Game 9 Matchup: Steelers vs. Bills

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When the Bills have the ball: The Bills have struggled offensively, never scoring more than 24 points and managing just four touchdowns in the past three games. But they think they have

their quarterback for the future with rookie EJ Manuel (knee), who is expected to return after missing four games. Manuel has done a good job protecting the ball, throwing only three INTs, and has rushed 25 times for 91 yards, sometimes from the option. LT Cordy Glenn (6-6, 345) anchors the offensive line. But the interior is strong with C Eric Wood and G Kraig Urbik, a former third-round draft choice of the Steelers. The other guard is Doug Legursky, another former Steeler. They lead a rush offense that averages 145.8 ypg, seventh in the league. But the Bills have some injury issues at receiver. Stevie Johnson leads the team with 38 catches and lines mostly in the slot. But rookie Robert Woods is not expected to play and rookie No. 3 receiver Marquise Goodwin strained his hamstring last week against the Chiefs. T.J. Graham (15 catches) will replace Woods, but he is unproven. Tight end Scott Chandler (32 catches) is a favorite target on short routes.

When the Steelers have the ball: The Bills will use a lot of different looks similar to the Jets, Ravens and Saints, morphing between a 3-4 and 4-3 front. They will pressure quarterback Ben Roethlisberger with one of the best front lines in the league. DE Mario Williams leads the team with 11 sacks, but the Bills generate a lot of inside pressure with DTs Kyle Williams (4 sacks) and Marcell Dareus (4). They account for 19 of the team's 29 sacks. The Steelers could be without RT Marcus Gilbert (ankle), who was limited in practice. Rookie ILB Kiko Alonso is not big (6-3, 238), but he is active and leads the team with 89 tackles and four INTs. The Bills will use a lot of nickel and dime packages, sometimes even seven defensive backs. CB Stephon Gilmore allows 2.22 yards per coverage snap, second lowest among all cornerbacks with at least 75 coverage snaps, according to Pro Football Focus. Nickel back Jim Leonhard is second on the team with three interceptions.

KEEP AN EYE ON

WR/KR Marquise Goodwin ... This rookie from Texas is one of the fastest players in the NFL. He was a long-jump specialist on the 2012 U.S. Olympic team in London. Goodwin is the Bills' No. 3 receiver and will challenge the secondary with deep routes. He has only eight catches in four games, but he averages 21.4 yards per catch and has receptions of 40 and 59 yards. Goodwin, though, strained a hamstring last week against the Chiefs and was limited in practice.

The Steelers have won eight of the past nine meetings and are unbeaten against the Bills at home (5-0) since 1993. ... The Bills, who play at Heinz Field for the first time since 2007, are 1-7 all time in Pittsburgh in the regular season. Their only win came in a 30-21 victory Sept. 28, 1975, a game in which O.J. Simpson ran for 227 yards, including an 88-yard touchdown run. ... The Bills have been competitive in just about every game. Four of their losses have been by seven or fewer points; their three victories are by a total of six points. ... The Bills have allowed 236 points, second most in the AFC. ... The Steelers have their worst record at a season's midway point since the 2006 team began 2-6.

To win, the Bills must ...

1 Have Spiller be a thriller. The former No. 1 draft choice averages 4.7 yards per carry and has two runs of 46 yards or longer.

2 Have Jarius be a Byrd-dog. Since 2009, the Bills' free safety has 18 interceptions, fifth most in the league.

3 Make Stevie wonder-ful. Not like his end-zone drop in overtime in 2010 that led to Steelers' 19-16 victory.

To win, the Steelers must ...

1 Keep men off Ben. Roethlisberger has been sacked 31 times, second most among NFL quarterbacks, and has 19 turnovers in his past 12 games.

2 Make Manuel labor. The Bills' No. 1 draft choice gets to test defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, who is 17-2 lifetime against rookie quarterbacks.

3 Keep Kyle from the pile. How G David DeCastro fares against Williams will determine how well the Steelers can run the ball.


Gerry Dulac: gdulac@post-gazette.com and Twitter @gerrydulac.

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