The regular season is finally upon us, and the Pittsburgh Steelers are set to play their first meaningful game since their horrendous and bitterly disappointing playoff loss to the Cleveland Browns in January. Quite a lot has changed since then, and to nobody’s surprise, those changes are what we’ll be focusing on today as they visit the Buffalo Bills.
Front center is the new bell-cow back. While Le’Veon Bell is now in Baltimore with Alejandro Villanueva, the Steelers have a new rock-toter in Najee Harris, their rookie first-round draft pick. While he did not light up the preseason, he showed a lot of little things that show the difference he can make in the running game that has been absent for the past few years.
While he can create some offense on his own, though, you can’t go much further than your offensive line can take you, and we are very much in the exploratory phase of this offensive line, which includes the surprise of rookie fourth-round pick Dan Moore Jr. starting at left tackle.
Moore has actually done pretty well for himself there, even though it wasn’t the plan for him to start, but circumstances dictated otherwise. But he will have his hands full with Jerry Hughes and rookie first-round pick Greg Rousseau on the Bills’ side of the ball.
Then there’s Kendrick Green, the rookie starting center. How will he fare against Buffalo’s interior? The combination of Kevin Dotson and Trai Turner at guard is going to have to help get him through some early growing pains at the position.
On the defensive side of the ball, I’m looking at the inside linebackers. How does Devin Bush look in his first meaningful action? Will he truly look like a sideline-to-sideline player—not just in his straight-line, but also his processing speed? And who will set the defense between him and Joe Schobert?
Who is in the secondary? Will James Pierre be the fifth defensive back, as most expect, and equally as important, how will he play, assuming that he gets his first extended action of his career? He won’t have an easy introduction going against Stefon Diggs and Emmanuel Sanders.
How is the front four going to look, with Stephon Tuitt on the Reserve/Injured List, Alex Highsmith ailing with a groin injury, and T.J. Watt having only just started practicing fully last week? Are they going to get off to a slow start in 2021 because of these issues?
Ben Roethlisberger. Remember him? What’s he going to look like this season, a year out from surgery? He is, once again, ‘in the best shape of his life’, but he’s playing behind an ad hoc offensive line. He’s got a new play-caller in his ear. How will their working relationship play out initially?
Last, but not least, there is special teams. The Steelers have a new punter and a new long snapper, and that affects many aspects of special teams. Pressley Harvin III has a bigger leg, but less consistency. Can he avoid a costly shank against one of the most potent offenses in the NFL? Will Christian Kuntz play a clean game at long snapper?