Pittsburgh Steelers defensive coordinator Keith Butler wanted “Dadgum Buffalo” to have to figure out what their plan was going to be in the secondary in today’s season opener. Head coach Mike Tomlin talked about wanting to keep things “mystical” beforehand.
In hindsight, I think we can understand why the Steelers didn’t want to tip their hands about how they intended to field things in the secondary against one of the toughest teams they will face all season, because they used a lot of different looks to get the job done.
They opened with Joe Haden and Cameron Sutton on the outside, and rookie seventh-round pick Tre Norwood in the slot. Sometimes Norwood would drop back and Minkah Fitzpatrick rolled down. Later in the game, Arthur Maulet got some work in the slot, and then James Pierre got time on the outside with Sutton inside.
“It’s just the tricks and trades of the game”, Sutton told reporters after the game. “Matchups. The Buffalo Bills are a high-powered offense. They’ve got a lot of weapons on that side of the ball. They’ve got a lot of guys that can go, a lot of interchangeable pieces”.
“We’ve got guys on our end that can match up and play as well, so we just had to stand up and fight”, he continued. “Everybody’s locked in, everybody’s communicating on and off the field, talking about things we’re seeing on the field. When you’ve got guys that corroborate like that, that are really playing for each other, who are for each other, we play very well”.
The Bills’ Josh Allen did throw for 270 yards on the day, but it took 51 pass attempts, and 30 completions, to get there, averaging just 5.3 yards per attempt, and forcing a completion percentage under 60.
Stefon Diggs, who led the NFL in receptions and receiving yards last year, caught nine passes on 16 targets during the game, but was held to just 69 yards, with a long of 13. Outside of a single 37-yard completion, the Bills’ longest passing play of the day was for just 16 yards.
Considering this is a secondary that lost two starters from last season, and is breaking in two players who have hardly played in the NFL, or not at all, plus a free agent who is new to the team, you have to commend the job they did against an offense like Buffalo’s, on the road.
Of course, they owe a huge debt of gratitude to the fearsome pass rush of the front four—and I say the front four, because the Steelers hardly blitzed at all. But T.J. Watt, Alex Highsmith, Melvin Ingram, and Cameron Heyward were relentless on the day, and gave the secondary a head start with short coverage times