The Pittsburgh Steelers will open their 2019 regular season on the road Sunday night against the New England Patriots in what figures to be another tightly contested game that could come down to the wire. Below are seven key things that I believe the Steelers will need to do in the game to come away with a big AFC win to start their 2019 regular season.
Be Tom’s first and second – Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has never thrown an interception against the Steelers at home in five games. If the Steelers hope to win Sunday at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, that streak will need to come to an end. The Steelers defense only intercepted eight passes last season on the way to ending with just 15 total takeaways. That total number was ten short of where it needs to be. If the Steelers don’t get a few turnovers Sunday night, it’s hard to imagine them beating the Patriots.
Patriots center of attention – The Patriots lost starting center David Andrews for the season to lung blood clots a few weeks ago and that means Ted Karras will be the starter moving forward. Karras is easily the weakest part of the Patriots offensive line and running a close second might be left guard Joe Thuney. While Steelers defensive tackle Javon Hargrave isn’t likely to play more than 55 percent of the total Steelers defensive snaps Sunday night, whenever he is on the field, he should be able to make a difference and especially as a pass rusher. Steelers defensive end Cameron Heyward also needs a stronghold Sunday night against the interior of the Patriots offensive line. Brady hates pressure in his face so the Steelers defense must provide a lot of that Sunday night.
Hope Boz’s well – Will the old Chris Boswell be back kicking for the Steelers this season? We might get a chance to find out as soon as Sunday night. There might not be a lot of scoring opportunities Sunday night for either team and a low-scoring game would seem to favor the Steelers. Boswell, who seemingly had a strong training camp and preseason on the heels of a disastrous 2018 season, needs to kick home all chances he gets Sunday night. The last time the Steelers played the Patriots in Foxborough, Boswell missed a 27-yard field goal and an extra point attempt in their humiliating 2016-2017 AFC Championship game loss.
Long overdue for shorter fields – In the Steelers 17-10 win over the Patriots late last season, the team’s offense managed to overcome very poor starting field position throughout the contest. In fact, the best stating field position the Steelers offense had in that game was their own 28-yard-line and that happened twice. Three of their other 10 offensive positions started inside their own 10-yard-line. The fact that the Steelers managed to win that game last season against the Patriots with such poor field position shows just how well the team’s defense played. That all noted, the Steelers defense and special team units must provide the offense a few better starting spots Sunday night at Gillette Stadium.
Big plays Jameses – Patriot head coach Bill Belichick will likely concentrate on taking away Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster Sunday night and that means the third-year wide receiver is probably due to receiver a lot of double and bracket-type coverages. The Patriots might also once again use defensive back-heavy personnel groupings throughout the Sunday night game. Regardless of how Belichick ultimately decides to defend the Steelers offense Sunday night, running back James Conner and wide receiver James Washington should both have a few opportunities throughout the game to deliver big plays. Washington needs to deliver at least two deep catches of 20 yards or more while Conner needs to deliver at least two runs or receptions of 15 yards or more. These Jameses are very capable of delivering such big plays.
Wheeling and receiving backs – With the Patriots seriously down tight ends Sunday, look for them to use a lot of two-back personnel groupings Sunday night with the always versatile James Develin and James White being part of such. White is an underrated receiving running back and he’s caught 243 passes in the last four seasons. Look for the Patriots to throw to their running backs a lot Sunday night and even attempt a few wheel routes if they can get one singled up on an outside linebacker or an inside linebacker such as Vince Williams.
Red and yellow, red and yellow, red and yellow – The Steelers win last season against the Patriots at Heinz Field included the team’s offense converting two of their three total red zone trips into touchdowns. Conversely, none of the three trips inside the red zone that the Patriots had in that contest culminated in touchdowns. The Steelers must once again win that battle and the penalty one as well. Last season, the Steelers handily won the penalty battle as the Patriots had 14 called on them for 106 yards while Pittsburgh had just four penalties assessed against them for 40 yards. These two sets of stats aren’t highlighted enough when looking back at the Steelers win last season over the Patriots.