One of the best kept secret rivalries of the 2000's it's the Steelers vs the Patriots this week in a great defensive matchup. The Patriots will head to the newly named Acrisure Stadium 0-1 after last week's loss to the Dolphins, while the Steelers hit a game-winning field goal in the last second of overtime to beat the Bengals and start their season 1-0.
As the Patriots get ready for this fight, a couple things at home are weighing heavily on the team that will most likely carry into their game Sunday. The first and most important is Mac Jones health. The quarterback took some big hits from the Dolphins in their game and would be listed as questionable for this week with a back injury. Later tests would come back and the Patriots claimed the results were "fine", however Jones would sit out of Thursday's practice listed as an illness. The Patriots backup QBs are Brian Hoyer and Bailey Zappe, and while the rookie Zappe played well and often in the preseason, Hoyer would likely get the start if Jones' injury is worse than expected. Hoyer is winless in his last 8 starts spanning 6 seasons and has thrown 11 touchdowns and 9 interceptions during that time. While it's unlikely Jones will not get the start, the prospect of it is such that any New England fan should worry.
The second problem the Patriots still face is their offensive line troubles. While it looked better from the preseason, pass blocking is still a weakness for this team. Jones would be pressured 6 times, hit after throwing the ball 3 times and sacked twice on 33 dropbacks, meaning he had a clean pocket only 67% of the time. It is also worth mentioning the Dolphins defensive line is good but it is not so good to be considered top-10 in the league. The line will get better over the season as their chemistry builds but as of right now it needs some work.
A quick look on the Steelers' side will show quite a few issues of their own. One problem they share with the Patriots is their stars health, including T.J. Watt and Najee Harris. Harris is questionable for the game and will most likely play on limited snaps, but Watt was put on IR after a pectoral injury in their week 1 game. Watt is estimated to be 6-8 weeks and will be missed greatly by the Steelers and their top-notch pass rush. Pittsburgh's defensive front even without Watt is still on Miami's level with playmakers like Cam Heyward and Alex Highsmith. As for the Harris situation, Pittsburgh backups are a severe downgrade especially for pass catching and if Harris doesn't play at all, will have a severe impact on their ability to drive the ball.
The Steelers were underdogs going into their matchup with the reigning AFC champion Bengals. Much like the Patriots, they would be carried by their defense for most of the game but unlike them would not give up an offensive turnover the whole game. The Steelers' defense would claim 4 turnovers and 3 sacks in just the first half as Joe Burrow would have the worst first half performance of his career. While Burrow would be able to bounce back and complete a comeback in the second half before overtime, he would not only come up short but continue to turn the ball over and get sacked all game. The Steelers would end the game with 4 interceptions, 2 forced fumbles, 1 fumble recovery and 7 sacks. Cam Heyward would get a strip sack and recovery, Minkah Fitzpatrick got a pick-6 on Burrow's first pass attempt of the season and Alex Highsmith completed the hat trick of sacks. Needless to say this defense is scary and behind one of the best defensive head coaches of all time in Mike Tomlin, will keep on pace even without the reigning DPOY Watt.
The Steelers and the Patriots will kickoff at 1 p.m. EST from Acrisure Stadium and go live in CBS. The Steelers will make their home opener while the Patriots make their second road game in a row. The Patriots biggest point of emphasis must be on keeping the Steelers' defense off of Jones so the QB can limit turnovers. While the Steelers need to blitz often and have a short passing gameplan to makeup for the lack of workload Najee Harris will see. The Patriots pass coverage will be a huge unit to watch on Sunday and could shut down the Steelers if prepared.
Watch out for a very low scoring game.
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Make sure to stay tuned as we continue coverage of the New England Patriots and the 2022-23 season.