The Bills are entering 2021 following an offseason in which they put a significant emphasis on improving the front 7. They’ll be getting back an elite run stopper in Star Louluteli, who opted out of the 2020 season due to Covid, as well as a healthy Matt Milano, who struggled with nagging injuries throughout the beginning and middle of the 2020 campaign. After a strong preseason, DT Ed Oliver is slated for a breakout season after being selected 9th overall by the Bills in the 2019 draft. They’ve allocated significant draft capital to the defensive line in the last two drafts, selecting AJ Epenesa, Greg Rousseau and Boogie Basham in the first two rounds of the last two drafts, and are expecting those moves to pay dividends in 2021.
After keeping 6 Edge rushers and 5 DT’s on the roster, Sean McDermott said last week, “Enough has been written about [the defensive line]. No more writing about the defensive line. It’s time for them to produce.”
If the Bills front 7 can return its 2019 form when it was considered a top 10 unit in the NFL, they’ll be make things easier for a secondary that’s well staffed by an excellent pairing of Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde at safety and cornerback in Tredavious White, considered one of the best corners in the league. Opposite White is Levi Wallace, who’s been consistently challenged at the other starting corner role in Buffalo, but has consistently risen to the challenge and will retain his starting role after a battle in training camp. Wallace has started 35 games in three seasons after going undrafted in 2018.
Tre White was extremely complementary of Wallace following his most recent training camp: “Each and every year, Levi never ceases to amaze me. He’s super consistent. He’s going to be in the right spot. He’s not going to have any mental busts.”
In their last two matchups with Pittsburgh, White and Wallace have combined for 4 INT’s,
On the opposite side of the ball in the season opener, Pittsburgh will be unveiling a completely revamped offensive line that will feature four new starters. The only returning starter, RT Chukwuma Okafor, was considered the weak link on the offensive line in 2020. Rookie Kendrick Green will start at center, while Trai Turner was brought in to shore up the guard position, but did attract positive reviews throughout camp.
A potentially surging defensive line on Buffalo’s side of the ball facing an extremely shaky offensive line for Pittsburgh is going to create issues for the immobile Ben Roethlisberger, who turned in his lowest passing yardage output last season since 2012 with just over 3,800 yards.
Juju Smith-Schuster has handled the middle of the field in this offense over the last two seasons, leaving Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool to handle either outside WR role. Primarily facing coverage against Levi Wallace and Tre White in their 2020 matchup, Chase Claypool caught 3 balls for 15 yards, while Diontae Johnson caught 4 balls for 40 yards.
If Buffalo’s commitment to improving its front 7 can pay dividends in this matchup against a hodgepodge offensive line, that’s going to force Roethlisberger to get rid of the ball quickly to underneath routes. In situations where he has time to allow his outside receivers to execute on their routes, he’ll be throwing at an an All Pro corner in white and Wallace, who’s picked off Roethisberger in each of his two previous matchups with him.
Expect Claypool and Johnson both to be locked down heavily in this matchup on the road in the season opener. Diontae Johnson’s O/U in receiving yards is set at 59.5 (-115), while Claypool’s opened at 51.5 (-115) on DraftKings.