Takeaways: Steelers win over Bills didn’t look like a dress rehearsal

All week, leading up to the Saturday night game for the Pittsburgh Steelers, an old grumble re-emerged from the depths of social media: that it was unfortunate that the team would have to face the Buffalo Bills during the 2023 NFL preseason. The Bills are “a juggernaut” this Steelers team isn’t ready for. It’s going to be an “ugly” game. Those statements were very publicly shared, as were others, that tended to suggest fans and NFL insiders felt Pittsburgh wasn’t even in the same league as Buffalo.

In front of the home crowd, the Steelers may just have put the doubters on notice. They certainly didn’t play as if they were in an exhibition game or dress rehearsal. In fact, the team struck like lightning, early, and continued to bring the heat as the Bills racked up negative yardage due to penalties and offered little real competition as the Steelers won, 27-15.

In this post-game article, we’ll offer some of the takeaways from the victory that should leave Steelers Nation feeling optimistic about the upcoming regular season.

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Pickett is dialed in

In back-to-back weeks, second-year quarterback Kenny Pickett has taken the field and immediately gone to work with the focus of a veteran. In the Steelers’ opening offensive series, Pickett led the first-team offense with ease. On the first scoring play of the game, Pickett handed the ball off to Jaylen Warren who ran for a 62-yard touchdown behind key blocks from Isaac Seumalo, Dan Moore, and – downfield – receiver Diontae Johnson.

When the Steelers defense forced a punt from Buffalo on the Bills’ first offensive series that featured Josh Allen, a nice return from Calvin Austin III set Pickett up for a quick-strike pass to tight end Pat Freiermuth for another score… and a dap.

Against the Bills’ first-team defense, Pickett and the offense produced 14 points on just seven plays. He has also led three scoring drives this preseason in opening minutes of a game with just two incomplete passes and a passer rating of 149.05. No one in the NFL should overlook that.

Conversely, Allen – who’s been praised high and low for his abilities as an NFL quarterback – watched his team commit multiple penalties and was unable to find the end zone before being pulled from the game.

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Complimentary defense

To say all of the post-game focus should be placed on any single individual player would be erroneous. The Steelers saw the majority of their big plays on defense come from players fans are still getting to know.

Inside linebacker Cole Holcomb tipped a Matt Barkley pass that halted a Bills drive as Elijah Riley intercepted the ball in the end zone. Then, Joey Porter Jr. jumped a route and was able to snag an interception off of Barkley and made it look very easy.

The Steelers saw Nick Herbig rev-up his motor to get after Allen with solid pressure earlier in the game, and then later emulate mentor T.J. Watt with a slick move against the Bills’ right tackle to earn a strip sack on Barkley that was recovered by his teammates.

Chandon Sullivan blitzed from the slot as the nickelback and was able to bat the ball into his own hands for a takeaway.

To say that the Steelers defense was “complimentary” is almost an insult, so let me give them the respect due. They were exceptional.

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A well-rounded team for the win

The Steelers also put together great special teams play, showing they have created a 2023 squad that is prepared in all aspects of the game. Miles Killebrew, Rodney Williams, and Cody White all had highlight moments while the kicking and punting were solid, as well.

Special teams coach Danny Smith looked elated on the sideline throughout the game.

Final thoughts

The Bills team that was on the field at Acrisure Stadium on Saturday night – at least through at least one quarter of play and a little more – was not comprised of depth chart players or potential members of the practice squad. It was the “star” players out there. Still, as head coach Mike Tomlin and his staff rotated in second- and third-string players, the Bills struggled to find a rhythm.

Buffalo didn’t get on the scoreboard until the final quarter of the game.

Dress rehearsal is not a phrase that should be used to describe how the Steelers approached this game or how they executed the plan. Pittsburgh looked primed for regular season play.

The Steelers have one game left in the preseason to iron out any wrinkles. After two wins, there aren’t many obvious things that need major adjustment, though, and that should fuel fans’ excitement level while doubters try to figure out what to complain about after their grumblings were put to bed.

Tomlin and company have a short week of final preparation before the Steelers face the Atlanta Falcons on the road for their final preseason match on Thursday, August 24.


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