After a long pause, the Spy is back. And I am ready to master this new season with the greatest strength and intensity. These spy pieces (which appear every Friday this season) are designed to do exactly what the name suggests: spy on every Bills opponent and provide fans with information about what to expect at kick-off.
As we all know and have all experienced, recent times have been a whirlpool to say the least. The ups and downs hit just as hard as the Zughorn at Highmark. I ask all Buffalo fanatics out there to really enjoy this season as our team and community begin. Record everything. Let’s use it to achieve a higher sense of oneness among all of us. This is not just a game. For so many of us, it’s a lifestyle. It is belief. It’s family. It’s a calling. It is a fate. Welcome to the 2021 season of the Buffalo Bills.
After all of that, we come to the first target on the Bills radar: the Pittsburgh Steelers.
SPY 1: Watt woe?
In the early hours of Thursday morning, the Steelers signed a four-year deal worth $ 112 million with superstar DE TJ Watt. Up until that point, there was considerable speculation as to whether Watt would be available to play on Sunday. The reasoning behind this question relates to Watt’s handling of the situation and the use of his camp’s “hold-in” tactics. This means being part of the team (technically) but not participating in the team exercises and refusing to play. Watt was present at team training this preseason, but performed his own workouts separately from the team. Obviously there was a paradigm shift in the status quo at some point and Watt (supposedly) wanted to have the situation resolved.
Now that all of this is known, we still haven’t got to the root of the problem: How is Watt currently at game level? He did not directly participate in team activities during hold-in and that can cause problems for him on game day. His conditioning will be something to look out for. There is a certain chance (albeit small) that he will play with a snap count on Sunday.
TJ Watt and players like him will always pose serious threats; they are not to be underestimated. Don’t think for a second that the Bills didn’t prepare for him. Super Bowl-sized teams don’t make such mistakes. On the flip side (Bills fans), don’t make the mistake of thinking that just because Daryl Williams took TJ Watt for lunch last year, it will just happen again. Expect Watts to be the main threat to the Bills offensive on Sunday.
SPY 2: The steel line
The Steelers’ offensive line is a serious concern and issue. Only this time for your own team. For years, the Steelers have relied on a venerable and solid offensive line that enabled Ben Roethlisberger to get the ball out of his hands quickly. On average, Big Ben took the ball out in just over 2 seconds in 2020 and scored a respectable QBR. When he was forced to hold the ball for longer or longer periods of time, his QBR dropped 40 points. This has massive implications.
The Steelers’ offensive line is extremely vulnerable. Four out of five starters from the 2020 season are no longer there. For the most part, the line is cobbled together as a mix of low, deep-centered, and inexperienced personnel. A round 4 pick (Kendrick Greene) should start in the middle. Another mid-lap rookie, Dan Moore, will start on the left tackle.
“The Steelers offensive line has suffered some major losses in the off-season and a lack of rebuilding means it is time to panic about this group.” – Andrew Falce, fansite
What matters is this bottom line: The Bill’s revamped line of defense MUST take advantage of Pittsburgh’s weakened offensive line. If they can’t, they’ll have a long afternoon on Sunday.
SPY 3: Run a riot?
In almost every measurable statistical category, the 2020 Steelers were one of the worst rushing teams in the NFL. Her run-play design was exquisitely vanilla. The running efficiency was not there. The game action was a rare sighting and was only used to curtail the Steelers offensive. This became more and more of an issue over the course of last season, to the point where the Steelers were one-dimensional and predictable.
It was discussed that a new development on the offensive will open up new offensive vectors for the 2021 campaign. But that’s still hearsay at the moment. The assumption seems to be that the injection of the first-round pick and former Crimson Tide powerhouse Najee Harris will somehow usher in a paradigm shift in the Steelers’ ability to play the ball effectively. But how can this be a realistic expectation when the Steelers line is in such a gaunt shape?
SPY 4: Deep Corps
The Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver corps is the counterpart to the offensive line. It’s deep, competent, and dynamic. The problem with the Steelers Wide Receivers (for the Bills) will be whether the Bills can quickly understand the methods, tactics, and strategies used to distribute the ball. Route pattern, target depth, pass concentration (area of the field) will be decisive. The Steelers ‘wide receiver corps may be deployed very differently compared to 2020, and all the information available suggests that the Steelers’ passing game will improve in pace, tactics and intensity.
SPY 5: Big Ben or Big Been?
It’s not a secret to anyone that Big Ben is aging. Many suggested that the HOF caliber QB should have left the game after the Steelers’ implosion in 2020. However, Big Ben has re-signed for less and is looking to take another leap on one final offer in a great season. He probably 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 ahead of us.
The biggest threat Big Ben poses at this stage in his career is his attack command skills. The leader in him can order an attack as if he were a well-oiled machine, and his experience allows for an accurate analysis of the defense. Conversely, Big Ben is challenged by his age, lack of mobility, and decreased ability to throw the deep ball. If Big Ben and the new OC Matt Canada built a more open relationship, the Steelers offensive could be a lot more dynamic and therefore threatening.
SPY 6: Scheme Topic
New and improved Steelers Offensive Coordinator Matt Canada has brought the team the prospect of a more open offensive. This is a team that was significantly reviled on the offensive in 2020 and was sustained by their defense and relatively weak deadline strength. The biggest threat to the Bills Canada will bring into play is the threat of high volume game-action strategies in the passing game. Defending the Bills will likely aim to simply overwhelm the Steelers’ offensive.
DARK HORSE BONUS
THREAT RATING: Each opponent is rated on a scale of 1-10. The higher the number = the greater the threat especially to the bills.
Pittsburgh Threat Rating = 5
In conclusion, please follow The Buffalo Fanatics on all platforms, trust the process, and go Bills.
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