NFL Preview - Buffalo (3-6) at Pittsburgh (2-6)
By Lyle Fitzsimmons, Contributing NFL Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) - Traditionally speaking, a trip to Pittsburgh has been the last thing a Buffalo Bills team would seek as a "get-well" mission.
But as the losses and the record-setting defensive lapses continue to pile up in the Steel City in 2013, it's becoming quite apparent that these are not the traditional Steelers.
So when Buffalo heads to Heinz Field for a Week 10 showdown this Sunday, it'll do so feeling like it can exorcise the demons from a particularly unsatisfying Week 9.
The Bills head to Western Pennsylvania following a home loss to the still- unbeaten Kansas City Chiefs in which the hosts outgained the visitors by more than a 2-to-1 margin, 470-210, but still managed to lose the game by a double- digit margin, 23-13.
Buffalo ran for 241 yards and got 229 in the air from reserve quarterback Jeff Tuel, but saw a pair of turnovers immediately converted into points when Sean Smith took an interception 100 yards for a touchdown and Tamba Hali scooped up a fumble and went in from 11 yards for another that broke a fourth-quarter tie.
It was a significant departure from recent script for the Bills, who'd had three turnovers in a three-game stretch before losing the ball three times in each of the last two games.
"Turnovers. It always comes down to that first," coach Doug Marrone said.
The offense presumably gets its leader back this week in the form of rookie quarterback EJ Manuel, who'd missed four games since spraining his right knee against Cleveland. His initial backup, Thaddeus Lewis, was 1-2 as a starter and seemed comfortable in the role, but missed last week after sustaining a rib injury in Week 8.
Manuel is 2-3 in five starts with five TD passes and three interceptions.
"Any time you have inconsistency back there it's going to make it tough, or adverse," running back Fred Jackson said. "You want to be consistent. You want to have somebody back there that's steady throughout the season. And that helps you grow as an offense. Not having that I think it definitely has played a role in us having some ups and downs."
Buffalo got 116 yards in 12 carries from C.J. Spiller against the Chiefs and 77 more on 16 attempts from Jackson, pushing its per-game run average to 145.8 yards - seventh-best in the NFL.
"(I'm) definitely looking forward to getting into practice full course and taking as many reps as coach allows me to get," Manuel said.
A rookie quarterback with four weeks of rust is surely a welcome sight for the Steelers after last weekend, when they were riddled for 432 yards and four touchdowns in a 55-31 loss to veteran Tom Brady and his New England Patriots.
The loss was their sixth in eight games this season and their 11th in 15 overall since beginning 2012 with a 6-3 mark. That run ended in an 8-8 finish and this year's squad - barring a significant change in momentum - will give Pittsburgh its first sub-.500 finish since 2003.
"We're here to win," coach Mike Tomlin said. "That's our charge. That's our job. That's our passion. We're not getting it done consistently to this point. So that's irritating and frustrating."
The Patriots' point total was the highest for a foe in franchise history.
"We're all angry and disappointed," quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. "That's probably collectively what's in this locker room."
Roethlisberger passed for 400 yards and four TDs, but also committed three turnovers. One of his wide receivers, Antonio Brown, was benched for a series after an interception resulted from his blown assignment.
On defense, Pittsburgh signed a new cornerback, DeMarcus Van Dyke, as a possible need-based replacement for veteran Ike Taylor, who's questionable after a concussion.
The Steelers remain fourth in the league against the pass - allowing 210 yards per game - but they're also second to last against the run among 32 teams after surrendering nearly 200 to both Oakland and the Patriots in two weeks.
"You re-evaluate everything," Tomlin said. "You have to after a performance like (the one against New England) and we will. It doesn't necessarily mean we will change or change for the sake of changing, but we will look at every aspect of what we are doing and who we are doing it with."
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Running down a dream.
The Steelers defense has become especially porous as of late when it comes to stopping the run. Of particular concern is the success had by mobile quarterback Terrelle Pryor two weeks ago, considering that the Bills' Manuel possesses a similar skill set to Pryor, along with quality weapons in Spiller, Jackson and Stevie Johnson.
Shoring up the right side.
Lining up across from Mario WIlliams and his 11 sacks is challenging enough for the sturdiest of offensive linemen. But when the right side of the line is dinged up - tackle Marcus Gilbert is questionable with an ankle injury and guard David DeCastro is probable with an ankle issue of his own - it's a significant concern for Roethlisberger.
The Bills haven't been automatic over anyone since the days of Jim Kelly and Marv Levy, and they're hardly a lead-pipe cinch here, but based on how close they've been to success and how far the Steelers appear to be from finding it consistently, there seems a good chance for them to swipe one on the road here..
Sports Network predicted outcome: Bills 24, Steelers 21
11/07 12:23:21 ET