Thursday, September 10, 2015

Game Day 1: Steelers at New England - NFL Season Opener

Let's hope Steelers defensive Keith Butler applies a scheme different from what Dick LeBeau used the last time the Steelers visited New England, Nov. 3, 2013, when the Patriots rang up 55 points.

If the corners play off the Patriots' receivers, Tom Brady will dink and dunk all night long,just like he did in the Super Bowl, controlling the clock in the process.

If this game turns into a shootout, look out. Without Le'Veon Bell, the Steelers are not built to "keep Brady off the field." The Steelers are no longer built to control the clock. And, without either Bell or Martavis Bryant to worry about, Bill Bellichick will scheme to take Antonio Brown out of the game as much as possible.

On defense, based on what we've seen so far in 2015, the Steelers' secondary appears to be a hot mess.  We'll see.  Safety Will Allen is a steady veteran, but nobody will ever compare him to Ronnie Lott. William Gay has always been better than people give him credit for being, but he's played best in the slot. Tonight, he starts at left corner. Newcomer Brandon Boykin likely takes over in the slot, where he performed well for Philadelphia last year, grabbing six interceptions.  He is smallish.  Antwon Blake is physical and will see the field, and he's shown flashes at times.  But ...

Cortez Allen, who is slated to start at right corner, was downright bad last year.  And starting safety Mike Mitchell has shown next to nothing since he joined the Steelers. He takes poor angles, has been a lousy tacker and makes poor decisions. The same could be said of fellow safety Shamarko Thomas, who is 5'9", can't stay healthy, has fragile confidence and most definitely is not a good matchup for either of New England's tight ends.

Expect the Patriots to employ a lot of two tight end sets with Rob Gronkowski and Scott Chandler, who was signed in the off-season (and would have been a nice addition to the Steelers, if they'd been able to get him).  This will be much the same offense (with new wrinkles, of course) that we've seen before from the Patriots.  And it will likely look much the same as the two tight end offense the Baltimore Ravens have employed so effectively against the Steelers ... including last year's ugly loss in Baltimore, when tight end Owen Daniels caught two touchdown passes.

The Steelers' defense will have to prove tonight that they don't have a soft middle. Brady will probe the middle of the field all night long, and the linebackers will have to help in pass coverage.  The Patriots like to use the small but quick Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola to scoot through the secondary on intermediate and crossing routes, and both Gronkowski and Chandler are actually threats to go deep.  Look out.  It could be a long night.

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