne drew great praise by completing 9-of-10 passes for 87 yards against the Steelers, with his only incompletion being a dropped pass.

On Saturday at Buffalo, whose quarterbacks are among the least impressive manning NFL rosters, the Bills' signal-callers combined to complete 30-of-33 attempts for 386 yards. Fourth-stringer Matt Simms, who had competed only three of his eight pass attempts entering this game, was 5-for-5 for 65 yards and a touchdown. Potential starter EJ Manuel also would have been perfect save for one poorly thrown ball to finish his final completed drive in the fourth quarter at a time when the game had played out.

The Bills did it by exploiting the Steelers' new Cover-2 defense. Receivers consistently had room to catch passes as Pittsburgh's cornerbacks seemed to either be lax and allow them room towards the sideline while the middle seemed to be covered by no one repeatedly throughout the game.

The latter circumstance has been a major problem throughout the preseason. In a Cover-2, cornerbacks are often asked to "jump the route" when a receiver slants inside. This can lead to more interceptions, and second-round draft choice Senquez Golson led the SEC in interceptions last season with 10. Unfortunately, Golson has missed the entire preseason and his return status is unclear.

And where are the safeties to make the stick?

2. This Man Vick

This preseason has followed a script in which Ben Roethlisberger, when he does play, starts at quarterback, leads the Steelers to an early score, and then fans watch Landry Jones come in and the offense sputters. Against the Bills, despite hints that Roethlisberger might play into the third quarter, he left after a couple of series.

Then came in Michael Vick, telling due to the fact he had just signed and could have conceivably been listed third on the depth chart. But the Steelers aren't paying Vick a million dollars this year to be deactivated on game day. Vick laid waste to the coaches' claim about needing time to learn an offense when he completed four of his five passes for more than 100 yards, including a nifty 63-yard bomb to Martavis Bryant on his first play.

True, Vick did not actually put the Steelers in the end zone. In fact, he struggled in the red zone. But rest assured, Vick is the Steelers' backup quarterback for the foreseeable future. But that leads us to ask...

3. Who Will Replace Bryant?

Bryant had such a good game against the Bills, catching three passes for 138 yards and a touchdown, and even drawing two pass interference penalties, that Buffalo head coach Rex Ryan was praising him to reporters at halftime and following the game. Which leads us to ask who will replace Bryant if and when the Steelers need a third receiver during his proposed four-game suspension to start the season.

Darrius Heyward-Bey did not catch a pass, but neither did Antonio Brown, leading to speculation Heyward-Bey might be held back for the regular season. Despite the fact Heyward-Bey only caught three passes last season one figures a seven-year veteran like him does not need the preseason to get into shape or learn football fundamentals.

Otherwise, Shakim Phillips caught the only pass thrown his way, Tyler Murphy had one reception for four yards, and Sammie Coates was targeted twice but did not make a catch. The odd man out right now would appear to be C.J. Goodwin, a local product from Wheeling and Division II California (Pa.) University but also a player cut last year in camp who hasn't made a catch for two straight games despite starting the Hall of Fame Game and hauling in a touchdown against Jacksonville.

4. No, Not Again

When Garrett Hartley injured his right hamstring in the first half, it meant the Steelers would not have the services of a placekicker and would have to ask a punter kick off. It also now means Hartley is a question mark for the season opener Sept. 10 against New England.

Hartley beat out Jay Feely and Alex Henery when Shaun Suisham was injured making a tackle in the first preseason game and both remain unsigned. Pittsburgh could pick one of those kickers up, or they might wish to wait until the cuts come down by Tuesday and see who is available then.

The question is how serious Hartley's injury is. If he would be out for, say, a month, many teams might just deactivate him. But that would mean having two kickers on the roster, and one wonders if the how effective the new kicker would be with Hartley looking over his shoulder, itching for his opportunity once he's healthy.

5. New Punter

Speaking of the kicking game, it would appear Jordan Berry of Eastern Kentucky has taken the steps to become the new punter. The 24-year-old not only handled kickoff duties after Hartley was hurt, but he punted four times for a 58.2-yard average, including kicks of 78, 66 and 55 yards.

In comparison, Brad Wing had only two punts, though one did go for 53 yards. Berry's 78-yarder went into the end zone, but for a 58-yard net, who cares?

— Written by Marky Billson, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. An experienced beat reporter and sports writer, Billson has been a contributor to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for 15 years. He has covered the Steelers, Panthers, MLB and more during his career. Follow him on Twitter @MarkyBillson.