Steelers @ Bills
Final Score: Steelers 23, Bills 16
Writer: Callen Elslager (@callen_elslager on Twitter)
The big question coming into this game was whether the new look Pittsburgh Steelers offense would be able to keep up with the elite offense of the Buffalo Bills, lead by MVP candidate Josh Allen. However, it was the defenses of the two teams that stood out and allowed the Steelers to pick up the road upset. The Steelers’ defenses reminded us why they will be a tough matchup for even the elite offenses and the Bills reminded us that their defense is no slouch either. Even with a defense-first matchup, we are still able to learn some valuable information about these offenses.
Ben Roethlisberger: 18/32, 188 yards, TD | 4 carries, 5 yards
The Steelers’ offensive line forced Ben Roethlisberger to revert back to last year’s style of getting the ball out of his hand as quickly as possible. Because of the pressure he was under, we saw a few early misfires and overthrows, and he could not get the Steelers’ offense moving. One of these passes was even a ball he threw while being dragged down, leading to an interception by Tredavious White. Luckily for the Steelers and Roethlisberger’s stat line, that play was called back due to a Buffalo penalty. His touchdown pass came on a fade from the 5-yard line to Diontae Johnson, which Johnson ended up making a juggling catch while keeping his feet in bounds. Because of the pressure he was under, we didn’t get to see whether the arm strength of Roethlisberger still exists, but once he got in a rhythm we saw the quick passing that gave the Steelers passing game some early success last year.
Najee Harris: 16 carries, 45 yards | 3 targets, 1 reception, 4 yards
Najee Harris‘ NFL debut Sunday was pretty uneventful as the offensive line issues and pressure from the Buffalo defense did not give Harris much room to run. We did see the burst of speed that Harris had, as he broke off a 20-yard run to set up a Pittsburgh score, but the majority of his runs were stopped shortly after the line of scrimmage. The same thing for his work in the passing game, as the pressure forced Roethlisberger to misfire several dump-offs to him and not allow him space to work on his lone reception, but this lone reception did come on a third and goal play as he was stooped shortly after the reception. Another incredible stat from his debut was that he was on the field for every single offensive snap with no other running back seeing any work, whether the Steelers were playing from behind or holding the lead.
Najee Harris played all 55 of the Steelers offensive snaps today. You don't see that often. (per @NextGenStats)
— Mike Clay (@MikeClayNFL) September 12, 2021
Wide Receiver/Tight End
Diontae Johnson: 10 targets, 5 receptions, 36 yards, TD
Juju Smith-Schuster: 8 targets, 4 receptions, 52 yards
Chase Claypool: 5 targets, 3 receptions, 45 yards | 1 carry, 25 yards
Pat Friermuth: 1 target, 1 reception 24 yards
Eric Ebron: 2 targets, 1 reception, 19 yards
James Washington: 2 targets, 2 receptions, 10 yards
On Sunday the Steelers passing attack clearly ran through its three-headed monster of Diontae Johnson, Juju Smith-Schuster, and Chase Claypool. In this game, however, it was clear that Johnson was the number one target as Roethlisberger was consistently looking for him often. However, he did leave the game due to an injury that allowed the offense to fall into the hands of other targets. When he returned, he maintained his status as the team’s number one with quick passes his way, including this 5-yard touchdown reception with incredible concentration to juggle the pass and keep both feet in bounds.
— QB List (@TheQBlist) September 12, 2021
When Johnson left with an injury, it allowed Roethlisberger to build back up the chemistry we know he has with Juju Smith-Schuster, as he was looked to for third-down conversions and even one of the longer passes downfield on the afternoon for Roethlisberger. Lining up mostly in the slot allowed Juju to get open for those quick passes the Steelers were often using this week. This game script kept Chase Claypool quiet early on, though he slowly got himself more involved after an acrobatic deep ball down the sideline which he reached back to catch for the first down, as well as a long 25 yard run on a sweep play. However, after Claypool picked up a key third-down conversion late in the game he limped off to the sideline. There was no update after that injury and there have not been any indications that the injury was anything serious, so he should be ok.
— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) September 12, 2021
We did see some of the excitement people had for Pat Friermuth as Roethlisberger hit him down the middle of the field for a 24-yard gain for his lone target of the game, showing off his route running ability. This game script kept Eric Ebron quiet as well as he only had one longer reception downfield when the line was able to give Big Ben more time. The two receptions for James Washington came on quick passes after Johnson left the game for his short period due to his injury.
Josh Allen: 30/51, 270 yards, TD | 9 carries, 44 yards
Josh Allen was forced to take off a bit due to the pressure the Steelers’ line was able to put on him throughout the game. He looked like his usual self running the ball, even with some designed draws sprinkled into the game plan. He looked a bit out of sync with his receivers on his deep ball passes but still looked like his usual self for the most part firing lasers downfield and escaping the pocket as need be. His touchdown pass was incredibly impressive as he fired a laser to the back of the endzone past the defense to Gabriel Davis. On the negative side, the Steelers’ defense was able to get to him as T.J. Watt strip-sacked him and forced a fumble in Pittsburgh territory for the lone turnover of the game.
Josh Allen and Gabriel Davis put the Bills on the board at the end of the half pic.twitter.com/mlu4bkuREY
— Ben Brown (@BenBrownPL) September 12, 2021
📺: CBS pic.twitter.com/ohS2LHHBKZ
— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) September 12, 2021
Devin Singletary: 11 carries, 72 yards | 5 targets, 3 receptions, 8 yards
Matt Breida: 4 carries, 4 yards
With Zack Moss a healthy scratch, the backfield was all in the hands of Devin Singletary, and he took some advantage of the work he was given. Though it was clear that the Buffalo game script was throw, throw, and throw some more, Singletary took advantage of the opportunity when he was given some carries. When the offensive line gave him space he was able to move the ball and give the passing game more room to work. We also saw him be slightly involved in the passing game, though mainly dump-offs when Allen could not find any of his receivers downfield. Matt Brieda only took the field here and there to relieve Singletary and didn’t do anything to keep the ball from going in Singletary’s hands.
Wide Receiver/Tight End
Stefon Diggs: 14 targets, 9 receptions, 69 yards
Cole Beasley: 13 targets, 8 receptions, 60 yards
Emmanuel Sanders: 8 targets, 4 receptions, 52 yards
Dawson Knox: 4 targets, 4 receptions, 41 yards
Gabriel Davis: 5 targets, 2 receptions, 40 yards, TD
Isiah McKenzie: 1 carry, -3 yards
Though Josh Allen was not in sync with his receivers with the deep ball, Stefon Diggs still made due with his game-high of 14 targets. Diggs showed off his speed and was able to create space for Allen to fire perfect strikes to him in key situations and move the ball downfield. Right behind him however was Cole Beasley, and we saw early on the Bills were looking to keep him involved. Beasley had himself his usual sort of day, with quick passes on his shorter routes to keep drives going and work against the pressure of the Pittsburgh pass rush.
There was a lot of excitement coming into today for Emmanuel Sanders and whether he could become the second option to this Buffalo offense. Though Allen looked his way throughout the two were just slightly out of sync, only able to connect on half of those targets. We did see the prior mentioned touchdown pass to Gabriel Davis and though the Bills tried to get him involved with passes downfield, he only caught one of those, though it was for over 30 yards, showing off his speed. In the same sense, we saw Dawson Knox get open a bit downfield and take advantage of the opportunities he was given as the defenses ended to focus more on Diggs leaving him open to help move the ball downfield.
— Callen Elslager (@callen_elslager on Twitter)