When the Bills have the ball: The offense has come to life since QB Ryan Fitzpatrick took over in Week 3, averaging 24.5 points. They've also received a boost from RB Fred Jackson, who is coming off back-to-back 100-yard games. The Bills though, could be without rookie speedster C.J. Spiller (hamstring), who has 164 yards on 41 carries and 18 receptions for 81 yards. Veteran Lee Evans is considered the team's best receiver, but third-year Stevie Johnson has 19 more catches (52), 229 more receiving yards (728) and five more TDs (9) than Evans. Unlike the Steelers' past two opponents, who use their tight ends in the passing game, the Bills use TE Shawn Nelson more to help block.
When the Steelers have the ball: The Bills have the worst rush defense in the league, allowing 163.5 yards per game, and their secondary isn't much better. QB Ben Roethlisberger has thrown for 662 yards and six TDs the past two games and will be going against a Bills defense that has allowed 20 touchdown passes, third most in the league and a 99.1 passer rating, fifth worst. Two players were benched last week in Cincinnati for poor play ' FS Jairus Byrd and CB Leodis McKelvin, who was beaten for several long passes. That could be a problem against WR Mike Wallace, who has three consecutive 100-yard receiving games. The Bills will switch from a 3-4 defense to a big 4-3 alignment that utilizes both nose tackles, Kyle Williams and Torell Troup, along with DEs Marcus Stroud and Dwan Edwards, in an attempt to stop the run. Williams has been good at penetrating gaps and disrupting plays in the backfield, something the Steelers will try to negate with rookie C Maurkice Pouncey.
LB Paul Posluszny: In his fourth season after being a second-round draft choice from Penn State, the former Hopewell High School star is headed for his third consecutive season of 100-plus tackles. Posluszny has had 10 or more tackles in six of the past seven games, including a career-high 18 in an overtime loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. He lines at weakside linebacker in the 4-3 but moves inside when the Bills switch to a 3-4 front.
The Steelers are making their first appearance in Buffalo since the 2004 regular-season finale ' a 29-24 victory as mostly unknowns like Willie Parker and James Harrison received starts' and have won seven of the past eight meetings with the Bills, including two in a row. ... The Bills are coming off back-to-back victories against the Detroit Lions and Cincinnati Bengals after three consecutive three-point losses, including two in overtime to Baltimore and Kansas City.
To win, the Bills must:
1. Buffalo Ben. Since he returned, Roethlisberger has passed for more yards (1,579) than any other quarterback and his passer rating of 101.9 is fourth best.
2. Get action from Jackson. He is coming off back-to-back 100-yard games, but that means little against the league's No. 1 rush defense.
3. Pick their poison. Do they want their NFL-worst rush defense to get gouged or their secondary to keep getting pummeled with TD passes?
To win, the Steelers must:
1 Cause fits for Ryan. Fitzpatrick does a great job reading defenses and changing protection, which he will need against Dick LeBeau's schemes.
2 Not let Stevie be a wonder. Johnson has been the big playmaker in the Bills' offense, catching three TDs in the comeback victory against the Bengals.
3 Stampede the Bills. The 32nd-ranked rush defense should create opportunities for Rashard Mendenhall to add to his TD (8) and 20-yard runs (8) totals.
Gerry Dulac: firstname.lastname@example.org . First Published November 28, 2010 5:00 AM