The New England Patriots host the Pittsburgh Steelers as the 2015 NFL regular season begins at Gillette Stadium Thursday night.
There’s plenty to talk about as the Pats take the field for the first time, but here are three keys to victory in week one. —
Pats Front Seven Must Come to Play —
One of New England’s most talented groups going into the season is the defensive front seven. With the Steelers missing one of the better centers in the league in Maurkice Pouncey, the Patriots could find a way to take advantage of his absence. While Malcom Brown and Dominique Easily try and create some interior pressure, Rob Ninkovich, Chandler Jones and Jabaal Sheard will be busy setting the edge.
Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is one of the best in the league when it comes to extending plays. This makes attacking him difficult because defensively, you have to create pressure without letting him escape the pocket. New England’s defense must balance closing in on Big Ben while not getting too far up field and giving him room to make plays.
Look for Bill Belichick and Matt Patricia to dial up some linebacker blitzes with Jerod Mayo, Jamie Collins and Dont’a Hightower shooting the A-gap between the center and guard. New England may also try and run some stunts and twists to clog the defensive line in order to create some miscommunication among Pittsburgh’s offensive line and backup center, Cody Wallace.
All Eyes on Brown —
With star running back Le’Veon Bell and second-year deep threat Martavis Bryant suspended, Pittsburgh will be without some offensive firepower on Thursday night. Nevertheless, one of the league’s most dynamic players in Antonio Brown must be the focus of New England’s defense.
It’s simple, don’t let Brown beat you. Whether it’s double, bracket style coverage or constant help from linebackers and safeties, Brown must be accounted for at all times. Limiting his big plays will be one of the biggest factors in the opening night outcome.
It’s easier said than done, however, Brown caught 129 passes for 1,693 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2014.
New-Look Steelers Defense Brings Unknown Factor —
Longtime defensive guru Dick LeBeau will not be calling signals for the Steelers Thursday night. After being forced out at the end of last season, Keith Butler has taken over for Pittsburgh and the Patriots will see a new-look Steelers defense for the first time in the Tom Brady era.
While Brady has found success against the Steelers throughout his career with a 5-2 record in the regular season (7-3 including playoffs), Pittsburgh’s defense is one of the unknowns heading into opening night. Butler will employ a 3-4 defensive scheme, with hopes of jamming tight end Rob Gronkowski and blitzing Brady early on.
With New England’s offense typically starting slower at the beginning of previous seasons, it’s important to get into a rhythm early. Short, quick passes to put pressure of the Steelers’ defense that allowed 353.5 yards-per-game in 2014. Pittsburgh’s defense, ranked 27th versus the pass last season, will need help and be exposed if the front seven cannot get to no.12 quick enough.
Prediction: Patriots 27, Steelers 17
The Steelers walk into a hostile environment as the Patriots begin their title defense. A lot of changes for both teams, but Brady will not be denied in week one. The absences of RB Le’Veon Bell, WR Martinis Bryant and center Maurkice Pouncey will prove to be too much to overcome for Pittsburgh.
Posted Under: Patriots Commentary