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Starkey: Bad night in Buffalo

| Sunday, Aug. 26, 2012, 12:31 a.m.
Steelers' David DeCastro goes down against the Bills and is carted off in the first quarter at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Chaz Palla | Tribune Review

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- As the theory goes, the third exhibition game is the important one. The one that might tell us something about the season ahead.

Except that it rarely does.

The only real objective, as always in the NFL's silly season, is to avoid injuries to key players — and the big story here was the potentially severe right knee injury sustained by Steelers rookie guard David DeCastro, who was carted off just 3:11 into the game.

Veteran defensive end Brett Keisel left with a possible high-ankle sprain, though he told me afterward, “It's no problem.”

DeCastro's injury alone made this the worst 38-7 victory imaginable.

If Bruce Arians were still the Steelers' offensive coordinator, the masses would be enraged. They'd be ripping him for calling four straight passes to open the game, including a first-down attempt that sent Ben Roethlisberger into his end zone on the Steelers' second series.

What happened to re-establishing the run?

They'd be screaming that if the Steelers ran the ball from inside their 5 to open that series, then maybe they wouldn't have been faced with a 3rd-and-8 from their 6, and maybe DeCastro wouldn't have crumpled to the turf pass-blocking.

But that's all talk-show fodder for another day.

The halfway-good news for the Steelers and new offensive coordinator Todd Haley is that they have a capable replacement in Ramon Foster. Not a great one, mind you, but at least Foster has experience, and winning experience at that.

The Steelers also saw Max Starks once again emerge from mothballs to do a commendable job at left tackle. I have come to believe that Starks will never, ever be replaced. He will be the Steelers' left tackle when he is 72.

“I had one mental error,” Starks said. “Other than that, everything felt good.”

So even if the third exhibition game usually predicts nothing from a team perspective, it can lend insight on individuals …

• Roethlisberger was at his best in the no-huddle at the end of the first half. For all the talk of a rejuvenated running game, a full-time fullback, smash-mouth football, blah, blah, blah, the Steelers will again live and die with their star quarterback. As it should be. Big Ben was spectacular in directing a 98-yard touchdown drive in just 1:33.

• Loved Ben's quote: “I just started calling my own plays.” That is his mandate in the no-huddle. You better believe Haley is smart enough to let Ben take over at times.

• Willie Colon did a dead-on Chris Kemoeatu impression on the first series. Kyle Williams, who killed Kemoeatu here two years ago, beat Colon inside and forced Roethlisberger out of the pocket. Mario Williams sacked him.

• Byron Leftwich might be slower than Rod Barajas, but he can be my backup quarterback anytime.

• Antonio Brown stayed in way too long, well into the third quarter. What was Mike Tomlin thinking?

• Lawrence Timmons used that scary closing burst to crush quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick on the Bills' first series. Timmons — who had seven sacks in 2009 but has only five since — should be utilized more as a pass rusher, especially if James Harrison misses time.

• A toned-up Ziggy Hood looks like a difference-maker. He and Cameron Heyward traded big hits on the quarterback. A young, frisky defensive line could be in the making.

• Isaac Redman was stuffed on a third-and-1, but he scored — mostly on account of his own willpower — on a third-and-goal from the 2. That play, incidentally, saw the Steelers line up with no fewer than four tight ends. Only Mark Bruener was not utilized.

• I noticed Chris Carter twice in the first half — once when he lucked into a sack after Fitzpatrick was flushed, once when he beat running back Fred Jackson's block to get a hit on Fitzpatrick. Otherwise, rookie tackle Cordy Glenn owned him.

• The special teams, as Tomlin might put it, were “below the line” in the first game without coach Al Everest.

Not that it means much. The third exhibition game rarely does — except when a team sustains a major injury.

Then it's always a loss.

Joe Starkey co-hosts a show 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays on 93.7 “The Fan.” His columns appear Thursdays and Sundays. He can be reached at jraystarkey@gmail.com.

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