The New England Patriots have had our number over the years, but here’s why the Steelers shouldn’t be afraid of their weapons in Week 2.
If playing the Patriots over the years has taught us anything, it’s to not underestimate Bill Belichick. However, this New England team doesn’t look anything like the ones we have been accustomed to seeing over the years. In the past, the team had to account for stars like Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, and Julian Edelman. Now, who scares us on the Patriots?
Quite boldly, the answer is nobody. I certainly don’t mean to say that the Steelers should walk into Acrisure Stadium with their chins in the air like they are going to walk all over New England. I still anticipate this being a close game (and one that’s likely to be a defensive struggle). However, when it comes to game planning, there really isn’t an individual player they need to account for this week.
Patriots quarterback, Mac Jones, is dealing with back spasms and missed Thursday’s practice due to an illness. Even when healthy, the former Alabama product is simply a game-managing quarterback who isn’t much of a threat to dice up defenses through the air.
His weapons are even less spectacular. Jakobi Meyers — the team’s number one receiver — would probably be a WR2 or WR3 on most teams, and the supporting cast of DeVante Parker, Nelson Agholor, and Kendrick Bourne doesn’t have defensive coordinators biting their nails. Tight ends Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith are solid, but neither is a particularly threatening player in the passing game.
Where the Steelers should shift a little extra attention is to the backfield. While I don’t think that Damien Harris or Rhamondre Stevenson are elite players by any means, they are quality running backs behind a decent offensive line who could potentially do some damage on the ground if Pittsburgh isn’t careful.
Steelers still shouldn’t underestimate Patriots
I find myself being guilty of this already. On paper, the Patriots simply don’t have an impressive roster and their starting lineup — on both sides of the ball — is one of the weakest in the league, in my opinion. However, it’s important not to underestimate Bill Belichick in Week 2.
While Belichick hasn’t been drafting well, he’s still an expert when it comes to in-game adjustments and exploiting weak links. This week against the Steelers, I would expect the Patriots to try and hammer the ball through the throat of their defense in an effort to wear down Pittsburgh’s defensive front. In the passing game, Belichick could try to use Meyers and his tight ends in the slot to try to pick on Devin Bush, Myles Jack, and Arthur Maulet.
If there’s a weak link on the field, Belichick will find it. The good news is that the Steelers shouldn’t have to alter their game plan to try to account for any particular player. Instead, I would stack the box, play my defensive backs tight to the line of scrimmage, and force Mac Jones to beat them over the top. I’ll take Pittsburgh’s defensive backs over New England’s receivers any day.
The key is going to be stopping the run. They can’t allow Harris and Stevenson to gash them in the backfield and wear out their defense. Teryl Austin should keep an extra defender in the box and perhaps deploy a lot of single-high coverage this week with Terrell Edmunds playing closer to the line of scrimmage.
In Week 1, the Patriots managed just 271 total yards, 5.0 yards per play, and 7 total points. They performed this poorly against the Dolphins despite getting sacked just twice and having only 15 penalty yards in the game, via ESPN stats.
This is a very winnable home game for the Steelers in Week 2, and starting the season off 2-0 would be terrific. While they shouldn’t have to come up with a creative defensive game plan this week to draw attention to a specific player, they can’t underestimate Bill Belichick.