Tonight is the first game of the season, as you well know, and it’s a doozy…as you also well know. Not only are the Pittsburgh Steelers playing the New England Patriots, they’re doing so on the road up in Foxboro. Where the Patriots don’t lose. They went 11-5 during the regular season a year ago, quite a pedestrian year for them, but that included a record of 8-0 at home. And 10-0 by the end of the year, including the postseason.
So the location is going to be a big deal in this one. How do the young players handle this sort of environment? Guys like Kameron Kelly and Devin Bush in particular are going to play big roles, but so will James Washington on offense. At least the offensive and defensive lines are veteran-laden, which should hopefully result in few pre-snap penalties. Penalties helped kill the Patriots when they lost to the Steelers in Pittsburgh last year, in case you’ve forgotten.
Anyway, on to more specifics. Antonio Brown may be on his way to being a Patriots, but he won’t be out there today. Neither will Rob Gronkowski. But they have all sorts of weapons they can deploy for whatever need they have at any given moment in the game, and the Steelers have to be prepared for them.
The defense will try to match personnel as much as possible, so communication is going to be critical, and they have a history of lapses in this area early in the year, so that’s a concern. Expect to see a lot of moving parts and players running in and out as Tom Brady tries to quick-snap. I’m sighing to myself just thinking about this.
The other side of the Antonio Brown coin is the one that has been sitting face-up since March. How does the offense adjust to playing ball without him? The company line all along has been that it will be a community effort, headed by Donte Moncrief and James Washington.
How will the Steelers approach the running game? It depends on what the Patriots show. What I’m more interested in is the usage. How much will Jaylen Samuels get onto the field? The team has expressed a lot of confidence in him, so we’ll see how it actually materializes.
Interior defensive pressure is always key when facing Brady. Several defenders pointed to their ability to accomplish this early in their last game against them as a key to the victory, getting him off his point and making him uncomfortable. You know who the figures are here.
Even without Brown, coverage is going to be critical. They need to be aggressive and contest balls without selling out to the point where they can’t tackle the catch. That will fall primarily on Joe Haden and Steven Nelson, but also Bush and Mark Barron and Terrell Edmunds.