Updated: Sep 12, 2021
(Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images)
Matchup: Pittsburgh Steelers (+6.5) @ Buffalo Bills O/U 48
Time and place: 1 p.m. EST at Highmark Stadium
Tidbit: Najee Harris will make his rookie debut on Sunday. The Steelers rookie rushing record is 1,055 yards by Franco Harris, a mark that has stood since 1972.
Blast from the past: Stevie Johnson drops the game winner.
Key 1- Disrupt Allen's flow
For Buffalo, everything starts and stops with Josh Allen. The 25 year old gunslinger holds the third best gambling odds for this year’s MVP award, and for good reason. Allen broke out last season throwing for 4,544 yards and 37 touchdowns en route to a 13-3 record.
Allen is one of the league’s premier athletes. Similar to Lamar Jackson, the core integrity behind slowing down Allen is containing his ability to move. Allen has rushed for 25 touchdowns over the last three seasons- by comparison James Conner rushed for 22 touchdowns over the same span. But what makes Allen especially scary is that his real desire outside the pocket is to extend the play and make a throw downfield. In this vain, Allen is comparable to an old-school Big Ben.
The Steelers must disrupt Allen’s rhythm to get the Bills offense out of its flow. When it’s all clicking, Allen and the Bills are right up there with Mahomes and the Chiefs in terms of potency. Although the Steelers defensive front might be undermanned, pressuring the quarterback will be their best path to success.
Key 2- Play with the new toys
It’s safe to say Steelers Nation is pretty excited about the team’s new running back. Najee Harris carries a load of expectations heading into his rookie season and the 230 lb Doak Walker Award winner certainly has the pedigree to back it up. Expect Harris to tote the rock early and often as the Steelers look to re-establish a physical identity.
The Steelers simply cannot afford to utilize a style similar to the one they employed against Buffalo last season in a 26-15 prime time loss. In that game, the Bills suffocated the Steelers attack by sitting on shallow routes as Roethlisberger threw the ball 37 times for 187 yards and 2 interceptions.
In his age 39 season Roethlisberger must be provided some relief. Enter Harris, a bruising 3-down runner, and Pat Freiermuth, the exciting Penn State tight end who never dropped a red zone pass in his collegiate career. It will be exciting to see how these rookie weapons are incorporated into the offense.
Key 3- TACKLE
It seems simple enough, but tackling will be a prevalent theme across the league in Week 1 as teams adjust to the rigors of full speed football. It was especially noticeable last year with no preseason games, but this season will still offer this frustrating issue as the majority of starters in the NFL have yet to see meaningful action in 2021.
It’s why Mike Tomlin is one of only a handful of coaches to do live tackling in practices this summer. Physicality is going to be a point of emphasis for this team and that tone will be set by the defense.
I’ll be focused on T.J. Watt’s ability to rev up to game speed and Devin Bush in his return from a season-ending knee injury.