The Steelers are facing an uphill battle as they face off against the Patriots in Foxboro. We know that many experts have chosen New England over Pittsburgh, but what do they have to say about each team's strengths and weaknesses.
Peter King of the Monday Morning quarterback predicted the Steelers will struggle tonight and that it will be a "David and Goliath" match up. Here are a few of his reasons:
1) Cornerback is in crisis: It's no secret that the Steelers' secondary is struggling. King wrote, "The secondary could be target practice for Brady." Ouch.
2) Certain players need to show up: He mentioned Jarvis Jones and Shamarko Thomas as players who have disappointed and need to up their game.
3) The Steelers had a poor draft class: King criticized the Steelers 2015 draft class noting that second-round pick Senquez Golson is hurt; fourth-round pick Doran Grant is on the practice squad; and, seventh-round pick, the highly-touted Gerod Holliman, was cut.
Jeremy Fowler and Mike Reiss of ESPN also pinpointed some key factors in tonight's game:
1) The Steelers defense is weak. Fowler pinpointed the loss of Dick LeBeau, Troy Polamalu, Ike Taylor, and Brett Keisel. Yes, the defense is definitely looking different in terms of personnel and schemes now that Keith Butler has taken over as defensive coordinator. Fowler points to Cam Heyward, Lawrence Timmons, and Ryan Shazier as men who will help shape the identity of the defense. Reiss noted that Brady is vulnerable to the four-man rush. Ironically, he also noted, "Disguising intentions pre-snap remains critical." Yes, it is, and the Patriots have been especially adept in past years at unveiling these pre-snap intentions.
2) The Steelers are missing some personnel and so are the Patriots. (Incidentally, it's a bit eerie that they're both missing their star running backs, a star wide receiver, and their center.) On the Steelers side, Fowler predicted that DeAngelo Williams will fill in adequately for Bell but that center Maurkice Pouncey is irreplaceable.
Jim McBride of the Boston Globe weighed in as well, obviously predicting the Patriots will win. He did, however, mention some factors that he considers essential:
1) DeAngelo Williams will need to step up. McBride, rather gracefully, said he was "no slouch" and possesses "a quick first step and excellent vision." Still McBride predicted that the Patriots' linemen will be able to limit his productivity.
2) Roethlisberger will need to have a monster game in terms of passing. McBride had high praise for the Steelers' veteran quarterback and predicted the New England secondary will struggle against the Steelers' passing attack.
3) New England needs a strong run game as well. Surprisingly, McBride predicted the Steelers defense will overwhelm the Patriots Run game even though "this is not a typical Steel Curtain." He pointed to Timmons as the man who will thwart the Pats run. He didn't think the Steelers secondary would hold up to the Patriots passing game, even without Brandon LaFell.