For the first time in a while, the Pittsburgh Steelers are coming into a season as underdogs. They are expected to finish behind the Baltimore Ravens and Cleveland Browns in the AFC North, which could mean they are on the outside looking in of a playoff spot.
That is something that will certainly motivate Pittsburgh, who has been one of the most consistent teams in the NFL since Mike Tomlin took over as head coach. This could be the last hurrah for Ben Roethlisberger as the team’s starting quarterback as well, so you know they will want to go out as well as they can.
They have a difficult start to their season, as they will pay a visit to the AFC East reigning champion, Buffalo Bills in Week 1. Here are three things to watch for when the Steelers take the field in Orchard Park.
3. Najee Harris Debut
The Pittsburgh Steelers were unable to get anything going on the ground last season. Their running game was among the worst in the NFL and they want to change that in 2021.
The team used their first-round pick on Alabama running back Najee Harris hoping to turn things around. Harris is the most recent running back out of the Alabama pipeline, as he put together two dominant seasons with the Crimson Tide.
As a true dual-threat, Pittsburgh is hoping he can have a similar impact on their offense. He is key to the team balancing out their offense and getting the rushing attack back on track.
2. Cornerback Play
The Pittsburgh Steelers’ original 53-man roster during cutdowns had only four cornerbacks on it. Joe Haden, Cam Sutton, James Pierre and Justin Layne were the only ones to originally make the cut.
Since then, Arthur Maulet was signed following three players going on IR and Ahkello Witherspoon was acquired from the Seattle Seahawks in a trade.
A lot of eyes will be on this secondary, as the Bills have one of the most prolific passing attacks in the NFL. One injury could thrust one of the newest additions to significant playing time, so this unit will be one to keep an eye on in Week 1.
1. Will The Offensive Line Hold Up?
The biggest question mark coming into the season for the Pittsburgh Steelers is the play of their offensive line. It was shaky last season and they didn’t do much to shore things up this offseason.
Keeping Ben Roethlisberger upright is key to the passing game succeeding. Roethlisberger is already adapting to a quick-hitting, short passing game, but the offensive line still needs to do its job for it to work.
On the ground, the Steelers need their guys in the trenches to open up rushing lanes for Najee Harris to run through. They will face a significant challenge against the Bills in Week 1 that could set the tone for the 2021 season.