By Tim Graham
The third preseason game is the most realistic of the four because that's when the starters and backups play the most against another team's starters and top backups.
The Buffalo Bills will face a quality challenge at 7 tonight in their third exhibition. The Pittsburgh Steelers visit Ralph Wilson Stadium. The game is sold out and will be shown live on WKBW Channel 7.
A few things to keep an eye on:
How does game-planning for Pittsburgh help polish Buffalo's performance? The Bills lost their first two games in disconcerting fashion. They were dull in the preseason opener against the Washington Redskins and were dominated by the Minnesota Vikings last week. Some coaches eschew game-planning for preseason opponents, but Bills coach Chan Gailey operated the past week as though he were preparing for a real game, drilling plays against a scout team that simulated what the Steelers will do on offense and defense. It would be troubling if the Bills turn in another clunker.
The Bills should reveal more about how they'll use Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller. With Gailey game-planning as though tonight is a regular-season game and with the starters seeing their most significant action of the preseason, maybe we'll get a better idea of what his offense will look like with Jackson and Spiller healthy. Jackson and Spiller combined for zero carries in the first exhibition and seven carries in Minnesota. I'm sure Bills fans are eager for a bigger taste than those nibbles.
Does the offensive line show some semblance of continuity? Bills left guard Andy Levitre this week declared concerns about how the O-line has developed as a unit. He doesn't like where they are. He says something's amiss and doesn't see that sense of urgency they had last year. Bills center Eric Wood agreed with Levitre's sentiments, and Gailey admitted the line hasn't come together as much as he'd like. A penalty-free game from rookie left tackle Cordy Glenn would be nice, too.
Backup linemen Kyle Moore, Jarron Gilbert and Robert Eddins can made a statement. The Bills released Shawne Merriman on Monday, putting his fourth defensive end spot up for grabs. Moore, Gilbert and Eddins are the chief benefactors of Merriman's departure. If one of those three can separate himself from the others against the Steelers, then the Bills' front office would have an easier decision to make when cuts are made next week.
Injured cornerbacks Terrence McGee and Justin Rogers are expected to play tonight. McGee should play for the first time since suffering a torn patellar tendon last season and is not a lock to make the 53-man roster. The Bills will study how McGee handles game action, and so should we. Rogers is coming back from a hamstring problem.
Special teams are worth watching closely. I don't think any incumbents are in jeopardy of losing their jobs, but there are a couple storylines to monitor. Bills kicker Rian Lindell had an aggravating week at practice and missed a 22-yard attempt in the preseason opener. A solid game tonight would go a long way to putting Lindell in a happier place. Kickoff specialist John Potter is trying to make the 53-man roster and doing all he can to convince Gailey he belongs. Potter has drilled the ball deep, notching six touchbacks on six tries. Punter Brian Moorman has had a strong preseason and seems on the verge of officially fending off rookie Shawn Powell, who has a monster leg but has problems with directional and pooch punts.