The New England Patriots are no strangers when it comes to going against the Pittsburgh Steelers: the two franchises have met fifteen times during the Tom Brady/Bill Belichick era that started in 2001. Needless to say that there is a certain element of familiarity between the two teams, even though personnel on and off the field changes frequently. The basic schematic ideas, however, remained mostly the same on both sides.
Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels was also quick to point out that he and the rest of his team are familiar with the Steelers and their players. McDaniels, for example, has coached against Pittsburgh defensive coordinator Keith Butler five times and saw his units average 25.6 points a game while going 4-1 in the process. Whether it is Butler or the players running his defense, McDaniels feels like New England has a good grasp of them.
“What we know is that we’re going to play a really good group on Sunday night that’s really well-coached. You have an idea of the things that they do well based on many years of film study and understanding how they try to play and when,” said McDaniels about the challenge awaiting his unit in Week 1. However, the 43-year-old was also noted that the Patriots should still not try to guess what their opponent will do on Sunday night.
“In this week, one of the things you’ve got to try and do is not... you don’t spend too much time guessing about what may happen because you could do yourself a lot of harm in that regard,” McDaniels noted when asked during a conference call on Tuesday about projecting the Steelers heading into the first game of the season. “To spend a lot of time guessing, I think there’s a lot of things that we need to do and prepare for. The guesswork is something that just adds time to your week.”
McDaniels did acknowledge that there will be questions about the Steelers. He also pointed out, though, that they will get answered rather early during the contest: according to McDaniels, most of what the team does not yet know about an opponent that has yet to play a game at full strength in 2019 — the preseason is at best ‘football light’ when it comes to scheme and personnel usage — will come to light in the first quarter.
“[T]here’s always a couple questions you have that you’re going to find out in the first quarter of the first game of the season,” said the veteran signal caller. “Where they’re going to line so-and-so up, who is going to be in nickel; are they going to play this grouping, are they going to rotate players, are they going to play three-for-two at some positions? Some of those things are going to be determined quickly on Sunday night.”
“We know that there’s a good group of players that are going to be out there at certain positions. Are they going to play this guy over that guy more, etc.? I think those conversations wait until Sunday to find some of those things out,” added McDaniels. “We know we’re going to play a good defense, that’s for sure.”