After a long hiatus, the Spy is back. And I am ready to cover this new season with the utmost vigor and intensity. These Spy pieces (coming every Friday this season) aim to accomplish exactly what the name implies: Spy on each Bills opponent and provide intelligence to the fans on what we can expect come kickoff.
As we all know and have all experienced, recent times have been a maelstrom to say the least. The highs and lows have hit equally hard as that train horn at Highmark. I ask that all the Buffalo Fanatics out there truly enjoy this season our team and community is embarking upon. Take it all in. Let’s use it to achieve a higher sense of unity among us all. This is not simply just a game. For so many of us, it’s a lifestyle. It is faith. It is family. It’s a calling. It is a destiny. Welcome to the Buffalo Bills 2021 season.
With all that said, we move on to the first target on the Bills radar: the Pittsburgh Steelers.
SPY 1: Wattage Woe?
In the early hours of Thursday, the Steelers reached an agreement with superstar DE T.J. Watt on a four-year, $112 million contract. Up until that point, there was significant speculation about whether Watt would be available to play on Sunday. The reasoning behind this question pertains to Watt’s handling of the situation and his camp’s usage of the “hold in” tactic. This entails being part of the team (technically speaking) but not taking part in team practices and refusing to play. Watt was present at team practices this preseason, but executed his own workouts separate from the team. Obviously, at some point, there was a paradigm shift in the status quo and Watt (reportedly) wanted the situation resolved.
With all of this now known, we still have not addressed the root of the issue: What is Watt’s level of play at present? During the hold in, he was not directly taking part in team activities and that may present issues for him on gameday. His conditioning will be something to watch out for. There is some probability (albeit small) that he plays on a snap count Sunday.
T.J. Watt and players like him will always be grave threats; they cannot be underestimated. Don’t think for a second that the Bills haven’t prepared for him. Super Bowl-caliber teams do not make such mistakes. On the other hand (Bills fans), do not make the mistake of thinking that just because Daryl Williams ate T.J. Watt for lunch last year, that it will simply happen again. Expect Watt to be the greatest threat to the Bills offense come Sunday.
SPY 2: The Steel Line
The Steelers offensive line is a serious concern and problem. Only, this time, it’s for their own team. For years, the Steelers have relied on a venerable and solid offensive line that allowed Ben Roethlisberger to get the ball out of his hands quickly. On average, Big Ben got the ball out in just over 2 seconds in 2020, posting a respectable QBR. When he was forced to hold the ball longer, or for extended periods of time, his QBR dropped by 40 points. This has massive implications.
The Steelers offensive line is vulnerable to the highest degree. Four of five starters from the 2020 season are no longer there. The line is mostly cobbled together as an amalgamation of low ceiling, depth-centric, and inexperienced personnel. A 4th-round pick (Kendrick Greene) is set to start at center. Another mid-round rookie, Dan Moore, is set to start at left tackle.
“The Steelers offensive line suffered some major losses in the offseason, and a lack of rebuilding means it is time to panic about this group.” – Andrew Falce, Fansided
What it comes down to is this bottom line: The Bills revamped defensive line MUST take advantage of Pittsburgh’s weakened offensive line. If they can’t, then they will be in for a long afternoon on Sunday.
SPY 3: Running Riot?
In almost all measurable statistical categories, the Steelers were one of the worst rushing teams in the NFL in 2020. Their run play design was exquisitely vanilla. The run efficiency was nonexistent. The play action was a rare sighting and served only to restrict the Steelers offense. This became more and more of a problem as last season progressed, to the point where the Steelers were one-dimensional and predictable.
There has been talk that new development in the offense for 2021’s campaign will open up new offensive vectors. But, at present, this is still hearsay. The assumption seems to be that the injection of 1st-round pick, and former Crimson Tide powerhouse, Najee Harris will somehow initiate a paradigm shift in the Steelers ability to run the ball effectively. Yet how can this be a realistic expectation with the Steelers line in such a haggard shape?
SPY 4: Deep Corps
The Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver corps is the antithesis of the offensive line. It is deep, skilled, and dynamic. The issue with the Steelers wide receivers (for the Bills) will be whether the Bills can swiftly understand the methods, tactics, and strategy being used to distribute the ball. Route patterns, depth of targeting, pass concentration (area of the field) will be crucial. The Steelers wide receiver corps may be employed very differently compared to 2020 and all available intelligence point to the Steelers passing game being upgraded in tempo, tactics, and intensity.
SPY 5: Big Ben or Big Been?
It is no secret to anyone that Big Ben is aging out. Many suggested that the HOF caliber QB should have left the game following the 2020 implosion of the Steelers. However, Big Ben re-signed for less money and wants another crack at one last bid at a great season. He likely wants to end his career on his own terms. Combine all of this with a (supposedly) new and improved offensive scheme, and we have an interesting situation on our hands.
The biggest threat Big Ben presents at this stage of his career, is his offense command abilities. The leader in him can command an offense as if it is a well-oiled machine and his experience allows for accurate dissection of defenses. Conversely, Big Ben will be challenged by his age, lack of mobility, and decreased ability to throw the deep ball. If Big Ben and new OC Matt Canada have formed a more open relationship, the Steelers offense may very well be much more dynamic and, therefore, more threatening.
SPY 6: Scheme Theme
The new and improved Steelers Offensive Coordinator Matt Canada has brought the prospect of a more open offense to the team. This is a team that was maligned on offense considerably in 2020 and was carried by their defense and relatively weak strength of schedule. The biggest threat to the Bills that Canada will bring into play, is the threat of high-volume play-action strategy in the passing game. The Bills defense will likely aim to simply overwhelm the Steelers offense.
THREAT RATING: Each opponent will be ranked on a 1-10 scale. The higher the number = The greater the threat to the Bills specifically.
Pittsburgh Threat Rating = 5
In closing, please follow The Buffalo Fanatics on all platforms, trust the process, and go Bills.
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