Steelers vs. Bills: Week 1 early impressions by the numbers
In a preview for the Steelers’ 2021 season opener against the Bills, we take an in-depth look at what the numbers tell us of the matchup.
The feeling is blissful. Months turned into weeks, then weeks into days, and we are finally only moments away from watching another season of Pittsburgh Steelers football.
An opener featuring an AFC juggernaut, the Steelers should have their hands full in dealing with the dynamic offense of the Buffalo Bills, accompanied with a defense consisting of worthy talent at every level. Marking their third year in a row in which they will have faced each other, Pittsburgh has yet to triumph victoriously.
Most recently, last season, the Steelers’ offense marked a poor effort against the Bills, disappointing with their second-lowest amount of total yards in 2020 (224) en route to losing 26-15.
Looking for redemption, they will receive help under first-year offensive coordinator Matt Canada from the likes of running back Najee Harris and tight end Pat Freiermuth to turn the tide in this series and a possible win to jump off their 2021 season.
Steelers roster weaknesses will be tested immediately
Without a doubt, the position groups questioned the most on Pittsburgh’s roster are the offensive line and the secondary.
Two new cornerbacks to man the backend, Cameron Sutton and Justin Pierre, and then right tackle Chukwuma Okorafor, the only offensive lineman with more than four starts in 2020 for Pittsburgh, have some major battles looking forward to Sunday.
The Bills will counter with quarterback Josh Allen, who quite possibly took the largest step forward as a player last season. The leader of an offense that ranked second in points per game (31.3), Allen completed 69 percent of his passes, threw for over 4,500 passing yards, and was responsible for 45 total touchdowns.
Significantly aided by the NFL’s Assistant Coach of the Year, Brian Daboll, the acquisition of wide receiver Stefon Diggs did wonders for the growth of Allen and Buffalo’s offense as well. Formulating into over 1,500 yards and eight touchdowns on the year, Diggs was one of five wideouts on the Bills roster to finish the season with at least 11.8 yards per reception.
Despite Allen’s added threat as a runner and as successful as this offense was in 2020, the Bills ranked 20th in rushing yards, averaging only 4.2 yards per carry as a team. Not to skew it as it did them a disservice, but the Steelers should be expected not to allow any bit of success on the ground.
As they attempt to stop such a vaunted Bills offense, the black and gold’s offense will also have challenges to deal with on their own.
In 2020, opposing teams scored on 39.4 percent of their drives against Buffalo (18th in NFL) and converted on 65.5 percent (28th) of their trips in the red zone. However, in their matchup against the Steelers, the Bills forced either a punt or a turnover on 10 of their 12 offensive drives.
Championed by cornerback Tre’Davious White and safety Micah Hyde, Buffalo’s secondary remains one of the league’s best, as it ranked in the top 10 against opponents in net yards gained per attempt (6.1), interceptions (15), and passing touchdowns (23). Also, they were the leading proponent towards being one of the four games in which quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw for 200 yards or less in 2020.
Furthermore, the Bills have notable names upfront in Jerry Hughes, Ed Oliver, Mario Addison, and rookie Gregory Rosseau who are certain to give this Pittsburgh offensive line fits. The good news for them, and running back Najee Harris’ NFL debut, is that Buffalo’s defense finished 17th or worse in rushing yards, touchdowns, and yards per attempt.
Can the Steelers take advantage and make a statement? Limiting the turnovers will also be a tale to watch as the Bills ranked third last year. However, if the Steelers can control these two elements, their chances for a victory should greatly increase.