The Pittsburgh Steelers were back on the field Sunday when they played the Buffalo Bills in Week 1 of regular season action. The Steelers were winners in the contest, but that doesn’t mean every player had a good performance.
Players who play well can be considered ‘Winners’, while those who left a lot to be desired can be called ‘Losers’. It may sound harsh, but it is the crux of this exercise.
Let’s check in to see who fell on which side of the ledger after the first game of the preseason...
Stat Line: 5 tackles, 5 solo, 2 pass defenses, 2 TFL
The Steelers’ defense carried the day, and will also carry the list of winners after Week 1. Cam Sutton didn’t play a perfect game, he gave up the lone Bills’ touchdown, but the plays he did make make up for the one negative play. Sutton’s play on the 4th and 1 in the second half was a phenomenal cherry on top of his great performance. Definite tip of the cap for the Steelers’ coaching staff for putting Sutton into a position to make plays based off his skill set.
Stat Line: 3 tackles, 3 solo, 2 sacks, 1 TFL, 5 QB Hits
If you thought there would be a winners list without Watt, you clearly didn’t watch the game. All questions about Watt being ready, in shape or in sync with the defense went right out the window early in the game. Watt was flying all over the field, and highly motivated to prove his contract was absolutely worth it for the Steelers. You have to wonder how many sacks he would have tallied if holding was called more often...
Stat Line: 4 tackles, 2 solo, 1 sack, 1 TFL, 2 pass defenses, 1 QB Hit
For the first time in a long time it looked like the Steelers’ coaching staff let Heyward loose. No longer required to simply hold up offensive linemen to allow others to make plays, you saw Heyward putting his skill set on display. His disruptive play absolutely resulted in plays for others. Watch Watt’s strip sack and you will see how it was Heyward who dominated the interior of the offensive line which freed up Watt to make the play. Heyward was tremendous in this game.
Stat Line: 6 tackles, 5 solo
The rookie showed some serious promise as the Steelers’ slot cornerback, but to me this is more than just a single game performance. Norwood, a 7th round pick, started a season opening game in Buffalo as the team’s primary slot cornerback. Think about that for a second. On second thought, maybe Kevin Colbert should be on the winners list for Norwood. Still plenty to prove, but a good first step for Norwood.
Melvin Ingram/Alex Highsmith
Stat Line: Pass Rush Trio
Neither player had a stat line worthy of being on the winners’ list, but when you combined Highsmith and Ingram with Watt you have one nasty pass rushing trio for a defense who already gets after the quarterback better than anyone. Having the flexibility to pair Watt and Ingram, giving Highsmith a break, then Ingram and Highsmith to give Watt a break and Watt and Highsmith and Ingram getting a rest in invaluable. I think you get how the combinations work...
Stat Line: 5 catches, 36 yards, 1 TD, 10 targets
Remember when Johnson dropped the first pass thrown vs. the Bills in 2020? I’d say he made up for it in 2021. His touchdown reception was a thing of beauty, and redemption for the third year receiver. I was stunned to see Johnson was targeted 10 times, but drops certainly weren’t an issue Sunday.
Miles Killebrew/Ulysees Gilbert III
Stat Line: Punt block and scoop and score
Killebrew has always been known as a special teams demon, and his play on the punt block was textbook. Contact the ball, not the punter, and it was UG3 who did the rest. It was this play, which followed a sack of Allen, which seemed to propel the Steelers to victory.
Stat Line: 10 tackles, 6 solo
Coming back from major knee surgery is one thing, but trusting your knee to do what it did before surgery is another. It is almost as much psychological as it is physical, but Bush looked fast and fully back Sunday in Buffalo. He was all over the field, and worth noting he was the one who never left the field and wore the green dot on his helmet. If this is just the starting point for Bush, it could mean great things coming in 2021 for the first round pick.
Stat Line: 10 tackles, 6 solo, 1 pass defense
If you wanted to see Minkah Fitzpatrick moving around more on the defensive side of the ball, you got your wish in Week 1. Fitzpatrick was all over the field, and although Josh Allen did make him miss, he made up for it with some huge plays. Fitzpatrick is a game changer, simple as that.
Stat Line: 177 yards passing, 2 sacks surrendered, 75 yards rushing, 3.6 yard average
I knew there would be bumps in the road for the Steelers’ offensive line, but I was expecting the line to be more aggressive. After all, it was Adrian Klemm’s calling card as an offensive line coach. While improved in the second half, the first half restricted what plays could be called. Everyone was clamoring for play action passes, but the line couldn’t actually protect to even let Ben Roethlisberger look downfield, let alone deliver a quality pass. The line improved by game’s end, and hopefully that continues by the week.
Stat Line: 1-for-3
The Steelers need to win more in these critical areas. Red-zone and third down situations were struggles for the Steelers vs. the Bills, and kudos to the Buffalo defense, but if the Steelers have Super Bowl aspirations, they need to do better in these areas.
3rd Down Offense
Stat Line: 4-for-12
See the description for the red-zone offense.
If you want a more detailed look at the above list, check out my “Let’s Ride” podcast where I outline each Winner and Loser, and MORE!