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The Steel Curtain descends upon Foxborough!

Later today, the Patriots open their 2019-20 campaign against their longtime rival, the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday Night Football. This game will be extra special, as the Pats will be commemorating their win in Super Bowl LIII by unveiling their sixth championship banner. Last season’s matchup in December featured Pittsburgh emerging victorious in a defensive slugfest.

Here are a few things to consider entering tonight’s contest.

1. Can the Pats defense contain the run?

During last year’s matchup, Pittsburgh’s main running back, James Connor, was inactive due to injury, but the Steelers didn’t miss a beat on the ground, with then-rookie Jaylen Samuels shredding New England for 142 yards off of 19 carries. The Patriots’ defensive line was porous throughout that game, due to Pittsburgh’s offensive line dominating the line of scrimmage. Fortunately for the Pats, their defense has been much more stringent against the run since the last time these two teams played, with effective rushers such as Melvin Gordon and Todd Gurley being limited during the 2019 playoffs. I believe that the Patriots’ linebacker corps, including Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, and Jamie Collins will play a big role in determining if the team will be successful in hindering the effectiveness of Pittsburgh’s rushing attack.

jaylen samuels d18
(Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY Sports)

2. Who will win the chess-match between Bill Belichick and Big Ben?

Last year’s matchup wasn’t overly successful for Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers’ passing attack, as both JuJu Smith-Schuster and Antonio Brown failed to eclipse 50 yards. In addition, Big Ben threw two interceptions, which helped keep the Pats in the game. However, the Patriots could not come up with a stop when necessary, hence enabling Pittsburgh to finish them off. Tonight’s contest will look entirely different, as Pittsburgh no longer has Brown on their roster, which will likely result in Bill Belichick opting to use Stephon Gilmore against Smith-Schuster. The Steelers also feature James Washington and Donte Moncrief at receiver, who will likely be matched up against J.C. Jackson and Jason McCourty. 

If the Patriots’ secondary is able to clamp down on Pittsburgh’s receivers, they will give themselves a great opportunity to open their season with a victory.

big ben d18.jpg
(Photo via the Boston Herald)

3. Can TB12 and the offense sustain drives against the Steelers defense?

The Patriots were utterly anemic against Pittsburgh’s stifling defense last year, with their lone highlight coming on a 63-yard touchdown pass to former Patriot Chris Hogan. Other than that, the Pats struggled to sustain drives, as they constantly squandered opportunities, and undermined their own momentum with numerous penalties. To add insult to injury, Tom Brady did not have a great performance, as he was constantly under pressure, and also made a crucial mistake late in the game when he threw an interception during an important fourth quarter drive. Despite their uninspiring performance, the Patriots had a chance to tie the game late, but Brady threw three straight incompletions to seal their loss.

This season’s offense should look quite different from the last year’s, as the Patriots have shifted towards a more run-based attack, featuring Sony Michel and James White. When it comes to the passing attack, the Pats bring back Julian Edelman, Josh Gordon, and Phillip Dorsett, while adding ex-Texan Demaryius Thomas and undrafted rookie Jakobi Meyers. Having a well-balanced attack, and keeping Brady upright will give the Patriots a great chance to emerge victorious.

tb vs steelers d18.jpg
(Photo via NBC Sports)

Injury Report:

Patriots

  • Matt LaCosse (ankle) – Questionable
  • Obi Melifonwu (ankle) – Questionable
  • Demaryius Thomas (hamstring) – Questionable

Steelers

  • Sean Davis (ankle) – Doubtful
  • Mark Barron (Coach’s Decision) – Not listed

 

Prediction: Patriots 27, Steelers 20

 

Bonus:

1. Check out the Super Bowl champions patch the Pats will be wearing tonight!

2. Ex-Steeler and newly-signed Patriot Antonio Brown will be attendance tonight.

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