Facing perhaps their toughest challenge of the season, the Pittsburgh Steelers host the New England Patriots on Sunday afternoon. Without their franchise quarterback, the Steelers face a Patriots team that has not lost a game since the return of Tom Brady from suspension.
Sunday’s game at Heinz Field will mark the Steelers’ 29th meeting with the Patriots. The Steelers lead the series with fifteen wins and thirteen loses. Their first game in October of 1972 resulted in a 33-3 win, while their last matchup in week one last year ended as a loss for the Steelers in a close 28-21 contest.
With Ben Roethlisberger sidelined due to injury, Landry Jones will make his third career start under center. The decision to start Jones at quarterback, after such a lackluster preseason, has gained the ire of Steelers’ Nation. Most wish to see if third-string quarterback, Zach Mettenberger, has a future in Pittsburgh. Although Mettenberger has ten professional starts, all of them are losses.
The Steelers defense needs to bounce back in the most desperate of ways after a poor showing against Miami. After respectively well against the run all season, they gave up over 200 yards to Jay Ajayi last week. This is something that had not been done in over a decade. The secondary was not without their miscues, either. Many big plays through the air kept Miami in contention all game.
Ryan Shazier returns to the lineup after missing multiple games, but this will not cure the defenses’ ailments. If they fail to properly cover assignments or falter early, Tom Brady will dismantle the Steelers’ defense with relative ease. How they answer last week’s putrid performance last week will determine what can be expected for the remainder of the season.
Landry Jones vs. Himself
Perhaps the biggest matchup in Heinz Field on Sunday afternoon will be Landry Jones against his ability to limit any and all offensive mistakes. Interceptions and fumbles will happen, it is almost certain, but how Jones responds to any kind of mistakes made will determine his reliability as signal caller.
Jones must trust his receivers will be on the opposite end of his throws, stay calm and collected in the pocket, and not force throws that can’t be made. The Steelers need Jones to be a game manager, which he has the ability to do. Jones simply does not have the arm strength to take shots down the field like Roethlisberger, so he must know his limitations. Putting the ball in the hands of Le’Veon Bell should be one of his most frequent actions of the game.
The game will come down to how well Jones can respond to the threat the New England’s defense poses. Bill Belichick will throw every defensive scheme he can think of to put the inexperienced quarterback in an uncomfortable position. If Jones can pull off an improbable victory, he has the chance to prove to many doubters that he has some sort of future with the Steelers
Ryan Shazier vs. Rob Gronkowski
Ryan Shazier ability to practice throughout the week was a promising indication that he would return in time for the Steelers’ game against New England. After suffering a MCL sprain earlier in the year, his absence from the Steelers’ injury report for Sunday hints that he will be in the starting lineup. The Steelers will need all the help they can muster to cover Tom Brady’s weapons.
Shazier will most likely be utilized in covering Patriots tight end, Rob Gronkowski. The inside linebacker was largely successful shadowing Jordan Reed in week one against Washington. Depending on how well his knee has healed over the past couple of weeks will determine his effectiveness in covering the tight end.
Gronkowski is about four inches taller than Reed, but Shazier is the most capable candidate to cover the behemoth tight end. Limiting Gronkowski as much as possible takes away a weapon from Brady’s arsenal, and forces him to find targets elsewhere in the passing game.
Steelers’ Pass Rush vs. Tom Brady
The Steelers’ pass rush has been a thing of rarity in the 2016 season. Last week against the Dolphins, their successful passing game was in large part due to the fact that Pittsburgh was unable to get anywhere near the quarterback. If Ryan Tannehill can make the Steelers’ defense look foolish, imagine what Tom Brady can do to them.
To make matters worse, Cameron Heyward is still absent from the Steelers’ defensive line due to a hamstring. Heyward is by far the Steelers’ biggest threat to quarterbacks, but now must find another athlete to fill that role for the time being. Whether it is Stephon Tuitt, Javon Hargrave, Anthony Chickillo, or Arthur Moats, someone must generate some kind of pressure on Brady, or he will eradicate the Steelers’ secondary.
The Steelers’ defense can assert themselves once again as a pass rushing threat if they are able to put Brady in position to where he must put himself out of the pocket. It will one or two members of the Steelers’ defense to step up and attempt to put Brady into the turf, which could easily turn the tide of the game.
Le’Veon Bell will be the star of the offense, rushing for at least 100 yards and scoring two touchdowns.
Javon Hargrave will make the first sack of his career on Tom Brady in the third quarter.
Ross Cockrell will record the secondary’s first interception of the season for the Steelers.
The Steelers will defy all odds, take the lead in the fourth quarter, and halt a Tom Brady comeback. 27-24, Steelers shock the NFL with a win.