Pittsburgh's defense showed more than its offense.
By PHIL NOVAK
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers defense was stellar again Thursday night, but the offense continued to have problems scoring touchdowns in a 20-0 preseason win over the Buffalo Bills at Heinz Field.
The Steelers finished the preseason at 3-1.
"I felt we got more efficient in each game of the preseason," Pittsburgh coach Bill Cowher said. "That's the one thing I liked."
But Cowher probably would have liked to see the first-team offense punch in a touchdown. With the starters playing only the first quarter, quarterback Kordell Stewart led the Steelers on two long drives, both of which ended in field goals.
TDs: Troy Edwards returned a punt 78 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter, and Tee Martin passed to Ron Janes for an 8-yard touchdown late in the fourth quarter, set up by a Hank Poteat interception return to the Bills' 16.
The first-team offense failed to put the ball in the end zone despite good ball movement and nice rushing by backup running backs Amos Zereoue and Chris Fuamalu-Ma'afala.
The Steelers' first drive began at their 24. After an incompleted pass and a short pass play, Stewart found Bobby Shaw on a post pattern for a 36-yard gain to the Buffalo 37.
Zereoue then ran the ball on three straight plays, gaining 20 yards on the last one, setting up first-and-goal from the Bills' 3. But Stewart overthrew Plaxico Burress on a fade pattern to the left corner of the end zone. Kris Brown came on to kick a 21-yard field goal.
Again: On the Steelers' second drive, Stewart again hit a post pattern, this time connecting with Will Blackwell for a 21-yard gain to midfield. But although the Steelers got the ball into the red zone again, on five more Stewart passes totaling 35 yards and 12 yards on the ground from Fuamatu-Ma'afala, they settled for another Brown field goal, this time from 29 yards.
"I guess when you have high expectations, you beat yourself up for the passes you didn't complete which were probably easier passes," Stewart said. "You've got to be excited about the things you've done correctly, what you're supposed to do, but yet at the same time, look at the things you haven't done so well and not be too critical but just learn from it."
Stewart finished 9-for-14 for 105 yards. He did not throw a touchdown pass this preseason.
Pursued: Tee Martin relieved Stewart in the second quarter. He began with three consecutive 3-and-out series and led the offense to only three first downs in the final three quarters, but he was on the run often as the blocking broke down on several occasions. He threw the fourth-quarter touchdown pass, but finished the game 7-of-17 for 45 yards and was sacked four times.
"I just wanted to keep things going and maintain the drives," Martin said. "But overall I think I did a pretty good job. I'm going to come and continue to work hard tomorrow, watch some tape and see what I could have done better."
The defense dominated in shutting out the Bills. The Steelers allowed only 193 total yards and 104 yards passing, intercepted two passes and sacked Buffalo quarterbacks four times.
"We're trying to put it together," said linebacker Jason Gildon. "I think the main focus was to try and get better each week and prepare for Jacksonville [Sept. 9]. You want to go out and put in some quality work, and I think we've done that each preseason game."
Interception: On the Bills' first drive, Steelers' cornerback Deshea Townsend intercepted a Rob Johnson pass intended for Eric Moulds, and on the second drive, Gildon sacked Johnson as the defense forced a quick 3-and-out. The Bills' first-team offense netted only 10 yards.
Alex Van Pelt relieved Johnson but he didn't do much better, finishing 4-of-7 for 25 yards. He led the Bills to only two first downs in four possessions.
The Bills threatened to score twice in the fourth quarter when Travis Brown came in at quarterback, but the Steelers' defense stepped up to the challenge. After Curtis Alexander broke free for a 39-yard gain to put the ball at the Pittsburgh 4, linebacker Donnel Thompson and Poteat stuffed Alexander on first down for no gain, and Brown threw two incomplete passes. Bills' kicker Steve Christie then bounced a 23-yard field goal attempt off the right upright. He missed a 40-yard field goal after a 39-yard drive on the Bills' next possession.