Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin spent a lot of time yesterday talking up just how amazing many of the players on the Buffalo Bills are, heading into their game against one another on Sunday. You might be surprised to know that other teams also talk about the Steelers before playing them, and even have things to say other than what one player may or may not be doing on the field before the game.
Bills quarterback Josh Allen, for example, showed that he has a tremendous amount of respect for Steelers safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, whom he has now played against four times (including twice during both of their rookie seasons in 2018, while Fitzpatrick was with the Miami Dolphins).
“He’s a ballhawk”, he was described by Allen. “He just switches up his style every couple plays, you don’t know if he’s dropping into the box or if he’s trying to play over the top on something. He’s always around the ball, whether it’s a fumble that’s forced by one of their other guys that just seems like it’s popping right up into his chest. When the ball’s in the air he has as good of ball skills as anyone in the league”.
Fitzpatrick has recorded nine interceptions over the course of the past two seasons, which is among the league leaders during that time. He was selected as a first-team All-Pro in each year, and is generally credited with playing a transformative role in the Steelers’ secondary.
But he’s still looking for his first interception of Allen, now in their fifth meeting against one another. It won’t be too easy. Allen only threw 10 interceptions last season on nearly 600 pass attempts, while topping 4,500 passing yards and 37 touchdowns.
The Steelers’ defense is going to need somebody to step up to try to slow down an offense that scored over 500 points last season, something that has never happened in the history of Pittsburgh’s franchise. The Bills averaged 31.3 points per game in 2020.
Will the defense have its star player, T.J. Watt, on the field with them on Sunday, and how effective will he be? To date, he has not participated in any organized practice all offseason, though he has been involved in every meeting and every other aspect of his job, and has done work off to the side on his own.
If not, it will have to be somebody else, because nobody is expecting this transitional Steelers offense to come out and go punch-for-punch with a contending team that returns 21 of 22 offensive and defensive starters from last year’s 13-3 team.