Were it not for the knee injury sustained by David DeCastro in the first quarter, an injury described after the game by Coach Mike Tomlin as "potentially severe," the Steelers' third preseason game was an unqualified success. In what is generally regarded as the dress rehearsal for the regular season, the Steelers overcame a slow start and dominated the Buffalo Bills, 38-7, and they did it on the road.
The Steelers only can hope what took place at Ralph Wilson Stadium on Saturday night truly was a preview of their regular season, because they excelled in two areas that figure to be critical to their success throughout 2012.
Red zone offense, and takeaways by their defense.
The Steelers were below the line in both of those categories last season, with their red zone efficiency ranking in the bottom half of the league, while their 15 takeaways ranked last in the league. But against the Bills, the Steelers converted 3-of-4 trips into the red zone and finished with a plus-3 turnover ratio.
The first takeaway – a fumble forced by Lawrence Timmons and recovered by Ziggy Hood – was the play that flipped the game in the Steelers' favor and helped an offense right itself after each of its first five possessions ended with punts.
The offense cashed in each of the three Bills' turnovers with touchdowns, and Tomlin recognized the significance of that.
"The defense continues to give us a short field (by forcing turnovers), which is big," said Tomlin. "Hopefully that's a signature of our ball here in 2012."
Hopefully it is, and hopefully another signature of the Steelers' brand of football for the upcoming season was revealed on the other end of that first takeaway.
It came on a third-and-goal from the Buffalo 2-yard line in a game in which the Bills held a 7-0 lead, and it served as an example of what offensive coordinator Todd Haley meant when he said, "If you can run it when they know you're going to run it, successfully, and you can throw it when they know you're going to throw, you have a chance to be real good."
The Bills knew the Steelers were going to run the ball in that situation – or at least they should have – by a formation that included no wide receivers and had Ben Roethlisberger under center. Roethlisberger took the snap and simply handed the ball to Redman, who plowed over the left side and ran through tackles by defensive tackle Marcel Darius and inside linebacker Kelvin Sheppard to get the ball across the goal line.
Within a span of about two minutes, 30 seconds of a preseason game, the Steelers had managed to do two things they struggled with throughout the 2011 season. If what happened in Buffalo is an indication they now will be able to do those two things on a consistent basis, they will not struggle throughout the 2012 season.