The Pittsburgh Steelers are preparing for their 2022 regular season home opener with the New England Patriots coming to Pittsburgh in Week 2. Even without Tom Brady, playing the Patriots and Bill Belichick is never an easy task.
With this being such a big game, not like every game isn’t a big game, I was able to ask Taylor Kyles of Pats Pulpit, SB Nation’s Patriots website, five questions leading up to the game.
Check out the Q&A below, and be sure to check out DraftKings Sportsbook for all your betting needs this season.
Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.
The Patriots with Brady and Belichick were legendary, but with Brady gone there hasn’t been nearly as much success. What are the fans’ feelings towards Belichick in the post-Brady era?
There have of course been “Belichick can’t do it without Brady” narratives floating around, but I think rational sections of Patriots Nation are giving him the benefit of the doubt. The team’s defense has ranked Top 10 in points allowed since Brady left, though they have had some late-season sputters.
The most glaring area of speculation has been the coaching staff overhaul, specifically on offense. The team lost its offensive coordinator, quarterbacks coach, assistant quarterbacks coach, wide receivers coach, and offensive line coach to the Raiders, while revered running backs coach Ivan Fears retired. Their replacements have unanimously been coaches with minimal or no prior experience in their current roles. Belichick clearly knows there will be a learning curve and has shifted his focus to the offense.
While the changes are without precedent and understandably alarming, I don’t think they held the offense back in Week 1. Still, Mac Jones and company will need to put some strong performances together before fans feel comfortable with the shift.
Mac Jones seems to be the next “guy” at quarterback. How has he done so far throughout his career? Are there doubts surrounding his overall abilities?
The organization has praised Mac Jones’ leadership, dedication, and potential since he snatched the starting job from Cam Newton last season. That positivity has only grown in his second season and you can tell Jones’ role is important to him.
On the field, he looks the role of a field general who calls protections, gets everyone set, and ensures the offense is in the right play. When he trusts his protection, he can rip up a defense and doesn’t mind taking a big hit to finish a throw. His mobility is also underrated, as he’ll extend plays or scramble for 1st downs when necessary.
I wanted to see Jones be more aggressive as a passer this season, and there have been flashes, but his accuracy could be more consistent.
What would be the strengths and weaknesses of the Patriots on both offense and defense?
Offensive strength: Ground game
The Patriots’ offensive line is full of massive people-movers who can drive defenders off the ball and scoop out running lanes. Behind them, the Patriots’ one-two punch of Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson at running back is one of the league’s best. They’re powerful finishers with the vision to find creases anywhere on the line, the quickness to exploit them, and the speed to hit long gains. Ty Montgomery was more of a factor in blitz pickup and short yardage (unsuccessfully), so his landing on injured reserve shouldn’t have a significant impact on the ground game.
Offensive weakness: Pass protection
Trent Brown had two errors on late shifts/rotations from the Dolphins that led to sacks, one resulting in a touchdown off a fumble recovery. Though linemen won their individual matchups for most last week’s game, communication and awareness must improve against a stunt-heavy team like the Steelers.
Defensive strength: Defensive front
Matthew Judon may be the best player on the team. He’s known as a pass rushing force, but he’s also a sturdy run defender. Second-year DT Christian Barmore had a quiet game last week, but he’s an explosive player who can do a lot of damage when he’s on his game. First-year captain DE Deatrich Wise had one of his best career games last week, harassing Tua Tagovailoa and the Fins’ line with his power and length. Davon Godchaux is a disruptive NT who works best when working 1v1, and Lawrence Guy is as sturdy as they come inside.
Defensive weakness: Inside linebackers not named Ja’Whaun Bentley
Bentley has looked good as the team’s stout middle linebacker who knows his weaknesses and commands the front. The spot next to him hasn’t been as consistent, with the rotation of Raekwon McMillan and Jahlani Tavai looking lost at times despite solid effort. McMillan is an excellent athlete who should come along over time. The team seems to love Tavai, but I question his processing.
New England is a +1.5-point favorite (via the DraftKings Sportsbook) in Pittsburgh Sunday. Obviously the loss of T.J. Watt and injury to Najee Harris can impact this, but what about the Patriots makes them road favorites against this Steelers defense? How do you see the game playing out Sunday at 1pm? Do the Patriots get their first win, or do the Steelers stay perfect at home?
Mitchell Trubisky holding the offense back is a big reason the Patriots are favored. Trubisky had maybe his best career game against New England in 2018, but that was largely due to poor gap integrity leading to big scrambles in critical moments. He didn’t throw to wide open receivers and struggled to process coverages, which doesn’t appear to have changed. If the Patriots can keep him in the pocket, we could see a shutout. I do think the Steelers’ excellent receivers will make their plays, though.
The Patriots’ offense should bounce back in a game that will likely be pass-heavy against Pittsburgh’s loaded front. New England had open receivers last week, but Jones couldn’t always get to them because of pressure. If the offensive line communicates well and the offense avoids costly mistakes, Jones should be able to move the ball downfield.
Who is a player who doesn’t get that much recognition who should be on Steelers’ fans radars?
Safety Kyle Dugger doesn’t get much national attention, but he’s one of the league’s most explosive athletes and a terrorizing presence defensively. I’ve watched him casually bury some of the league’s biggest linemen and his tackles are usually violent affairs. He took a bad angle that led to a long Jaylen Waddle touchdown last week, but he’s excellent against tight ends in man coverage and is dangerous reading the QB as a zone defender.
Expect to jump out of your chair a couple of times on Sunday.
Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they prepare for the Patriots in Week 2 of the 2022 regular season.