As we’ve done in the past, the keys to the Pittsburgh Steelers winning (or losing) today’s game. Three things that need to happen for them to end up on the right side of the score and vice versa in today’s home opener against the New England Patriots.
My prediction is at the bottom.
THE STEELERS WILL WIN IF…
1. Offense Continues To Take Care Of The Football
Here’s a crazy stat you’ll probably accuse me of jinxing the team down below in the comments. Through four games, three preseason and Week One, the Steelers have turned the ball over just once, a Gunner Oszewski fumble in the preseason on a failed 4th down that would’ve been a turnover on downs anyway. That’s it. No interceptions, no fumbles lost by the backs. It’s an improbable streak and we’ll see if it continues today. If it does, Pittsburgh has strong odds of starting the year 2-0. The Patriots’ defense is stout but looking for their first takeaway of the regular season while the Steelers sit +5 after last week’s contest.
2. Running Backs Pick Up The Blitz
Certainly expecting the Patriots to bring some pressure after doing so nearly half the time in the opener. They have some big, physical linebackers like Ja’wuan Bentley who will test a hobble Najee Harris and rookie Jaylen Warren. New England likes to stress protections so the Steelers must communicate well and be on the same page while Mitch Trubisky must know where his outlets and hot routes are.
3. Cornerbacks Crack/Replace
I’m betting “crack/replace” is something we’ll be talking about a lot come Monday. Whether it’s a compliment or a criticism remains to be seen. Few teams run their toss game as frequently as the Patriots and they have two big backs in Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson. The Pats goal is to get their backs on small corners by having receivers and tight ends crack down on safeties in the box. That means the corners have to replace the run fit. Pittsburgh’s corners aren’t major liabilities though Ahkello Witherspoon is the weakest link and will be challenged.
THE STEELERS WILL LOSE IF…
1. Third Down Woes Continue
Pittsburgh was an abysmal 4/15 on third down against the Bengals. That can’t keep happening if the Steelers want to get a win streak going. Their third downs were manageable too, averaging just 5.8 yards to go. Really disappointing outcome. Receivers gotta know where the line of scrimmage is at, guys have to finish plays, and communication errors must be cleaned up.
2. Patriots’ Tight Ends Make Big Plays
Mike Tomlin said it. The Pats always have weapons at tight end. This time around, it’s Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith. Neither have been fantastic since signing with the team, certainly no Gronk-level production, but the Steelers have always had their issues defending tight ends. Myles Jack should help but Henry and Smith can get isolated and win vertically. Can’t allow the Pats to use their playaction game to work those guys vertically.
3. Steelers’ Pass Rush Falls Flat
We can tell ourselves how the Steelers can go on without T.J. Watt but man, six weeks is a long time. Better than season-ending but Watt is the central piece of the defense and the Pats can now slide their protection to Cam Heyward, especially with him facing a rookie LG in Cole Strange. Pittsburgh had pass rush issues early last year with injuries to Watt and Heyward and looked lifeless against the Cincinnati Bengals in 2021. That can’t happen again but the dropoff from Watt to Malik Reed is of course drastic.
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