The Pittsburgh Steelers will kick off the season on Sunday, September 12th as they visit the Buffalo Bills. As is most of the schedule for the 2021 season, Sunday will be a tough task taking down Josh Allen and co., but the Steelers have the talent to do so. I am looking at some players at being a vital piece to the team if the they want to go into Bills Mafia and start the season with a win.
1.) Joe Haden
In what could potentially be Haden’s last season with the Steelers, he is up for a tall task right away. Stefon Diggs had 10 catches for 130 yards and a touchdown when these two teams met up last December. Haden, of course, did not play in that game as he was dealing with a concussion. Diggs is the Bills’ top offensive weapon and eliminating him from their game plan could be the difference when it is all said and done. Although the Bills are not one dimensional on offense, Diggs is key to their success. The best example of neutralizing Diggs leading to an opponent’s success was the Kansas City Chiefs last season. In both games, Diggs averaged just 61.5, far less than his season average 101 yards per contest in the other 17 games (including playoffs). Additionally he only had six receptions in each game; he only had one game of less than that all of 2020. I expect the Steelers to double team Diggs often, but Haden will be the critical piece in charge of holding him down. An “off” day from Diggs skyrockets the heavy underdog Steelers’ chances of winning.
2.) Devin Bush and Joe Schobert
Allen is a talented quarterback. This is not just because of his electrifying arm, but his ability to run the football as well. Both Bush and Schobert will need to know where Allen is at all times and prevent him from effectively running the football, especially in the red zone. It will always be key for these two inside linebackers to gel in the middle. They have had virtually no game experience with one another and their communication will be essential all season long, but even more crucial against an MVP-caliber quarterback like Allen. Bush, coming off a torn ACL in 2020, has no time to shake the rust off against a high-powered Bills offense and Schobert has no time to get acclimated with a defense that is very familiar with each other. These two are talented enough to make a big difference on Sunday.
3.) Najee Harris
Harris is another guy who has no time to settle in. He has been talked about all summer long and now it is his chance to make a significant difference on an offense that has needed a dynamic running back for a couple years now. The Steelers had a whopping 47 yards rushing against the Bills last season and James Conner, their leading rusher, ran for just 18 yards. Jaylen Samuels was the only running back involved in the passing game with three receptions. We could see Harris have more rushes and receptions than all three running backs did combined last December (20). Harris is a weapon to use on all three downs and has the opportunity to be the missing piece to a Steelers offense that struggled down the stretch last season. Steelers fans everywhere should be stoked to watch this rookie on Sunday.
4.) Eric Ebron and Pat Freiermuth
The Bills allowed the most receptions and second most receiving yards to tight ends back in 2020. With Harris added to the offensive weaponry, this could open up some more field for the Steelers tight ends. Ben Roethlisberger displayed a trust for Freiermuth in the preseason game against the Detroit Lions with two touchdown passes and Ebron also caught four passes for 59 yards. These two could make a strong impact in this game on third down and in the red zone. Exploiting an obvious weakness on the Bills defense from a year ago will be important in order to keep up with the pace of the Bills offense and their ability to score.
5.) Chris Boswell
Boswell has had a quiet summer. He had competition at kicker and a great 2020 campaign. The Steelers simply are not going to blow the Bills out. The Steelers, if they can go into Buffalo and win, will do it in a close game. Boswell could be the key to that at the end. He was 19-20 last year and has only missed three field goals since the beginning of the 2019 season. While close games are hard to watch and sweat out, I expect one this Sunday. Boswell will need to be effective, clutch, and also execute small details like kickoffs and extra points.
Who are your x-factors for the Steelers game against the Bills? Let us know in the comments below!