It will be a big Week 1 matchup on Sunday as the Buffalo Bills play host to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Buffalo is looking to pick up where they left off after a strong 2020 season while the Steelers are looking to bounce back after a tough playoff exit against the Cleveland Browns. To preview the game we talked to Jeff Hartman from Behind the Steel Curtain for a scouting report on the team.
1) Are fans concerned that T.J. Watt may not be playing Sunday?
It is funny, this offseason the general consensus was a deal will get done. There was always optimism a deal would get done, but as the day gets closer, it becomes more and more daunting of a task. At this point, the question now becomes will Watt even practice, and if he does practice, considering he is still under contract, how much will he play in Buffalo? Fans are concerned, and rightfully so. (Update: Watt practiced in full for the first time on Wednesday.)
2) What is the biggest area the team needed to improve on after last season?
This is a no-brainer. It is the running game. The Steelers’ offense ranked dead last in the league in both yards per carry and yards per game. They invested the 24th overall pick in Najee Harris, and made changes in the coaching staff. They promoted Matt Canada from quarterbacks coach to offensive coordinator, and they also promoted Adrian Klemm from assistant offensive line coach to offensive line coach. Canada’s creativity and Klemm’s hard-nosed approach should help the Steelers generate a running game. At this point, anything is better than what fans saw in 2020.
3) What elements will rookie Najee Harris add to the offense?
Najee Harris is the best back the Steelers have had since Le’Veon Bell was playing in 2014 and 2015. I expect Harris to get the majority of touches at running back, and on top of that, he will be the same type of dual threat as a runner and receiver as Bell when he was in Pittsburgh. Harris is a rookie, but he has the look of a playmaker every time he touches the ball. I want to see how he does in non-statistical categories. Things like blitz pickup, route running, and yards after contact. If he thrives in those roles early in 2021, the Steelers will have found a great one with their first round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.
4) After Stefon Diggs had a great game last year, what changes do you think the secondary may make to slow him down?
I would fully expect the Steelers to deploy a bracket approach to slow down Diggs. Diggs is now a type of receiver where you have to take the approach of “you can’t remove him from the game, so you have to slow him down”. The Steelers will do their best to keep a safety, mainly Minkah Fitzpatrick, shaded to Diggs’s side of the field. If the Steelers get burnt, they will likely try everything they can to ensure it isn’t Diggs who is doing the burning. Force Josh Allen to go elsewhere with the football will be the mission.
5) Even though it is Week 1, this feels like a huge game for both teams. Would you consider this a must-win for the Steelers?
I don’t consider any Week 1 game a must-win for any team, and I stand by that, but I will say this carries more than just a win or loss on the record. With both of these AFC teams having playoff aspirations, head-to-head tiebreakers are a big factor in those outcomes when the playoffs role around. Whoever wins this game will have a leg up on the other, and it will be a tough spot for the visiting Steelers.