On Sunday the defending Super Bowl Champs will drop their 6th banner and begin their title defense against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Today I’ll take you through everything you need to know entering this primetime clash.
Shut Down Juju Smith-Schuster:
Now while this sounds like a big request, it becomes a lot easier when you have one of the best cornerbacks and defensive minds in the NFL. Stephone Gilmore has shown time and time again that he can go head to head with the big time receivers and make big plays when it matters most. Bill Belichick has had months to prepare for this game and it’s a Pittsburgh Steelers team he’s seen many times and for that reason you know that he will come out with a defensive game plan that’s up to the task. The reason why shutting down Juju is so important for the Patriots is because with the Steelers losing Antonio Brown they’ve lost a great amount of depth in their passing game, with Juju out of the picture the Steelers passing game will go with it as I don’t feel that guys like James Washington or Dionte Johnson don’t have what it takes to carry Pittsburgh’s passing game against a talented Patriots defense.
Protect Tom Brady:
This one seemed a lot easier last week, but with starting center David Andrews being placed on IR with a blood clot the Patriots are left scrambling to fill his role. Ted Karras looks to be the current week 1 starter but the Patriots also traded for Bills backup center Russell Bodine. Another potential weak spot would be left tackle where last year’s first round pick Isiah Wynn will be making his first career start after tearing his achilles in 2018. The Steelers have a very talented pass rush as they got to the quarterback 52 times last season, tied for most in the NFL. Guys like T.J Watt and Cameron Hayward return to the Pittsburgh defense but new addition Devin Bush makes them even more dangerous. The Patriots offensive line faces a huge test to start the season and if they aren’t up to the challenge an 0-1 start becomes far more likely.
Establish a run game:
The last time these teams met back in December the Patriots ground game was very lackluster. The trio of Sony Michel, Rex Burkhead and James White were held to just 96 yards and no touchdowns. With all of those players returning to the roster plus the Patriots adding Brandon Bolden and 3rd round pick Damien Harris the Patriots don’t have any excuse to not crack 125 yards on the ground. Again, the Steelers have one of the better front 7’s in the NFL which will make this difficult but the Patriots need to improve from their performance the last time these two teams met.
If the Patriots can deliver on all three of these it’ll be 17 straight home wins and a big win to kick off their title defense.