As one of the greatest football minds in history, New England Patriots’ head coach Bill Belichick knows a thing or two about great defensive football, having built his reputation on it.
So, when Belichick called the Pittsburgh Steelers’ defense, which he and his Patriots will face in Week 2 in the Steelers’ home opener at Acrisure Stadium, it certainly perked up some ears and raised some eyebrows, even without star pass rusher T.J. Watt.
Speaking with reporters in Foxborough Wednesday morning ahead of the Steelers-Patriots matchup on Sunday, Belichick had a lot of praise for the Steelers’ defensive unit under head coach Mike Tomlin, calling Pittsburgh’s defense a good one, which won’t adjust or revamp the scheme in one week without the services of Watt.
“They’re a good defensive team. They’re obviously better with Watt, but it is what it is,” Belichick said to reporters Wednesday, according to a tweet from Boston sports reporter Alex Barth on Twitter. “I don’t think they’re going to revamp their entire defense in one week.”
The Steelers won’t make many changes defensively without Watt. They’ll still do what they do best, which is attack opposing offenses, get after the quarterback and create some confusion on the back end. It might be a lot harder to create pressure consistently without Watt, but with the likes of Alex Highsmith and Malik Reed at outside linebacker, Pittsburgh is in good hands without Watt, for the time being, not to mention Cameron Heyward and Larry Ogunjobi up the middle.
It helps having the amount of talent in the secondary that the Steelers do, led by Week 1 AFC Defensive Player of the Week Minkah Fitzpatrick. Speaking with reporters Wednesday, Belichick praised the Steelers’ secondary filled with “ball-hawks,” according to Barth.
The Steelers certainly read Cincinnati quarterback Joe Burrow rather well in Week 1, picking off the star quarterback four times, returning one for a touchdown, while also forcing a fumble on a strip-sack from Highsmith that Heyward caught and recovered. Now, ahead of the Week 2 matchup, Belichick will have to ensure that second-year quarterback Mac Jones is not only physically ready to go, but mentally as well in facing an attacking defense with playmakers at every level.
It could be a real challenge for the Patriots on Sunday, especially in the first year with offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, who is now the head coach in Las Vegas. New England put up just one touchdown in the Week 1 loss on the road against the Miami Dolphins, don’t officially have an offensive coordinator, and are reportedly changing the entire scheme to be more like a Kyle Shanahan offense with a lot of zone runs.
Going up against a “good” defense in Week 2 on the road might make that transition all the more difficult for New England, even without having to deal with Watt.