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mesaSteeler
11-27-2010, 07:23 AM
Bills' receiver Johnson poses threat
Saturday, November 27, 2010
By Bill Brink, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/10331/1106507-66.stm

Chan Gailey is a realist.

When asked Tuesday whether his team could run against the Steelers, the Buffalo Bills head coach said, "Nobody else has."

Gailey, however, has other weapons with which to attack the Steelers: quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick and his emerging star receiver, Steve Johnson, who helped the Bills come back to beat the Cincinnati Bengals last weekend. Johnson may pose the biggest threat to the Steelers' defense when the teams meet Sunday at Ralph Wilson Stadium.

"[Johnson] and the quarterback are pretty much on the same page every play," cornerback Ike Taylor said.

The Steelers allow a league-low 63 yards rushing per game, giving them the house advantage against teams that try to run. Gailey said run plays have to work, but not necessarily for big yardage.

"You may not run it for 150 but you gotta try to be effective," he said.

If they're not, the Bills can turn to Johnson and the passing game. He's been part of a resurgence that gave the Bills, 0-8 three weeks ago, two wins in a row, one a 49-31 road victory against the Bengals.

"If you didn't know the record, and somebody were to give you a question of what is the team record, you definitely would say .500 or above .500," cornerback Bryant McFadden said.

The Bills squeaked out their first win, 14-12, against the Detroit Lions on Nov. 14, when the Lions' two-point conversion pass failed in the fourth quarter. The next week Buffalo trailed, 31-14, at halftime but scored 35 unanswered second-half points.

"We were sitting there watching film and we were looking at it as, this is a team that's not acting like they're 2-8," cornerback William Gay said.

Johnson played a big part of that comeback. He caught eight passes for 137 yards and three touchdowns, all of which came in the second half. He had not contributed much to the Bills before this season, when he became a dangerous counterpart to Lee Evans. Buffalo chose him out of Kentucky in the seventh round of the 2008 draft and he caught a combined 12 passes for 112 yards in 2008 and '09. Terrell Owens departure from Buffalo to Cincinnati before the season allowed him more playing time -- and he has used it well. This season Johnson has 52 catches for 728 yards and nine touchdowns.

"[Fitzpatrick and Johnson] worked on the scout team quite a bit from the previous year," Gailey said. "I think they developed something then where they knew what each other, what they were thinking, had a feel for things, and I think that just carried over into this season."

Gailey, though, didn't see this type of production coming.

"I had no clue," Gailey said. "I'd like to tell you I could see that, that I was that smart, but I'm not."

The Steelers' secondary faces the difficult task of limiting Johnson's effectiveness Sunday.

"He's a guy who not only runs good routes and catches difficult passes but the run after the catch is something that he has very good success with when looking at him on film," McFadden said. "He catches the ball and he's able to turn a 10-yard pass into a 20-yard pass."

Because of how good the run defense has been, the secondary can anticipate the pass more often and adjust to the run when needed.

"We've done an outstanding job against the run and that's something we'll continue to do, make a team one-dimensional," McFadden said. "That's why we always think every play's going to be a pass, so just have your antennas up and be ready to go."

Because of the threat of Evans on the other side of the field, the Steelers cannot roll coverage toward either receiver, safety Troy Polamalu said.

"Whenever you have a quarterback that spreads the ball around, you just can't really focus on one guy," he said.

Maybe not. But given what he has done this season, Johnson will command plenty of attention.
Bill Brink: bbrink@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1158.


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