The Patriots head back out on the road in Week 2 to take on the Pittsburgh Steelers in Acrisure Stadium, formerly Heinz Field. This will be the third time that the Patriots will start the season on the road for the first two weeks in the Bill Belichick era.
This week’s game will be broadcast by CBS and can be seen locally on WBZ-TV Channel 4. Ian Eagle will handle play-by-play duties, with Charles Davis handling the color analyst duties. The game will also be aired on the Patriots flagship radio station, 98.5 The Sports Hub, with Bob Socci and Scott Zolak on the call, produced by Marc Capello.
The Patriots (0-1) are coming off of a tough road loss, once again in Miami, 20-7. The offense turned the ball over three times and had trouble moving the football most of the day. The drives of each half were their best moments. In the third quarter, they went 92 yards, capped off with a Ty Montgomery (since placed on IR) touchdown reception.
The Steelers (0-1) beat the Bengals in overtime in Cinncinnati 23-20. The defense created 5 turnovers (4 interceptions, 1 fumble, all by Joe Burrow) and sacked Burrow 7 times. But their offense couldn’t get untracked either, despite the five turnovers. Mitch Trubiski is just the placeholder until Mike Tomlin believes that rookie QB Kenny Pickett is ready.
We here at PatsFans.com are continuing our “Razor’s Edge” column in 2022 to give some quick analysis on some of the game’s key matchups and what you can look for in how the game plays out.
First up is the Patriots’ offense:
Patriots RBs vs Steelers Front Seven – Edge Pittsburgh
The Patriots running game sputtered too much against Miami last week. Damien Harris had a nice running the ball averaging 5.8 yards per carry; however, the team only ran for 78 yards and averaged just 3.5 yards per pop. That isn’t going to get it done, especially with a passing game with issues.
Pittsburgh’s run defense anchored by Cam Heyward, Larry Ogunjobi, and Tyson Alualu is a tough unit to rush against and allows their linebackers, Myles Jack and Devin Bush, inside and Alex Highsmith and Malik Reed, to fill in for the injured T.J. Watt to clean up
For the Patriots to win this game, they’re going to need the offensive line to play much better this week, they need to use some quick hitters misdirection and more creativity (the catchword this week)
Patriots WRs vs Steelers Secondary – Edge Pittsburgh
Due to spotty offensive line play and bad matching personnel, the Patriots’ passing game looked out of sorts for most of the preseason and into Week 1. Mac Jones was only sacked twice, but both of those were unblocked rushers who rocked him. He was also hit seven times, many of which were hard.
Jones has former Dolphin DeVante Parker, Jakobi Meyers, Kendrick Bourne, an energized Nelson Agholor, and tight ends Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry. The targets are there, but Jones needs time. They frequently played DeVante Parker and Jakobi Meyers in 12 personnel, and it severely limited big play ability and yards after catch (YAC). They need to get more of Nelson Agholor, and Kendrick Bourne involved, period.
The Steelers’ pass defense all begins with the pass rush. Although they’ll be missing Watt and his 22 sacks from a year ago, Highsmith had a huge game with three sacks, 4 QB hits, and 2 tackles for loss last week. The secondary led by S Minkah Fitzpatrick is very solid. He was all over the field.
Protection is the key this week. And until they get it straightened out, Jones and the passing game will continue to struggle. Look for the quick passing game to the slot, tight ends, and backs (minus Montgomery). Bourne and Agholor are the YAC guys. They have to get more creative (there’s that word again), put guys in motion, use play action more, and do some trickery if need be.
Next up is the Pittsburgh offense:
Steelers RBs vs NE Front Seven – Edge New England
The Patriots’ run defense was excellent a week ago. They held Miami to just 65 yards total and only 2.8 yards per rush. Miami had two new speedy backs and the Shanahan wide zone scheme, but the interior linemen and the new linebackers were up to the task.
The Steelers’ running game starts and ends with the excellent Najee Harris. But a lingering foot injury was aggravated last week, and although he may play, he won’t be at 100 percent. His backups are Jaylen Warren and Benny Snell.
Look for the Patriots to contain the Steelers’ running game. Their offensive line is not been playing well either, so with a banged-up Harris, they should hold them in check. Pittsburgh will get creative (third time) with Jet Sweeps, misdirection, and fakes with bootleg passes.
Steelers WRs vs NE Secondary- Edge New England
The Steelers haven’t had a starting QB other than Ben Roethlisberger for their home opener since 2004. And as we stated above, Trubiski isn’t the long-term answer. Trubiski wasn’t bad, but he didn’t do much except not turn it over. He completed 21 of 38 for just 194 yards.
His biggest targets were Diontae Johnson (12) and TE Pat Freiermuth (10); Johnson had 7 catches for 55 yards, and Freiermuth had 5 catches for 75 yards, much-hyped rookie WR George Pickens had one catch for 3 yards on 3 targets, but should start seeing more play soon. Najee Harris had the lone offensive TD on a 2-yard pass from Trubiski.
Trubiski burned the Patriots in the past with his legs, so that will be something to watch for, but although they only allowed a single sack, Pittsburgh’s OL has had some protection issues of their own.
Special Teams- Razor’s Edge Push
The Patriots and Steelers match up well in the kicking game. Chris Boswell has a bigger leg, but inside of 50-yards, Nick Folk hasn’t missed since Week 1 of 2020, making 55 straight inside of 50. Both punters were excellent. Pressley Harvin punted 8 times for a 48.5-yard average, and Jake Bailey put all three of his punts at or inside the 10-yard line.
The Steelers have former Patriot Gunner Olszewski returning kicks and punts, while the Patriots have Bryant returning punts, and Montgomery was returning kicks, but now they’ll turn to someone else.
Next up, who wins and why…
Games in Pittsburgh are always tough and physical, and I would expect this one to be much of the same. Gone are the days of Brady and Roethlisberger leading their respective teams, but time marches on.
Keys to the game from a Patriots perspective:
Stay Ahead of the Chains — The Patriots have to face third and very manageable if they want to keep Jones upright and the game within reach. If they consistently get into third and long situations, it will a long, long day for the offense. Getting good gains on first down is essential.
Get the Speedy Playmakers Involved — Don’t get me wrong, I think Jakobi Meyers is a fantastic and arguably the most reliable player on the offense. But they need to get teams giving them space, and Meyers and Parker, while very good chain movers, don’t possess the type of speed to force a defense to play off. Agholor and Bourne have the capability to take a 5-7 yard slant and turn it into much, much more. Matt Patricia needs to get over his snit with Bourne and insert him back into the offense.
Force Turnovers and Help Out a Struggling Offense — One of the themes of preseason and Week 1 was the Patriots (almost getting there) for interceptions and fumble recoveries. That absolutely has to change. Until the offense finds its feet this year, they’re going to need the defense to pick them up. Crazy, back in the spring, I thought it would be the other way around
I just don’t see the Patriots’ offense getting untracked yet. I thought they would last week, but they are still far behind where they should be at this point. I think Pittsburgh will assert their will on the offense, although my cohosts on the 4th & 2 podcast feel the opposite way. We’ll see. Steelers 20-10
Posted Under: Patriots Commentary
Tags: Alex Highsmith Bill Belichick Cameron Heyward Damien Harris Devante Parker Diontae Johnson Jakobi Meyers Kendrick Bourne Mac Jones Mitch Trubiski Najee Harris Nelson Agholor New England Patriots Patriots Patriots offensive line Pittsburgh Steelers TJ Watt