While Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin is looking for something to turn around his team’s disappointing season, the Buffalo Bills hope rookie quarterback EJ Manuel is healthy enough to help them get back on track.
Both teams will be trying to avoid a third straight defeat when the Steelers look to continue their dominance over the visiting Bills on Sunday.
Since reaching 6-3 with a 16-13 overtime win over Kansas City on Nov. 12, Pittsburgh (2-6) has lost 11 of 15. The Steelers might have bottomed out last Sunday when they were outscored 31-7 down the stretch of a 55-31 loss at New England.
“We’re here to win,” 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.”
New England’s point total was the highest allowed by the Steelers in their storied history.
“I think we’re all angry and disappointed,” said Ben Roethlisberger, who passed for 400 yards and four touchdowns but committed three turnovers. “That’s probably collectively what’s in this locker room.”
Tomlin is not opposed to making lineup changes, and already benched receiver Antonio Brown for a series last week after a blown assignment led to an interception. The Steelers did sign second-year cornerback DeMarcus Van Dyke this week, but more as insurance if Ike Taylor is unable to play because of a concussion suffered last Sunday.
“You re-evaluate everything,” Tomlin said. “You have to after a performance like (last weekend) 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.”
Veteran safeties Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark were often victimized by Tom Brady, who threw for 432 yards and four touchdowns. Tomlin, however, expects to stick with both considering Pittsburgh ranks fourth in the league with 210.0 passing yards allowed per game.
“I’ve got a great deal of confidence in them and their abilities to play and play winning football for us,” he said.
Pittsburgh, however, is 31st in rush defense with an average of 131.3 yards after yielding 197 apiece to Oakland and New England in the last two weeks.
Stopping the run may not prove any easier against Buffalo (3-6), which ranks seventh with 145.8 yards per game on the ground after running for a season-high 241 in a 23-13 loss to Kansas City last week. C.J. Spiller gained 116 yards on 12 carries and Fred Jackson added 77 on 16 attempts.
Buffalo outgained Kansas City 470-210, but the undefeated Chiefs scored twice on defense. Bills rookie Jeff Tuel was picked off by Sean Smith, who returned it 100 yards for a touchdown that tied the game in the third quarter. Tamba Hali then returned receiver T.J. Graham’s fumble 11 yards for a score to give the Chiefs a 20-13 lead early in the fourth.
The Bills have committed three turnovers in each of the last two games after totaling three in the previous three contests.
“Turnovers,” coach Doug Marrone said. “It always comes down to that first.”
Buffalo’s offense might run smoother under Manuel, who appears ready to start Sunday after missing four weeks with a sprained right knee. Backup Thad Lewis, 1-2 as a starter this season, is also apparently ready to return after missing last week with bruised ribs.
Manuel, the first-round pick who is seen as the team’s future, has completed 56.7 percent of his passes with five TDs and three interceptions while going 2-3.
“Definitely looking forward to getting into practice full course and taking as many reps as coach allows me to get,” Manuel said.
Inexperience at quarterback is a big reason why the Bills rank last in the NFL with a 55.4 completion percentage. Their three QBs have been sacked 28 times.
“I think any time you have inconsistency back there it’s going to make it tough, or adverse,” 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.”
Whoever is under center might not have receivers Robert Woods and Marquise Goodwin as options after both were injured last Sunday.
Buffalo has dropped four straight and eight of nine to the Steelers, including playoffs. The Bills, who last played in Pittsburgh in 2007, are 2-9 there and have been outscored 136-40 during a five-game regular-season and playoff road skid in the series.
Jackson had a 65-yard touchdown reception, but Pittsburgh’s Shaun Suisham kicked four field goals in a 19-16 overtime win in the latest meeting Nov. 28, 2010.