The Pittsburgh Steelers will open their 2021 regular season on the road Sunday afternoon against the Buffalo Bills and it’s they’ll enter listed as a big underdog. Below are five key things that I believe the Steelers will need to do in the game on Sunday to come away with their first win of 2021 season.
No Bigs For Diggs – Bills wide receiver Stefon Diggs is one of the NFL’s best at his position and he has already built a strong relationship with quarterback Josh Allen since landing in Buffalo via a March 2020 trade. In the Bills win over the Steelers last season, Diggs caught 10 passes for 130 yards and a touchdown. Included in those 10 receptions were five that went for 18 yards or longer. Will the Steelers let cornerback Joe Haden travel with Diggs on Sunday? While doubtful, it probably wouldn’t be a bad idea just the same. Whatever way the Steelers choose to defend Diggs on Sunday, the Bills wide receiver can’t be allowed to have the kind of game he had last season.
Getting An Edge – The Steelers got outside linebacker T.J. Watt signed to a lucrative contract extension a few days ago and now it’s time for the former first round draft pick out of Wisconsin to hit the ground running on Sunday against the Bills. In addition to Watt needing a big game on the edge Sunday in Buffalo the same goes for the Steelers two other outside linebackers, Alex Highsmith and Melvin Ingram, both of whom had great preseason showings. Highsmith looks like he’s ready to take the next step as a pass rusher in 2021 while the veteran Ingram looks like he’s found the fountain of youth after dealing with a knee injury last season. The only way the Steelers have a prayer at winning on Sunday in Buffalo is by pressuring Allen consistently and possibly forcing him to turn the football over via a strip sack or forced pass. The Bills offensive line should be incredibly good on Sunday so the Steelers trio of edge rushers must find a way to dominate.
Physical Fistfuls – The Steelers offensive line underwent a huge overall this offseason. The goal all offseason was to come away with a very physical offensive line and one that can open up plenty of running lanes for rookie running back Najee Harris, the team’s first round draft pick this year. The Steelers must run the ball successful against the Bills on Sunday to keep the Buffalo offense off the field. Run success early can lead to run attempts later in the game and none of that will transpire if the Steelers starting five of Dan Moore Jr., Kevin Dotson, Kendrick Green, Trai Turner and Chukwuma Okorafor don’t collectively have a great game. We’ve heard new offensive line coach Adrian Klemm preach physicality and mouth punching all offseason and now it’s time to see if his unit can back that up on Sunday.
Cutting It In Thirds – In the Steelers 26-15 loss last season to the Bills, the team’s offense converted just one of 10 total third down opportunities. That one conversion came in the first quarter and followed by a failed conversion later in that same drive. As for the bills and third downs in that last meeting their offense converted seven of their 14 total opportunities. That huge discrepancy in third down conversation rates played a huge part in the outcome of that, which was played in Buffalo. The Steelers have a new offensive coordinator this year in Matt Canada so the onus will be on him and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to have a much better third down conversation rate this year against the Bills.
Be Pigskin Hunters – There is just no way that the Steelers can beat the Bills on Sunday without registering at least one takeaway. In fact, one might not be enough. The Steelers defensive and special team units must ball hunt on Sunday in Buffalo and come away with a few turnovers and preferably on short fields. The Steelers registered 27 total takeaways last season and that wound up being the second most in the NFL during the regular season. Conversely, the Bills had 22 total giveaways last season so it’s not like they did an excellent job of protecting the football.