The Pittsburgh Steelers enter the regular season with a lot of questions that will have little time to address. They are hitting the road to take on the Buffalo Bills who are coming off of an AFC Championship loss in Kansas City. The Steelers sit at roughly 6.5 point underdogs with many, many experts predicting Buffalo to win convincingly.
There’s no doubt the Buffalo Bills are a tough matchup. The Steelers traveled to an empty Bills stadium and continued their December collapse last season suffering a 26-15 defeat. This year, the Bills Mafia will be back and will surely create an electric, rowdy environment. We haven’t even discussed the actual Buffalo Bills roster yet!
The Bills will be led by an MVP odds favorite in 4th-year quarterback, Josh Allen. Alongside him, Stefon Diggs—who torched the Steelers secondary last year—will be ready to replicate his success; joined by Cole Beasley and former Steelers wide receiver, Emmanuel Sanders. The Bills’ defense returns a strong secondary with a solid front seven. Needless to restate the obvious, the Steelers will have their toughest opening day matchup on paper since probably the 2015 opener in New England.
This game will have plenty of aspects to concern Steeler Nation. Ultimately, like it does every week, it will take high-level execution and game planning—this week being no exception. As Steeler Nation watches things get going, here are my top 3 matchups to watch for on the road in Buffalo!
1) Cameron Sutton/Joe Haden/James Pierre vs Stefon Diggs
In 2020, Stefon Diggs and Josh Allen took advantage of a secondary lacking their veteran corner Joe Haden. As a result, you saw Cameron Sutton and Steven Nelson struggle a bit. Not a bit, a good bit. Allen targeted Diggs 14 times. Diggs reeled in 10 catches for 130 yards and a touchdown. The Steelers didn’t have much of an answer for him.
Even though Diggs may be a little banged up heading into this matchup, don’t expect him to miss this matchup—nor him forgetting how effective he was in the last meeting. Josh Allen and Stefon Diggs have strong chemistry. This will be a challenge for the defensive backs who match up against him. We can expect that challenge primarily resting on the shoulders of James Pierre and Cameron Sutton. Sutton had a good outing against the Bills; except against Diggs. James Pierre is someone who looks to be developing into something promising, but this is not a preseason matchup. It’s a 5-star matchup.
Don’t be surprised to see Joe Haden get some opportunities against Diggs as well. This game could very well set the tone for these corners and their approach to the season. The front seven will be creating as much havoc as they can. It’s up to these corners to stand their ground.
*Obviously, the matchup is very much contingent on factors such as sub-packages.
2) Tre’Davious White vs Diontae Johnson
This has been a fun matchup to watch. Any time these two have been matched up, it really is a battle. We can certainly expect most of Diontae Johnson’s reps to come against Levi Wallace, but when it comes time… it will be Diontae Johnson vs Tre’Davious White.
With that being said, it will be just as equally important for JuJu Smith-Schuster, Chase Claypool, and James Washington to create plays matched up against White. Every team ought to know that Diontae Johnson is going to get a bulk of targets. Could we expect some double coverage on Johnson like we saw some of in 2019? Remember, in 2020 he was benched. Once he got back out on the field, it was clear he was giving every Buffalo could handle.
I honestly would not be surprised to see Tre’Davious White find more matchups against Diontae Johnson as the game progresses. Especially if Johnson gets cooking early. This will be the most exciting matchup to watch in this game.
3) Steelers Offensive Line vs Bills Front Seven
There it is. The biggest concern everyone and their momma is thinking about: the 2021 Pittsburgh Steelers offensive line. In case you’re out of the loop, here is that starting unit for week 1:
LT – Dan Moore Jr.
LG – Kevin Dotson
C – Kendrick Green
RG – Trai Turner
RT – Chukwuma Okorafor
In case you’re keeping track, exactly zero 2020 Week 1 starters will be taking the field Sunday. This offensive line is completely different. The left side showed strides during the preseason, Green showed that potential, and Trai Turner certainly isn’t what he once was—but has been solid. There is concern over Okorafor among fans.
Nonetheless, it is put up or shut up time. We’re about to see what this unit is made of. We’re about to see what Steelers offensive coordinator, Matt Canada is made of. We’re about to see what Steelers offensive line coach, Adrian Klemm and his teachings of execution and “necessary violence” are made of. This won’t be that 2014-2017 unit. There is plenty of potential, however. The big question is, will they answer the call and show that physicality missing last year? We’re about to find out.
What matchup are yinz looking forward to see? Click to comment below!