There are some marquee names that will not be in the lineup on Thursday night for both the New England Patriots, and the Pittsburgh Steelers. However, some players will feel the heat from the bright lights of prime time, and fans would be wise to take notice. The Steelers are a team that will need to play a near-perfect game to pull out a victory, and pulling off such a performance will depend on a wide array of positions.
The Steelers will need everyone to step up their game, but these five players in particular are worth extra attention in Foxborough on Thursday night.
With the loss of Le'Veon Bell for the first two games of the 2015 season, the pressure and workload will fall on the shoulders of DeAngelo Williams. Williams showed he still has the burst and vision which made him a household name with the Carolina Panthers. Williams will have to be the main workhorse for the Steelers, as there is plenty of untested depth behind him in Dri Archer, Will Johnson and Jordan Todman. It is Williams' job, and how he handles such a task will be huge for the Steelers as they search for their first win of 2015.
The 2014 first-round draft pick will have his hands full against Rob Gronkowski, but Shazier's impact on the game won't be limited to this singular matchup. Rather, Shazier needs to trust his reads, play fast and make plays when they are presented to him. Shazier has game-changing talent and it's time the Steelers, and their fan base, witness this level of skill in the regular season. Shazier's time is now.
When Mitchell was signed by the Steelers before 2014, he had just collected five interceptions during his previous season with the Panthers, and the team was looking for a ball-hawking, hard-hitting and athletic safety. What they got was an oft-injured safety who struggled alongside the unpredictable Troy Polamalu. Mitchell seems to be healthy heading into 2015, and he'll have Will Allen next to him on Thursday night. Mitchell is looking to prove critics wrong, and a good start could be made against Tom Brady and the Patriots to kick off the 2015 regular season.
Roethlisberger is one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. That isn't a secret, but what Roethlisberger needs to do now is to carry his team through the suspensions and injuries which have hindered the unit he captains. Coming off of a tremendous 2014, Roethlisberger will need to play mistake-free football, as well as connecting with Antonio Brown, Markus Wheaton, Darrius Heyward-Bey and Heath Miller, to keep the Patriots on their heels. Roethlisberger leading the team to victory could propel this team to big things in 2015.
The Patriots have some young players filling out their offensive line to start the 2015 season, which makes it imperative for the Steelers to get pressure on Tom Brady from their interior defensive line. This is where Cameron Heyward comes in. The newly-named defensive captain will have to do what he does best, and that is to wreak havoc in the opponent's backfield. Coming off of a season with 7.5 sacks and a new contract to boot, Heyward needs to be a difference-maker in this game on Thursday night, by making life extremely difficult for Brady and the boys.