At halftime of the season opener, the Buffalo Bills lead the Pittsburgh Steelers 10-0. Buffalo had just marched down the field and scored a touchdown to close out the half. All seemed well in Orchard Park.
Then, the second half happened. Poor play calling, head-scratching go-for-it decisions, horrendous blocking, and scattershot offense plagued the Bills. Pittsburgh, on the other hand, executed everything they wanted in the second half on their way to 20 unanswered points—14 of which came in the fourth quarter.
Buffalo turned in a strong defensive effort but, ultimately, it was the Steelers’ defense that won the day. Here’s how Pittsburgh’s players to watch performed on Sunday.
QB Ben Roethlisberger
The veteran signal-caller looked every bit the part of the beaten veteran in the first half, as the Bills harassed and harried the 39-year-old into a 6-for-12 half where he only threw for 57 yards and was sacked twice. In the second half, however, Roethlisberger dug deep and made the throws his team needed to pull out a win. While he finished with a pedestrian line, completing just 18-of-32 passes for 188 yards and one touchdown, that doesn’t include two long penalties that he drew by giving his receiver a chance on jump balls down the field. It also doesn’t include what could have been a back-breaking interception that was called back on a suspect holding call on Tre’Davious White, the man who also made the interception. Roethlisberger made more plays when it mattered than his young counterpart, Buffalo’s Josh Allen.
RB Najee Harris
The Bills allowed Harris to break free for one big carry, an 18-yard run that helped set up Pittsburgh’s first touchdown. He also started off the second half with a nine-yard run. Overall, though, the Bills kept Harris bottled up throughout the afternoon, as the rookie was only able to muster a total of 45 yards on his 16 carries. He caught one of his three targets for four yards, and one of those incomplete passes was a drop that probably would have been a touchdown had he made the grab. While Harris didn’t do much against a stout Buffalo defense, he showed great patience throughout the day, and his vision looked to be about as good as advertised.
WR Chase Claypool
Buffalo has not done well with big wideouts since head coach Sean McDermott took over. From Tre’Davious White’s rookie-year thrashing at the hands of A.J. Green to DeAndre Hopkins grabbing a Hail Mary to win last season, big wideouts can make plays against what is a smaller Bills secondary. Claypool used his strength and size to his advantage on Sunday, making three catches for 45 yards on five targets. He also gained 25 yards on a reverse in the third quarter to set up a field goal. After the game, Claypool tweeted “circle the wagons.” Given the beating that Pittsburgh put on the Bills in the second half, I’ll assume that Claypool intentionally used the phrase properly, as the Bills will need to circle the wagons this week with a date against the first-place Miami Dolphins on tap.
EDGE T.J. Watt
The Bills and offensive coordinator Brian Daboll assumed that the offensive line could handle Watt, especially since the Steelers weren’t blitzing much. They assumed wrong. Watt was a one-man wrecking crew, as he sacked Josh Allen two times and hit him five more times on the afternoon. He added a tackle for loss and a forced fumble that Cam Heyward recovered. Pittsburgh made Watt the NFL’s highest-paid defensive player, and he responded in kind. That was a huge effort, and it exposed a big weakness for Buffalo.
KR/PR Ray-Ray McCloud III
The Bills decided to use Tyler Bass’s leg strength to their advantage, kicking the ball out of the end zone on four of his five kickoffs. The only one that didn’t go out of the end zone was the onside kick in the fourth quarter, so the team clearly didn’t want to give McCloud a chance to return much. Punter Matt Haack kept the ball away from McCloud, as well, booting two out of bounds before allowing McCloud one return, one which he gained five yards. The former Bill was a non-factor on Sunday.