The Pittsburgh Steelers 2015 season gets underway in about three hours from now and it certainly will be a tough chore beating the New England Patriots on the road. If they are able to accomplish that feat, however, I think the five players I have listed below might all play roles in the victory and I suggest watching the play of each closely.
Cameron Heyward – Sure, this might seem like an easy selection, but let me tell you why Heyward really should have a great game against the Patriots. For starters, backup center Ryan Wendell will start in place of the injured Bryan Stork. You would probably also like to know that Wendell only played a total of 15 snaps during the preseason and that means he doesn’t have a lot of game action alongside rookie left guard Shaq Mason, who is also scheduled to start Thursday night. If that’s not enough, Patriots left tackle Nate Solder didn’t look so hot in the 65 preseason snaps that he played. Expect Heyward to be busy on stunts and one-gapping Thursday night and he should have a great game.
Darrius Heyward-Bey – With Martavis Bryant suspended for the first four weeks of the season, the Steelers will turn to Heyward-Bey to be their No. 3 wide receiver. The former first-round draft pick is what he is, but despite his well-documented drop history, he can still get open deep with that speed of his. Against the Patriots Thursday night, look for the Steelers offense to attempt to get Heyward-Bey singled up against cornerback Malcolm Butler a few times on some deep routes. Butler struggles with speed and if he doesn’t have safety help, we might see an explosive play touchdown.
Jordan Todman – Really? Todman? Yes, really. The Steelers newest running back will have a helmet Thursday night and I wouldn’t be shocked to see him returning kickoffs instead of Dri Archer. Head coach Mike Tomlin hinted at such a thing in a Wednesday interview. Todman certainly has the experience and results in his favor. The Steelers could use a boost on special teams Thursday night and I think Todman might be able to provide just that. Additionally, he might just get a carry or two on offense.
Cody Wallace – Wallace has some big shoes to fill for several weeks with Maurkice Pouncey sidelined and his 2015 season will begin Thursday night with him matching up against Patriots defensive tackles Sealver Siliga and Alan Branch. Additionally, you can probably bet that the Patriots will be sending A-gap blitzes at times in the form of Jerod Mayo, Dont’a Hightower, or both at the same time. Wallace is a scrappy player but he’s not as mobile as Pouncey is. The Steelers need to be able to run behind him just the same and look for him to get off to a good start.
Cortez Allen – I’m not buying that Allen has already been benched in favor of Antwon Blake but fortunately we’ll know very soon if that indeed is the case. Regardless, Allen still should see some playing time Thursday night and I hope he gets a chance to cover tight end Rob Gronkowski just like he did way back in the 2011 game between these two teams. Allen is costing a lot of money these days and he needs to start earning it.