Rarely does the New England Patriots’ defense rank number one in overall defense yet time and time again they are one of the most difficult to succeed against. Head Coach Bill Belichick earned his ‘hoodie’ as a defensive guru under Bill Parcells and he’s passed that on to his current defensive coordinator Matt Patricia.
New England Defense: Overall 15th, Passing 21st, Rushing 12th
Pittsburgh Offense: Overall 8th, Passing 9th, Rushing 13th
As you’ve probably heard, the Steelers’ offense will be missing an important piece in quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Landry Jones takes over and his number one job is to take care of the ball. Todd Haley has to be judicious in what he’s going to let Jones do in the passing game. Will he limit him to quick throws? Dump-offs to Le’Veon Bell? Or will he throw caution to the wind and let Landry go deep early and often? One thing is for sure, he’s going to have throw the ball at some point.
How Does Pittsburgh Attack?
I went back and watched the opening game from the 2015 season when the Steelers opened the season at New England. While the Steelers walked away with the 28-21 loss, there were positives to take away from Foxboro.
You might recall that DeAngelo Williams ran for over 100 yards in that game. While the personnel is a little different on both sides, I still think there can be success running the football but this time with Bell. In six games so far, the Pats haven’t given up a 100 yard rusher. The Cardinals’ David Johnson had 89 yards, the Texans’ Lamar Miller had 80 and Buffalo’s LeSean McCoy had 70.
I think Bell can top those numbers but I also think he can match McCoy in receiving too. In Buffalo’s win over the Patriots he had six receptions for 38 yards and a TD. That’s well within Bell’s ability.
Because Belichick is known to take away a team’s biggest threat, Jones is going to have come off his primary read if it is in fact Bell. That means the offensive line has to protect and receivers have to get open. I’m guessing Belichick takes away Bell thinking that Antonio Brown won’t be effective due to the offensive line struggles of late.
Jones must take what the Pats’ give and if that means underneath to Jesse James then so be it. I do believe that Haley will want Jones to take some early shots though. One mistake the Steelers’ offense made last week was not throwing deep early against Miami. Look for Sammie Coates to be targeted with a couple of deep throws early. Hopefully he catches them or draws a pass interference penalty. At worst (other than a pick), it will back off the Patriots’ defense a bit to open the game.
The Steelers must account for linebacker Jamie Collins who has become one of the better defensive players in the league in my opinion. He can cover, he can rush the passer and he’s an excellent tackler. The offensive line must get to him, engage him and not let him off the hook. Slowing him down means slowing down the entire defense.
While my confidence is not high, I think the Steelers can find some success with the run and a little bit of play-action pass but we can’t expect too much from Landry Jones. If he doesn’t turn it over and limits his poor throws then they have a chance and that’s all anyone can ask for this week.