Week 1 is finally here!! The Buffalo Bills will host the Pittsburgh Steelers on September 12th at 1 pm at Highmark Stadium in front of a full capacity stadium. Just that sentence brings a smile to one’s face, the simple idea of attending a football game in person after all that 2020 was and what 2021 has been so far. Life is not back to normal quite yet, but this is a small sliver of normalcy. Right now, that’s a win.
To top it off, the Bills head into the game remarkably healthy despite dealing with several injuries that are lingering from the preseason. Below are the injuries to watch for the Bills and new for this season, the Steelers injury report.
DT Star Lotulelei (calf)
The veteran defensive tackle showed up on the injury report last week on September 1st with a calf injury, though it isn’t clear when he injured the calf. I suspect it occurred during the Packers preseason game.
He doesn’t have a significant injury history regarding soft tissue, but it’s possible this may be more of an acclimation injury as he did not play in the other two preseason games. The team noted that he was trending in the right direction early on but after not practicing all week, the team announced he would be out for Sunday. They also said that it would be a committee approach to replace Star in the lineup. The team also protected DT Brandin Bryant on the practice squad and can call him up if needed.
He was observed walking around practice Friday and on the bike, but he will need several full practices before there is confidence that he will play against Miami in Week 2. It’s also important to note how hot and humid South Florida is this time of year which may cause him to miss Week 2 if he starts off with several DNP’s or limited status for practice.
WR Emmanuel Sanders (right foot)
Sanders was a surprise addition to the injury report with a foot injury and limited designation Wednesday that has lingered over the past month since injuring it on August 4th, occasionally missing practice. Initial reports were that he twisted his ankle during reps and eventually returned to practice August 9th. He sporadically dealt with the injury off and on, even playing in the final preseason game against the Packers.
By this point, the injury is in the chronic stage of healing where he may not deal with pain during day-to-day activities, but may notice it during overuse or end range movements. I had originally anticipated that he would return 100 percent, but this may be something that is present all season, much like we saw last year with WR John Brown. The difference being that this hopefully does not impact his performance like it did Brown.
He was observed briefly in practice Friday in a limited role jogging and catching balls. He was also observed to have kinesio tape on his right heel/Achilles. This would suggest that he may be dealing with Achilles tendinitis or plantar fasciitis based on the location of the tape. Both injuries are very common overuse injuries that can persist even with treatment and rest. However, both can be played through.
It is important to note that this is his right foot; he tore the Achilles in his left leg back in 2018. I believe he will play on Sunday despite this current injury designation.
CB Taron Johnson (right hand)
Johnson has been dealing with a hand injury that appears just prior to the Packers game on August 28th. He has been seen with a cast, a club, and now a splint on the area. It appeared as though he would enter the season wearing the club, but the fact that he is in a splint shows that he is healing from a potential metacarpal fracture.
With his fingers free, he can go up for an interception or at the very least stay with his man and deflect passes with more accuracy. He may be in the splint for a few more weeks as he continues to heal, though hopefully he doesn’t suffer further injury to the area. I’m sure the Steelers will be very wary of where he is on the field especially after his pick-six last season.
DT Harrison Phillips (left knee)
Phillips continues to work back from a left knee injury sustained against the Bears. It was described as a minor injury but forced him to miss the Packers game and initially left some doubt as to whether he would start the season healthy.
Based on the initial video, I suspected a PCL injury that is possibly close to being fully healed or close. He did not appear limited during the open practice on September 1st and no mention of him being limited in practice has been made in the media this past week.
WR Isaiah McKenzie (left shoulder)
McKenzie continues to work back from what I believe was an AC joint sprain courtesy of Bills S Jordan Poyer. He continues to move well on the field and out of the red non-contact jersey, though at times showing some pain according to video last week.
He may not be 100 percent healthy by Sunday, but a cortisone shot to the area will help reduce any pain he may deal with during the game. At worst, he may stick to special teams to limit his hits, but even if he does play in the offense, he can still be productive.
Other Bills observations:
Notably absent from the injury report are CB Dane Jackson (stinger), S Jaquan Johnson (knee), OT Spencer Brown (knee), CB Levi Wallace (hip), and TE Tommy Sweeney (foot). All appear ready to go, though the amount of information on their injuries vary which suggests that the injuries may still be present, but will not cause them to miss the game.
DT Treyvon Hester (injury settlement)
He was released with an injury designation September 8th due to a back injury that landed him on injured reserve on August 27th.
RB Christian Wade (right shoulder)
Wade officially had surgery on his right shoulder sometime last week for an injury sustained as early as August 5th. He was seen around the facility in a sling and attempted to return to conditioning briefly before being shut down and reported that he would have surgery. It’s not clear whether this was a labrum or rotator cuff tear, I suspect labrum, but he should be fully healthy come training camp next year.
LB Alex Highsmith (groin)
Not much is known regarding Highsmith’s groin injury, this appears to be the first reports of the injury from what I could find. According to reports, he practiced Tuesday, was limited Wednesday and practiced Thursday/Friday in full.
He doesn’t have a prior known history of groin injuries or even soft tissue for that matter from what has been publicly reported. I anticipate his reps may be limited as a precautionary measure.
UPDATE: Saturday afternoon, he was removed as a questionable designation and will play Sunday.
C Kendrick Green (thumb)
Green practiced Tuesday, limited Wednesday, practiced in full Thursday/Friday. It isn’t clear which hand he injured, but it is important to note that he is right handed when it comes to snapping the ball. This could make snapping more difficult, however he has no injury designation heading into the game which indicate that may be a minor issue he plays through.
NT Tyson Alualu (elbow)
Practiced Tuesday, did not practice Wednesday. Practiced in full Thursday/Friday. This also appears to be an injury that was sustained Tuesday with the exact details not known. Has been incredibly durable since 2010, missing only 3 games over his career.
WR James Washington (finger)
Washington showed up on the injury report Friday with a finger injury that limited him in practice, but this does not carry an injury designation.
Other Steelers observations
DT Stephon Tuitt (knee)
One of the top defensive lineman for the Steelers, coming off an 11-sack season, will be out the first 3 games on IR with a lingering knee issue from training camp. This will only make game planning for the Steelers defense all that much easier with less pressure up front.
LB Devin Bush (ACL rehab)
Bush has been rehabbing from a torn left ACL suffered in mid-October of last season. He will be just over 10 months removed from surgery in late October. While he is cleared to play, I suspect he will be a step slower as his knee is still not 100 percent and likely won’t be for some time. If I was the Bills, I’d force him and LB Alex Highsmith to make plays, hoping that a misstep or a slower reaction to the play could allow a receiver to take advantage.
BILLS PROJECTED INACTIVES
OT Tommy Doyle
DT Star Lotulelei
TE Tommy Sweeney
RB Matt Breida
LB Tyrel Dodson
STEELERS PROJECTED INACTIVES
QB Dwayne Haskins
LB Jamir Jones
CB Ahkello Witherspoon
RB Kalen Ballage
TE Zach Gentry
The Steelers will be arriving at quite possibly the loudest stadium in the NFL Sunday. This will be a disadvantage for them and could have a significant impact on the offense to execute their game plan. Add in the overall lack of injuries to the Bills, this is a very winnable game for Buffalo.
I do have one request for everyone reading this, take a second to soak in the moment. This is the start of a special season and a significant moment as fans return to the stands. Buffalo Bills football is back!!
Top Photo Credit: Pro Football Rumors