The Patriots will face the Steelers, who will be without their top QB Ben Roethlisberger. Even though the situation becomes easier with a significant drop off in QB play, the Patriots cannot let their guard down. The Steelers still have two of the NFL's premier players at WR and RB in Antonio Brown and Le'Veon Bell, both of whom are very difficult to defend. Throw in the fact the game is in Pittsburgh, where the Patriots lost the last time they played there in 2011, and a division matchup next week, this has the makings of a trap game.
Stack the box on early downs, double Antonio Brown in long distance situations: The Patriots are best served to eliminate the running game first and force Landry Jones to have to make throws in long distance situations. That could mean Patrick Chung will be playing a lot more in the box than in the slot this week as the Steelers have injuries at the WR position behind Brown. When it's time to pass, the Patriots need to take away Brown and force Jones to find his 2nd, 3rd, or even 4th read and give the Patriots pass rush some time. We may see a lot of zone coverage in this game particularly since Logan Ryan doesn't match up against either starting WR for the Steelers.
Attack the weaknesses of the Steelers Cover 3 Zone: The Steelers play primarily a Cover 3 zone as their main defensive alignment, which could open up opportunities for the Patriots, whose offense is a mismatch against Cover 3. This is a game where guys like James White, Julian Edelman, and Danny Amendola can nickel and dime the Steelers defense on the boundary on curls, hitches, and out routes with their quickness. Another weakness in the Cover 3 will be down the middle of the field against the TEs, where Rob Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett's ability to run up the seam could give Steelers FS Mike Mitchell a tough time helping over the top since he can't help both. With the injuries in the Steelers front 7, they really can't play man coverage vs. those two.
Get LeGarrette Blount involved early: The Steelers could be without their best defensive player, Cameron Heyward. As a 5-technique defensive end, Heyward normally lines up to the offenses left and would be right on the outside shoulder of LT Nate Solder. If he cannot go, there may be opportunities for Solder and Thuney to open up rushing lanes against Heyward's replacement. Behind the Patriots two best offensive lineman, there should be opportunities for Blount to do damage on power runs off left tackle and left end. The Dolphins last week dominated the Heyward and Shazier-less Steelers front 7 in the run game with Jay Ajayi picking up 200 yards and a pair of touchdowns on the ground. While Blount won't put up 200 yards, it's a good idea for the Patriots to test the Steelers front early. If the Patriots can get the ground game going, the play action game with the two TEs will be very deadly.
Avoid sloppy mistakes on the road: The Patriots will be going into a hostile environment, with 50,000+ yellow towel-waving yahoos screaming at the top of their lungs. Execution in the kick game and avoiding turnovers will be key, especially since many expect the Patriots to win. The worst thing they can do against a hobbled team is make things easier for them. If the Patriots can avoid turnovers and the kicking units force the Steelers to start inside their own 25 consistently, the Patriots should be able to pick up an easy road victory.
Final score for the game will be Patriots 38, Steelers 27. Even though this has the makings of a trap game, the Patriots match up too well on the offensive side of the ball and the Steelers defense is banged up and missing their two best defensive players. Blount and one of Gronk/Marty should have 100 yards in the game although I do expect White to break 100 yards from scrimmage since he is the X-Factor in the offense.