Afternoon of the Living Dead: A Discussion of the Steelers / Bills Preseason Game

AP Photo, Gary Weipert, via WKBN

Although we aren’t focused on current news on this site and aren’t really capable of “rapid reactions,” it did occur to me that we could have a Round Robin sort of game recap/commentary by utilizing the wonders of the interwebs. So this week we have comments from Clark, perhaps better known as PaVaSteeler, Mike, aka Homer J, and myself.

Ivan may also chip in some comments, which I will add in an update. He was mercifully spared watching the actual game because he was attending a board meeting of a group devoted to making life better for victims of human trafficking, which just goes to show that good deeds do actually go unpunished on rare occasions.

This is a test. If it were a real discussion, you would need to go to your basement and weep amongst your Steelers paraphernalia, because the Steelers would have just frittered away one of only 16 regular-season games in a most unseemly fashion.

Please let us know whether you enjoy this format, and if so whether you would like to participate. I suppose we could just have game threads, but frankly one doesn’t see people at their best or most coherent at those times, and I would just as soon avoid them.

If you wish to take part you may contact me via my website, Choral Music on the Edge. There is a “contact me” link on the top of the left sidebar. I haven’t yet figured out how to put a contact form on this site which doesn’t require a phone number and opening hours. And now, down to the business at hand.

A Few Encouraging Things

The game began on a high note. Or, as PaVa said, at least they won the coin toss. Note it was one Steeler vs. four Bills. The lone Steeler on the field had something to do with one of the few remaining highlights.

In a foreshadowing of things to come, the Steelers’ heralded offense, at full strength other than the lack of Maurkice Pouncey, went three-and-out. The defense, in what was not a foreshadowing but rather what proved to be a brutal dose of reality, promptly gave up a touchdown. As Homer J. said:

The defense looks horrific. Buffalo cutting through them like that proverbial hot knife through butter. Shazier fell flat on his butt on the pass to Clay. Will Allen was late providing help. It is scary as hell to see how first units have completely had their way with the Steeler starting defense.

And if Clay can make them look that bad, the name Gronkowski should give you night sweats.

The defense seems to step it up when the second string QB comes in, but I don’t think that happens much in the regular season. From my feeble recollection, first string QB’s stick around for most regular season games, and that doesn’t bode well for what looks like a Swiss Cheese Curtain.

But then the cavalry arrived and the Steelers scored both a touchdown and a two-point conversion. That’s more like it. As Homer J said: “Ben looked good. DeAngelo Williams has looked very, very good.”

Defense is back on the field. Not for long, though. The old-style Steel Curtain would have had a three-and-out. The new-style defense is also off the field after three snaps, as PaVa points out:

Bills score twice, each in only 3 plays…not good.

He also noted:

Bills 2nd score: Looked like Bills knew from where pressure was coming; 3 man rush stymied and receiver easily split seam.

Once again the offense comes through, this time with Michael Vick. Homer J:

Vick has looked absolutely terrific. Good blocking to seal them on the outside.

PaVa puts in a cautionary word, though:

That pitch to Archer from Vick will only work if Vick keeps it; Archer can’t run through tackles.

Actually, he can, as long as the defense on the other side of the tackles is the Steelers defense. So I guess the statement is accurate, since they have to play other teams’ defenses.

PaVa also said “Beachum struggling… Is he thinking too much with Vick being left handed?” Interesting point.

Homer noted:

Great pass and run, Vick to Bryant. Bryant looks great, and so does Wheaton.

If you are looking for something to build on, it is that we were worried about back-ups at RB and QB, and now it looks like there’s nothing to worry about there. Vick looks absolutely like the answer to the back-up QB problem. He has the mobility, he has the arm, he has the receivers, and he has the pass blocking to make it happen.

This is probably the last encouraging thing in the game. It only gets worse.

A Lot of Discouraging Things


Hartley kicks off and pulls a hammy or something like that. I never really like Hartley. Never liked Taft, either, for that matter.

Someone should file an injunction forcing Tomlin to find a punter who can also place-kick, and someone who can hold in just such an emergency. I’d hate to see this happen in a game. I mean, we all remember Deebo long-snapping. Placekickers, punters, and long-snappers DO get hurt, and if you don’t have a back-up in pre-season, whaddya gonna do in regular season?

My personal feeling was, the Bills had an extra. It would have been only neighborly to loan us one of theirs. But they didn’t offer, and thus the Steelers were forced to go for it on a 3rd and 9, and got 5 yards or so. The damage could have been worse. They turned it over on downs at the Bills’ 21 yard line, so it was scarcely worse than a touchback.

They didn’t get three points, of course. But in the end those three points would have been just a drop in the bucket…

Homer gave up at this point:

I can’t watch any more. If I watch any more, I will lose my appetite. And, besides, there’s a great
sunset special at Chef Geoff’s. Homer is of a certain age where early bird specials appeal to him.

I am not worried about the offense, but the defense looks positively awful.

No excuse that the D is showing vanilla. The truth is they are showing that vanilla—or whatever flavor they are serving up—can not stop any first team offense as of yet. A big part of that is that they are not experienced as a unit, and it shows. Some guys arrive early, or on time, and others arrive late — and that leaves big seams.

Heyward is a beast, but he misses his beast buddy Tuitt.

There are plenty of parts in the front seven. Still not sure about the back four. And they certainly aren’t in sync yet.

My inclination is that they have what they need and this team will become much better as the season goes on, but it’s time to fasten your seatbelt. It’s gonna be a bumpy ride for the first month, at least.

And with everything in flux, how the hell is Danny Smith going to assemble an efficient special teams unit?

Based on what I’ve seen, Jimmy Garaffalo would be a great fantasy pick for week one.

Homer also gave me the title for the post, and a parting shot:

Tomlin said too many guys looked like the walking dead out there.

The George Romero classic “Night of the Living Dead” was filmed in and around Pittsburgh. We got to see the sequel, “Afternoon of the Living Dead,” which took place in Buffalo, which is actually Cleveland – without all the glitter.

They should have provided air sickness bags for those watching yesterday….

PaVa had some questions as well. (It seems no one had the stomach to comment on the second half in more than general terms.)

Is the abysmal performance by the defense, specifically the failure to execute fundamentals, (1) a product of the CBA’s influence on training camp; (2) a product of the coaches’ failure to teach them in training camp; (3) the rawness of the young players?

I say no to (1) because our pre-season opponents haven’t exhibited the same level of deficient tackling… So what do the remaining options indicate?

I would add to his comment about choice (1) that all of the other teams we have played after the Hall of Fame game have had one game less than the Steelers. Scary stuff.

If there’s one tiny excuse I could make for the defense, I suppose it would be that the Bills first-team O-line stayed in for most of the game. It’s not much of one, though. Feel free to mock me for even offering an excuse.

I always try to look at the bright side. Maybe this means Bill Belechick won’t even bother to game plan for Week 1. Or, as one of the Tribune-Review writers suggested this morning, if Tom Brady isn’t playing, maybe he won’t bother to dress a quarterback…

I took careful notes on the rest of the game, which I scarcely have the heart to go back through.

A Dozen Disquieting Questions

Hombre de Acero of Steel Curtain Rising used to run a feature on Behind the Steel Curtain called “Five Burning Questions.” (Maybe he still does, but I couldn’t find any recent examples.) As I watched the last few dreary minutes of Saturday’s game, I found I had about a million burning questions and not a lot of answers.

I expect Mike Tomlin feels just the same. He commented that judging by yesterday’s game you could pretty much cut ALL of the young guys. “Burn!,”  as my children would say.

So here are a Dozen Disquieting Questions, some followed by a Few Feeble Answers:

(1) Who helped or hindered their case today?
The better question is probably “did anyone help their case today?” Mike Tomlin didn’t appear to think so.

(2) Did Jordan Berry do enough to actually be the favorite for the punter job?
I would say he’s one of the few with a positive answer to (1). He had a couple of great punts from near his own endzone. He did a decent job on kick-offs on short notice. Bob Labriola named him the Steelers Digest Player of the Week.

On the other hand, I expect there weren’t a lot of choices, since they presumably don’t want to say anything nice to Martavus Bryant right now, since he’s such a knucklehead. They presumably don’t want to say anything anything more about Michael Vick than necessary, either. That pretty much leaves the second punter to be the highlight of the game.

(3) We lost another kicker. They are doing an MRI on Garrett Hartley, but I can’t imagine the Steelers don’t just sign the first decent-looking kicker to get cut by another team, rather than wait around to see whether Hartley is going to stay healthy. So would you go with an old guy like Jay Feely or go after one of the promising-looking young ones who didn’t beat out the incumbent?

(4) Is Josh Harris the 3rd running back if you’re the coach, after what he did(n’t) do yesterday? Or Dri Archer? If not one of them, then who? Are you looking at the waiver wire?

(5) If you’re Danny Smith, are you turning purple when Jesse James has two false starts in a row with the punter already backed up almost to the goal line? Do you think his heart is going to make it through this season?

(6) Did any of the receivers show you anything which makes you think they can fill in for Bryant? It would have been nice to see Darrius Heyward-Bey, for instance.

(7) Did anyone else catch Charlie Batch’s (or maybe Bob Pompeani’s) comment to the effect that Bryant would be able to play while his case is still under appeal? Does this mean it’s at least theoretically possible he could play for the first couple of games while Le’Veon Bell is out?

(8) And speaking of Le’Veon, did it worry anyone that he didn’t look as good as DeAngelo Williams? Is this because Pouncey is gone?

(9) Why was Danny Smith engaged in conversation with Ramon Foster in the middle of the game? You wouldn’t think they would be exchanging marinara recipes or something like that, but I can’t think of any other reason for the special teams coach to be chatting with an offensive lineman.

(10) And can anyone tell me why that simply awful foghorn/train whistle noise doesn’t count as artificial crowd noise? That was really annoying. REALLY annoying…

(11) If you were Rex Ryan, would you have gotten the tattoo with your wife in a Jets jersey in the first place?

(12) Sorry, what I meant to ask was, which would have been your choice in the Bills’ QB competition?

Feel free to respond to any of these questions, or to pose your own. I highly recommend doing either over just staying in your basement until the season is over…


  • If you have nothing good to say then say nothing at all.

    I kind of like the format of the article as it reminds me of some similar type fan posts BTSC used to run back in the good old days, except those were always pregame. Yeah…I like it. But it was a tough read for me in a loss. The only question I am interested in having answered is what Homer J had for dinner : ) not sure too much was learned against the Bills.

    Oh wait, I know, if you have nothing good to say then yell, GO STEELERS!


    • It was the three course twilight special with your choice of any salad or appetizer and any dessert on the menu. Homer had a world class chopped Greek salad, the mountain trout served over kale, currants, and some other veggie stuff, and a round single-serve
      peach cheeseback with candied peach slices on top and a peanut butter crust underneath. Spectacular. The cheesecake had too much sugar for Homer’s diet, but once in a while, you invoke the YOLO clause. We dined on the patio, where a Beagle howled to welcome and say goodbye to a couple of Labs and other canines who joined in the festivities. For $23.95, it was an excellent dinner, and certainly more enjoyable than watching the Buffalo beatdown. Thanks for asking, Fever, and thanks for the GDS shoutout! 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  • I have something good to say. I didn’t see it. Returning to town at around 11 pm after a long drive, I stopped to pick up something to eat (I know, eating late at night, not good). My first inkling of what happened was when they were posting scores on the television ‘Bills 43…’ FORTY THREE !!!! Uh-oh. Now to put in into perspective, the game that was on involved Washington apparently beating the crap out of the Ravens, so we could comfort ourselves with the reminder that in the preseason some things just aren’t real.

    Haven’t seen a replay yet, want to do it on an empty stomach 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  • There seems to be a dearth of young players who are worth keeping. The question is whether the guys we had last year are improving enough to make that difficult for this crop of youngsters. Is the reality that this rookie crop is just not very good?

    None of the rookies, even the high draft choices look like they will contribute much and Jesse James looks absolutely awful. If this sounds negative, it is because I am the eternal optimist. the kids do no look good.

    I really do think the CBA has hurt the development of young players. Time will tell, it always does. For now, I hope the vets stay healthy.


    • cold_old_steelers_fan

      In the NHL, at one time, 1st round draft picks were expected to play their first season after being drafted but now almost no 1st round picks other than a very select few, will make the big team their first year. It is, in large part, due to the level of conditioning required to play at the highest level has become too big a hurdle. Now it is is not uncommon for even first round players to wait 2 or 3 years before they make the transition. In some cases they will play another year of junior and/or college or they may go to the AHL for a year or two to learn their craft and to improve their conditioning.

      It may be the NFL needs to create a farm system to allow promising kids the opportunity to develop more fully so they can make the jump to the big leagues. Failing that they need to expand rosters, perhaps having more PS slots or a 1st year Training Squad where the players would be able to develop and strengthen without being exposed to poaching from other teams.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Totally agree. I’ve been saying for a while now that expecting colleges to act as a farm system for the NFL has lots of downsides. However, the main upside (it doesn’t cost them anything) makes it seem almost certain they will never do it. But just think if we had a minor league team we could call up guys from in case of injury or non-performance. The practice squad doesn’t function the same way. Oh well…


      • Total agreement here too. Teams invest a lot of money in the players and most players invest a lot in conditioning and sharpening skills unique to the game. Why not allow teams to carry players for even two years, coaching and training them. Fans would love to follow their progress and you would be creating a few more slots for the fringe players to get a chance to develop and catch on. Seems unfair that you risk losing a guy you sign because he’s not roster ready in his first season.


      • There is already a farm system…and the NFL doesn’t even have to pay for it! Unless the NFL takes on the college system and provides a minor leagues for players, nothing will change there. And why would the NFL do that? Kids are developed in college for free.


      • Rosters at 75-80, you can keep up to the current number on PS, the rest you can put into a minor league.

        Rosters are too big for teams to have their own minor league team, but you could work out a system of assigning players to teams, so that you could match up systems. Fill in the empty spots with non-roster players that teams could sign if needed.

        Guys like HoJo, Holliman, Landry Jones, they could be playing and gaining experience instead of just watching film, and the days of guys coming off the street would be over.

        Sadly it makes more sense than dollars, so it won’t happen.


  • I like this round robin idea! I didn’t watch the game as I was out of town, but it sounds like it was pretty ugly for the most part.

    My question is this: At what point in preseason should one stop using the “It’s only preseason, it doesn’t count” excuse? It’s a little scary knowing that we’re just one day away from first cuts, and the team is performing like this.


    • I think that time has already passed. I expect MT is fit to be tied just now.


    • I like the round robin too. I never got into the live thread at the old site too much. I like focussing on the game, not “Haley’s an idiot” or “Gay sucks.”

      As to the Bills game, we didn’t look THAT bad in the first half. Considering Hartley went down, we actually could have lead a halftime. The defense will be a project all season long. They held it together last year, but we still had Troy, Keisel, and Ike. While they clearly were not what they once were, you still get a lot of benefit from having their experience out there. It will take years, not games, to replace the experience. We will have to do it with speed and hustle and I do think we have a lot of that. Scoring 30 a game might help a wee bit, too.🐆


      • Good. Part of why I never participated in game threads was the whole thing about people not being at their best and most rational, and partly because I really focus on the game. I would much rather jot down notes as I go along (on, believe it or not, an old-school yellow notepad) than type a comment and then be busy looking to see whether anyone else had answered it, who else commented, and oh dang someone else thought of that clever remark and managed to post it JUST before I did, etc. I’ve often wondered if some commenters actually watch the game at all…

        Liked by 2 people

        • Thanks for the update. Doesn’t surprise me. I would probably have gone with a young guy myself, except that presumably they expect Suisham back next year. He’ll have to earn it, though, I hate to say…


          • cold_old_steelers_fan

            From what I have been reading, Scobee is like a Suisham that can also kick touchbacks. I have no idea what this will do to our salary cap though.


        • While you were breaking the news, I was putting in my waiver request for him in my fantasy league.

          Liked by 1 person

  • cold_old_steelers_fan

    I watched the game on TV and PVR’d it so I could go back and watch it again but it was so bad I deleted the PVR copy so my wife would have more room to record episodes of Madame Secretary and Murdoch Mysteries. Speaking of mysteries, who called the defensive adjustments on field prior to Fred Jackson’s big run? Reading Neal’s* column today it looks like the defence was lined up incorrectly for the run. If it was Vince Williams then at least he had the excuse that he was rusty.

    I still don’t know that there is enough difference between punters to tell them apart. Perhaps it should be Berry because we have a tradition to maintain**.

    I would take a young place kicker over an older one at this time. That way there is hope of some upside. The old guys have pretty much set the bar for their performances.

    I don’t know how to judge the performance of the 3rd string hopefuls at RB when they were not getting holes to run through. Second and 3rd string o-linemen are not likely to fare well against the best front four in pro-football. I don’t know what Rex thought he was gaining when he had his best playing our scrubs but I hope it was worth it for him.

    Will Danny Smith be here at the end of the season if the ST don’t improve seems a more valid question. Whether it is his heart or Colbert’s boot that gets him, he needs to make ST work for this squad to have a hope.

    IIRC DHB didn’t dress yesterday.

    Was Bell being keyed/spied in the game? Were the Steelers blockers doing a better job for Williams than Bell or did the defensive formations just favour Williams running style? Again, I cannot go back and re-watch to see if this was a possibility. I wouldn’t put it past Ryan to have made stopping Bell a priority regardless of what was said about game planning.

    The train horn was definitely very annoying. I think it is allowed as long as it stops before the offence gets over the ball but I may be wrong (IMBW***).

    I don’t understand tattoos or body piercing (including pierced ears). Your poor body takes so much abuse over your lifetime, why expose it to more? Maybe it is having poked a hole in my foot with a mini-jack hammer when I was 19 that makes me think this way. IDK.

    I would go with EJ Manuel. He is not great but none of these guys are. Buffalo seems to have the choice between three guys who are meant to be career back-ups. They should cut/trade which ever one has the highest salary cap hit.

    Finally, I was one of the folks who didn’t want Vick, partly because I thought he was washed up. He proved me wrong yesterday.

    * Context is for the weak.

    ** Context is still for the weak.

    *** It may just be the Canadian in me but I feel there is a need for an abbreviation option that isn’t as opinionated as IMO and IMHO (which always seems a little passive-aggressive).


    • Correct about DHB. I’m just wondering why, and too lazy to look it up. He must be dinged up. (That’s coachspeak for “one of his limbs is dangling from his body…) As to what Rex was doing, I expect he’s all about confidence and making the guys think they aren’t losers any more. I like Rex, actually, or as much as you can like someone you’ve never met and with whom you would probably disagree on a great many things, but I find myself thinking it didn’t work in NY. Although I suppose it did, for a while. I would say the main problem with him as HC is that he is a great defensive mind, and the Bills already had a great defense. It’s their offense that has been suspect, although it looked pretty good the other day : ( But perhaps they can do well with the old-style Steelers MO of limit the other team’s points, and just score one more than them.

      I definitely think Bell was the target of a lot of unwanted attention. But he should be used to that by now. You notice they also shut Brown down, leading to lots of balls for other receivers.

      I like the idea of something less assertive than IMO, but what do IMBW mean?

      As to Vick, I think if he had to play for any length of time he might not be as successful, but that’s just a hunch. I think he could do a fine job for a game or two, but would be pretty nervous about seeing him for an extended number of games. But then that should go without saying anyhow.


      • cold_old_steelers_fan

        In defence of Rex Ryan. I think Tannebaum left him with very little to work with. Constantly trading up left the team with too few draft picks and not enough young blood.

        IMBW -> I may be wrong…. I was trying something new.


        • I like it! And YMBR (the converse) about Tannenbaum, but I’m afraid I don’t pay that much attention.


        • In reference to why the Bills might have left in their first unit guys for so long..We had joint practices and played a preseason game with them last year. Did a pretty good job of beating them up if I recall. Perhaps Ryan and company wanted to make the point that they were capable of beating us up.


          • Interesting thought, although of course it wasn’t Ryan last season. But I do think it’s about the confidence. Mind you, it doesn’t help all that much to be confident if you’re bad, but I don’t think they are.


          • Rex is pulling a 2007 Tomlin, in my opinion. He’s whipping this team into mid-season form early, to set the tone and establish control. 2007 Steelers crushed teams in preseason and early on before falling back and stinking late.


  • Glad I missed it. Any chance we can cancel the last preseason game before anyone else gets hurt?

    Liked by 1 person

  • Entertaining article and I hope to see more of them.

    Now please excuse me while I shove my terrible towel back into my mouth so no one can hear the incredible amount of weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth that’s been occurring.


  • cold_old_steelers_fan

    Fred Jackson was just released. I wonder if we could afford him on a one year deal.


  • 1. Anthony Chickillo continues to look good against the run and in coverage. He doesn’t get targeted at all, of course this last game there were so many good options. . .
    4. Ben Tate is available. . .
    6. Two possibilities: 1. They don’t think the suspension holds up. 2. DHB is the guy. Coates didn’t get on the field, they focused on Bryant. I don’t get not preparing at all.
    8. D-Will is a better runner than Bell. Bell is the best blocker and receiver, he’s a good runner, Williams is a really good runner.


    • Well, since the NFL just upheld the suspension. I still don’t get why they didn’t dress DHB. Unless he’s some sort of stealth weapon they only unleash at Foxboro. The only thing I could find was that Dale Lolley reported he wouldn’t play last Saturday – no reason why..
      Maybe the theory with Coates, is, they practice the plays with Bryant and then stick Coates in for the simpler ones. Coates is practicing day and night at an underground facility, and was too exhausted to take more than a few snaps last weekend.

      I love conspiracy theories. Unfortunately the obvious answer usually turns out to be the correct one…


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