The Buffalo Bills dropped their 2021 season opener to the Pittsburgh Steelers, losing 23-16 in a game that they controlled for the better part of the first 40 minutes. Unfortunately, poor play from their offensive line led to inconsistent play from quarterback Josh Allen, who led an offense that underwhelmed against an outstanding Pittsburgh defensive unit.
As disappointing as the result was, there were some bright spots in the game. Here’s how our players to watch fared on Sunday.
RB Devin Singletary
Not only was “Motor” the lead back over Zack Moss, but Singletary was the only one of the two players active in the contest, as the Bills decided to go with speedy veteran Matt Breida at RB2. Singletary played on 75 percent of the offensive snaps, and when he had the chance to carry the ball, he was successful. Singletary totaled 72 yards rushing on 11 carries. However, Singletary only had seven carries with 9:45 remaining in the game. On Buffalo’s penultimate drive, he carried four times for a total of 49 yards. The Bills are a pass-first team, and they aren’t going to change that. Singletary also showcased some of the ball-security issues that have plagued him in his professional career, as he fumbled twice, though fortunately neither play resulted in a turnover. Both fumbles came after he made receptions. Singletary caught three of five targets for eight receiving yards.
WR Emmanuel Sanders
This paragraph would look a lot better had Josh Allen not overshot a wide-open Sanders for what would have been a walk-in touchdown in the game’s first quarter. Sanders also dropped a pass when Allen hit him right in the numbers on a seam route—credit where credit is due, though, because Pittsburgh defensive back James Pierre punched it out. Sanders made some plays, including a nifty diving grab along the left sideline in the early going but, like everyone on Buffalo’s offense, he couldn’t consistently muster anything. Sanders finished exactly where one would have expected in terms of his usage, as he was WR3 in terms of targets (8), receptions (4), and receiving yards (52).
DE Greg Rousseau
“Groot” made the start in his NFL debut, and he also played more EDGE snaps than anyone other than Jerry Hughes for the Bills, logging 52 percent of the snaps in his first NFL action. He did a nice job in the run game, and he even made a solid tackle while setting the edge that only someone with his ridiculous length could have made. His overall stat line was light, as he totaled just two tackles, neither of which went for a loss, but he looked like he belonged on every rep.
DT Ed Oliver
Speaking of someone who looked like he belonged, it felt like the announcers were constantly talking about Oliver torpedoing Pittsburgh’s plans on offense. The third-year defensive tackle has a lot to prove this year, and he started his year off with a bang. Without Star Lotulelei to eat blocks, there was some fear that the team would struggle against the run like they did for most of last year. Instead, Buffalo limited Pittsburgh to just 75 rushing yards on 21 carries. Oliver made three tackles, one of which went for a loss, and he added a quarterback hit on Ben Roethlisberger.
CB Levi Wallace
What we saw from Wallace on Sunday is what we often see from Wallace on Sundays: he’s good enough when the pass rush is solid, and on plays where he has to react to a ball in the air or the quarterback has some time to throw, he can be exposed. Wallace was called for a huge pass interference that was one of those calls that could go either way (and in fact it had, as a similar play from earlier was not called pass interference)—though if I’m being honest, I think the refs were correct in throwing the flag. My gripe was where the flag came from (the official across the field) since the official closest to the play kept the flag in their pocket. Wallace defended Diontae Johnson about as well as he could have on the latter’s third-quarter touchdown reception, because it took a bobble, recapture, and toe-drag for Pittsburgh’s wideout to haul in the touchdown. Wallace had four tackles and a pass breakup on the day.