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Cam Heyward leads the Steelers Pro Football Focus grades on defense for Week 1

In the grades provided by PFF, Heyward and the rest of the defensive front had a strong showing in Buffalo.

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Buffalo Bills Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers went into Buffalo in Week 1 of the 2021 NFL season and emerged victorious despite being 6.5-point underdogs. With the defense keeping the Bills in check and keeping the game manageable at halftime even though the Steelers had yet to put anything on the scoreboard, both units coming together along with the special teams gave the Steelers a 1–0 start to the year.

But how did the individual players grade out?

For this exercise, we will be looking at the player grades from Pro Football Focus (PFF) for their Week 1 performance. Before going any further, I must give the typical disclaimer that PFF grades are subjective. While some people rely on them heavily, others are quite skeptical of the process in which they are determined. It is completely up to each person as to how much stock they put into PFF’s grades. For me, I often look at the grades to see if my own “eye test” lines up with what others viewed as how a player performed.

Instead of looking at the entire team at once, we break up the scores into offense and defense. First up is the defense. Included will be all the players who played at least one snap and the total snap counts for each player will be included. For reference sake, the Steelers played 85 snaps on defense in Week 1


Overall

Top 5 (regardless of position)

DT Cam Heyward: 95.3 (56 snaps)
CB Joe Haden: 85.1 (85 snaps)
OLB T.J. Watt: 83.9 (69 snaps)
OLB Melvin Ingram III: 82.7 (54 snaps)
OLB Alex Highsmith: 78.6 (46 snaps)

Bottom 5 (regardless of position)

ILB Joe Schobert: 58.5 (66 snaps)
S Tre Norwood: 58.1 (68 snaps)
DT Tyson Alualu: 56.9 (53 snaps)
S Terrell Edmunds: 46.8 (85 snaps)
S Minkah Fitzpatrick: 38.5 (85 snaps)


Defensive Front Seven

DT Cam Heyward: 95.3 (56 snaps)
OLB T.J. Watt: 83.9 (69 snaps)
OLB Melvin Ingram III: 82.7 (54 snaps)
OLB Alex Highsmith: 78.6 (46 snaps)
DT Isaiah Buggs: 74.9 (8 snaps)
OLB Jamir Jones: 59.4 (1 snap)
DT Chris Wormley: 59.3 (40 snaps)
DT Carlos Davis: 58.7 (17 snaps)
DT Tyson Alualu: 56.9 (53 snaps)

First of all, the performance put forward by Steelers defensive captain Cameron Heyward needs to be noted. His 95.3 overall score is the highest for any game in his entire NFL career, hence why he was my choice to receive the BTSC game ball. It was also no surprise that the three edge rushers were next in line as they all continued to win their match ups throughout the day. What might be most surprising is that, although T.J. Watt played an excellent game, his score was well below his season average from 2020 of 91.6. But there’s still a lot more football to be played. Even the players who landed on the bottom of the list had solid performances on Sunday.

Inside Linebackers

ILB Devin Bush: 59.4 (73 snaps)
ILB Joe Schobert: 58.5 (66 snaps)

What might be the most interesting part of this position group is it is made up of only two players. Although neither played every snap in the game, Devin Bush and Joe Schobert were the only inside linebackers to receive snaps against the Bills. It was Bush’s coverage score of 68.7 which gave him the edge over Schobert’s 64.5, but Schobert 50.3 run defense score was higher than Bush’s 40.5 for the day.

Defensive Backs

CB Joe Haden: 85.1 (85 snaps)
CB Cam Sutton: 77.8 (85 snaps)
CB Arthur Maulet: 71.3 (13 snaps)
CB James Pierre: 61.2 (31 snaps)
S Tre Norwood: 58.1 (68 snaps)
S Terrell Edmunds: 46.8 (85 snaps)
S Minkah Fitzpatrick: 38.5 (85 snaps)

Do you remember where I said previously that sometimes PFF and their way of determining a score might cause some to scratch their heads? This one does it for me. I find it interesting that all the players who are listed as a safety are at the bottom of the list with the cornerbacks at the top. Tre Norwood, who played a lot of the game in the slot, was the highest of the safety scores with Minkah Fitzpatrick given one the lowest score for a game since he joined the Steelers. What is interesting is that Fitzpatrick had much better statistics in coverage than Cameron Sutton, who doubled his overall score. It goes to show my previous feelings of the farther a player lines up from the football, the more difficult it is to determine their score without knowledge of the actual play call. In this case, I feel Fitzpatrick got the shaft simply by the way the Steelers were deploying their defense. It also doesn’t help that PFF does not have Fitzpatrick‘s pass defensed for the day as part of their statistics.

Since I’ve complained enough about how the Steelers safeties were scored in this game, it should be noted the outstanding play of Joe Haden and how his score was reflected appropriately.


So, what do you think of the above grades? Do they pass the eye test? Let us know your thoughts on the Steelers’ defensive grades in the comments below.