The Pittsburgh Steelers were selected to play the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots in Week 1 for a reason. Not only are they two of the best teams the AFC has to offer, but this game will draw some huge ratings for NBC.
Due to the magnitude of this game, we here at BTSC decided to join forces, as much as Steelers and Patriots fans can, and give both our readers an in-depth look at the upcoming matchup on Sunday Night Football.
A big thanks to Pats Pulpit editor Bernd Buchmasser for participating in this exercise, and if you want to see what is being said about the Steelers on the other side of the fence, be sure to check out Pats Pulpit.
In this exercise we take a look at what the Patriots’ offense will do when they have the football...
Bernd Buchmasser: If I’m Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, one of the first priorities is to get starting center Ted Karras comfortable. Karras, of course, is filling in for David Andrews who will spend the rest of the season on injured reserve after blood clots were discovered in his lungs. He is naturally a downgrade from Andrews, but that doesn’t mean he can’t hold his own. That being said, the Patriots need to find a way to make him get into a rhythm early on — be it by having Tom Brady under center more often, calling a healthy mix of run and pass, or helping with double teams against Pittsburgh’s potent interior rushers.
Speaking of a healthy mix of run and pass. One of the problems for the Patriots the last time they played the Steelers was their pass-heavy game plan — one that was thrown off by Keith Butler using some different coverage concepts: Pittsburgh used some cover 2, cover 3, and also did not employ as much spot dropping in its zone scheme as it did in the past. In order to come away victoriously on Sunday, the Patriots will need to be able to adapt better to the Steelers potentially using more man-to-man looks and a more aggressive coverage scheme.
Luckily, the Patriots are well equipped to do that. After all, their wide receivers are led by some proven commodities against press-man: Julian Edelman has the quickness, Josh Gordon and Demaryius Thomas have the size and strength to win their battles. Furthermore, they should have a potent running game to help free things up in the passing game — it’s an old saying, but it holds true in this case — led by second-year man Sony Michel and an offensive line that is still strong in this area even without David Andrews and the run-blocking contributions of Rob Gronkowski.
Putting all that into consideration, I would try to…
1.) Get Karras comfortable by using a well-balanced offensive approach.
2.) Use the wide receivers’ size to combat potential man-to-man looks, especially if Edelman gets double-covered.
3.) Use more two-running back groups as opposed to the 11 personnel looks that were heavily employed during last year’s matchup.
4.) Limit penalties, something that hurt the Patriots last December.
On the flip side, here was my response to what the Steelers’ defense will try to do when facing Brady and company...
Jeff Hartman: The Steelers defense has to take a unique approach to this game, and it all starts on the interior of the line. The Steelers see the interior offensive line as a weakness of the Patriots’ front, and know stopping the run and putting pressure on Tom Brady from the interior will be critical to success.
Me writing this is one thing, executing it is another.
The player who scares me the most in this game is James White. If the Steelers play Vince Williams a lot in Week 1, the Patriots could exploit his lack of speed by using White out of the backfield. You can have all the pressure you want, and if Brady dumps the ball off to White and he has someone like Williams one-on-one, it is game over.
The Steelers need to be disciplined in their gap assignments, but also need to take advantage of mistakes made. In their last two meetings Brady has made ill-advised throws which some would say turned the tide of the game. In 2017 it was a pass dropped by Sean Davis, and the Patriots ended up winning that contest. If Davis completes the INT, there is no Jesse James catch/non-catch, and the Steelers likely win that game. In 2018 Brady’s ill-advised pass was intercepted by Joe Haden. If Haden doesn’t come down in bounds, or drops the ball, it likely equates to points for New England and the entire game shifts in the Patriots’ favor. Have to take advantage when the moments present themselves, and it all starts up front.
Be sure to see all of the installments of this series with Bernd Buchmasser leading up to the kickoff on Sunday Night Football in Week 1!