Some observations from the Bills’ 19-16 preseason loss to the Steelers on Sunday night at Heinz Field:
IT’S ALREADY time to be concerned about Buffalo’s first-team offense.
Three games into the exhibition campaign and it has yet to score a touchdown in 10 possessions.
And that sense of desperation was shown by coach Doug Marrone who said, before the game, the starters would be in for 20-25 plays. Instead the first-teamers were on the field for 45 plays ... the whole first half.
And the reason, as Marrone admitted, “We wanted to work on scoring (touchdowns) ... and we didn’t get it done.”
The No. 1 defense also went the whole 30 minutes.
All the top offense had to show for that exposure was two Dan Carpenter field goals — one a 53-yarder — in five possessions.
Quarterback E.J. Manuel’s numbers weren’t bad ... 17-of-27 passing for 148 yards. But no TD passes and an interception when he underthrew a ball into coverage translated to a pedestrian 62.0- passer rating.
By contrast, Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger was lights out. He was 8-of-11 through the air for 128 yards with a 76-yard touchdown connection with speedster Antonio Brown, wide open when two Bills’ defenders collided, and a 16-yard TD hook-up with Markus Wheaton, who beat Buffalo’s top cornerback, Stephon Gilmore.
Those two touchdown tosses gave Big Ben a gaudy 150.8 passer rating.
THE BILLS’ starting defense again was terrific versus the run — 10 yards on eight Steeler carries — but Roethlisberger picked it apart, which is a cause for concern.
Buffalo nickel corner Nickell Robey did get an interception playing with the first unit, but it came against Pittsburgh backup QB, Landry Jones.
SOME OTHER observations from Saturday night’s game:
— It would appear Dustin Hopkins, Buffalo’s sixth-round draft pick in 2013, is toast.
The former Florida State place-kicker who was supposed to supplant Rian Lindell last season, missed the whole campaign with a groin injury.
Buffalo immediately signed Carpenter who went on to have one of the best seasons in Bills’ history, hitting 33 of 36 field goals.
In training camp, it’s been his job from Day 1 with Hopkins’ only hope of making the team being a kickoff specialist.
But he sat out last night with a leg injury and Carpenter hit three of five kickoffs through the end zone, another was downed there, and the other, though returned, was taken out from seven yards deep.
— Were you as surprised as me that Bills’ running back CJ Spiller was the deep man on the opening kickoff?
The Buffalo front office denies the rumors that Spiller is on the trading block, but you have to wonder. Having him return the opening kickoff in a preseason game smacks of showcasing. Why else would he have been subjected to needless injury on such a potentially dangerous but totally inconsequential play?
— Once again, second-year wide receiver Robert Woods served notice that he’s one of the Bills’ top three at that position. He caught a trio of balls for an average of over 16 yards per reception.
— One of the bright spots for the Bills in training camp has been the play of 6-foot-2, 300-pound defensive tackle Landon Cohen, who has played for a handful of NFL teams.
Against the Steelers, he picked up a fumble caused by linebacker Jacquies Smith’s strip-sack of Jones, but ran out of gas after rumbling 49 yards.
— Another player who has impressed in camp is linebacker Randell Johnson, a seventh-round pick from Florida Atlantic. He led Buffalo in tackles last night, albeit against Pittsburgh’s second- and third-teamers.
— Meanwhile, Buffalo’s biggest disappointment in camp looked awful again.
Second-round pick Cyrus Kouandjio, who was supposed to take right tackle Erik Rears job gave up back-to-back sacks to Steelers’ third-teamers, the second of which caused a fumble that that Pittsburgh recovered, setting up the game-winning field goal on the game’s final play.
(Chuck Pollock, the Times Herald sports editor, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)