Steelers: What to watch for Week 1 against Bills
By Devan Penman
The Steelers visit the Bills in Week 1, and you’ll want to keep an eye on these factors and X-factors throughout the season opener.
Chris Berman from ESPN has always quoted that “no one circles the wagons like the Buffalo Bills,” but I can say that Steelers Country can block them in their tracks.
That’s the motivation Pittsburgh will need against the defending AFC East champs and the AFC runner-up. With the Steelers coming off their back-to-back defeat from the Cleveland Browns just a season ago and their 11 – 0 start the best in Steelers history, the Steelers look to start 2021 with a get-up so to speak.
A few things have occurred in the Steelers offseason that were addressed and dealt with, however, a true test will occur this afternoon if the right decisions were made. Not to mention we have a group of Rookies getting their first starts, so there will be plenty to pay attention to and watch for.
Here are 5 topics each Steelers fan needs to look out for.
New Offensive Line
As I recently posted regarding changes from 2020, the big one heading into this year was the reset of the Offensive Line as Pouncey, DeCastro, and Villeneua are no longer players with the Steelers. In the past 4 weeks, position battles were taking place to setup the starting depth chart to replace the 3 players and positions, mainly at Center and Guard that will affect the inside running game. As of this writing, the 5 men upfront include Dan Moore Jr (R), Kevin Dotson, Kendrick Green (R), Trai Turner, and Chukwuma Okorafor.
With two rookies on the Offensive Line, there will be an overreaction within the first several drives if the Steelers’ offense is not up to par compared to what they usually are, so patience needs to be present in this instance.
The conclusion of T.J. Watt’s Holdout and the aftermath
This came as a shocker to many fans and teammates hearing the decision for T.J. to holdout due to the expiration of his rookie contract. For much of the Preseason, anxiety and panic have rippled through the locker room and for our fans alike thinking whether T.J. will or will not be available for the first game of the season. Something similarly occurred 2 seasons ago when Ezekiel Elliott held out before Jerry Jones offered him a deal late into the season.
Thankfully tension subsided this past Thursday and will be available today at 1 o’clock. It remains to be seen how he will perform because as he held out, he skipped his Practices with the 1st Team Defense and he will need to catch up with the flow, but it won’t take long.
The Return of Devin Bush
Selected in the first round of the 2019 Draft, Devin made such an impact on Defense that the likes haven’t been seen since the playing days of Greg Lloyd. Devin was in the higher standings of the NFL Rookie of the Year competition that year but received the reward in the Steelers organization based on commitment and selflessness on the Defensive side. 2020 was going to be no different and there was hope for a huge improvement, but that all went away with his season-ending injury. He is now fully healed and is gameday-ready.
He may feel rusty to get back the performance he lost after the torn ACL, but he needs to be efficient enough until he can get back on track. That will very likely happen.
Ben and Najee
Ben has had sustainable relationships with all the running backs he has played alongside throughout his 18 year career, but about all of them has not been long-lasting. The only 3 that were the most successful and were the longest as far as years are concerned were Bettis, Mendenhall, and Bell. The relationship that those 3 backs have in common that Ben will feel confident about are the colleges (Notre Dame, Illinois, and Michigan State) each back came from very notorious with the rushing attack. Najee comes from a powerhouse (Alabama) that has produced NFL talent like Ingram and Derrick Henry. Can the same combined chemistry be restored to those days those backs played in, like 2005, 2008, and 2014? Ben might just have this year to lay the groundwork and there’s a chance we’ll see a lot of success sooner rather than later.
Bills Mafia Pure Dominance
The Bills have had the Steelers number in the past 2 contests. Both of those games not only Buffalo outscored and outperformed, the Steelers never had a lead in an attempt to be ahead in points. In the combined contests, the Buffalo has outscored Pittsburgh by at least 15 points equivalent to 2 max scoring drives and last year’s game like I pointed out Pittsburgh just could not get things going on Offense and Defense.
The Bills do have new players on their roster that are aiming for an impact. It is Game 1 so if Pittsburgh improves on from last year, I will be personally satisfied coming from a team that was just 3 quarters away from a Super Bowl berth.