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mesaSteeler
11-27-2010, 11:48 PM
The About-Face Bowl
http://pit.scout.com/2/1026044.html
By Jim Wexell
SteelCityInsider.net
Posted Nov 27, 2010

The Steelers meet the Buffalo Bills today, a week after both teams played games that they believe will go a long way toward redefining their seasons.

At about the same time last Sunday that Mike Tomlin was making changes to keep his Steelers from falling apart, Chan Gailey was making changes to turn around his season with the Buffalo Bills.

Because of it, the Steelers (7-3) and Bills (2-8) expect a far more interesting game today at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Buffalo.

Tomlin, of course, made lineup changes that should work in the Steelers’ favor down the homestretch and most likely into the playoffs. Tomlin not only changed his right guard and kicker, he activated a rookie receiver to return punts, promoted another rookie receiver to the No. 3/slot role, used 5-WR sets, and added more power to his running game. On defense, Tomlin brought up his corners to play more press coverage and had his strong safety move down into the box once again.

“Some of that stuff was just because of the way we matched up with the Raiders,” said in-the-box strong safety Troy Polamalu. “But, yes, I prefer a more physical and aggressive game plan.”

That may or may not be the script today in Buffalo. For certain, the 5-WR set will be scrapped and Antwaan Randle El will go back to returning punts due to rookie Antonio Brown’s minor knee injury. The confidence that was restored in both the team and its coach last Sunday in the 35-3 win won’t fade quickly for the Steelers.

Much the same can be said for the Bills, who rallied from a 17-point deficit to beat the Cincinnati Bengals by 18, a week after winning their first game of the season.

At halftime, Gailey benched the free safety who’d led the NFL in interceptions last year as a rookie, went to a juiced-up passing game, and read the riot act to his players.

“Coach was pretty fiery at halftime,” said Bills linebacker Paul Posluszny. “Coach was definitely excited at halftime and that got us going.”

The result was a second consecutive win and a jump in the team’s overall confidence level.

“I really think that in the past couple of games we’ve learned how to win,” Posluszny said. “When the game is on the line and it’s the fourth quarter, we didn’t have the confidence to win the game. Now that we’ve won a couple we’re starting to build that. We still have a long way to go. We’re still 2-8, there is no hiding that. But we feel like we’re headed in the right direction.”

Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick has now thrown touchdown passes in 11 straight games and last week set career highs with 316 yards and 4 touchdowns.

“He’s pretty smart. Where’d he go to school?” asked Steelers linebacker James Farrior, knowing full well Fitzpatrick went to Harvard. “I remember him a few years ago in Cincinnati. He did a pretty good job. He’s a tough quarterback. We’re going to have to have people in his face.”

Fitzpatrick’s No. 1 target is third-year wide receiver Steve Johnson, who caught 8 passes for 137 yards and 3 touchdowns last week. For the season, Johnson has 52 catches (or 40 more than in his previous two seasons combined) for 728 yards and 9 touchdowns. He’s second in the NFL in third-down yardage.

“He’s a tremendous receiver. We were sitting in the film room wondering why he wasn’t playing his first year or two,” said Steelers cornerback William Gay. “(Lee) Evens is their deep man and Johnson gets open and makes people miss.”

In the backfield is Fred Jackson, who’s rushed for 562 yards since replacing rookie C.J. Spiller and since-departed Marshawn Lynch on a full-time basis.

Up front, the Bills will miss right guard Eric Wood with leg injuries. He’ll likely be replaced by former Steeler Kraig Urbik.

Defensively, the Bills’ main problem is a lack of a pass rush. They’re 29th in the NFL with only 15 sacks, but finished the Cincinnati game with two late in the game.

Even with the poor rankings and record, it’s clear the Bills are beginning to gel under Gailey. He’s the former Steelers offensive coordinator who was recommended to Bills management by Bill Cowher, the former Steelers coach who had also recommended to the Rooneys that Gailey succeed him in Pittsburgh.

“Our guys have continued to work and continued to get better,” said Gailey. “It was great for them to be able to have something to show for and get that monkey off their back (two weeks ago). Then, to come back the way they did last week, it was a testament to the character of our football team.”