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Pittsburgh Steelers v Cincinnati Bengals

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Patriots vs. Steelers preview: Get to know New England’s Week 2 opponent

The Patriots will go on the road again this week.

Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

Coming off a 20-7 road loss to the Miami Dolphins in their regular season opener, the New England Patriots will have to travel again in Week 2. This time, they will have to visit a Pittsburgh Steelers team that celebrated an upset win in overtime over the AFC champion Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday.

The Steelers were able to come away victoriously in large parts because of a defense that registered four interceptions off of quarterback Joe Burrow and also recovered a fumble of his. The offense, meanwhile, did not do anything extra special while for the first time being led by offseason acquisition Mitchell Trubisky at quarterback.

Still, a win is a win and it showed that the Steelers are not the pushover that many projected them to be in Year 1 after long-time starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. They still have considerable talent, especially on the defensive side of the ball, while being coached by a veteran staff led by Mike Tomlin — one that also features former Patriots assistant Brian Flores as senior defensive assistant and linebackers coach.

Before taking a closer look at Pittsburgh’s roster, let’s have a quick glance at where the team is standing statistically heading into this week:

  • Record: 1-0 (1st AFC North)
  • Offense: 23.0 points/game (t-12th NFL), 267.0 yards/game (27th NFL)
  • Defense: 20.0 points/game (t-12th NFL), 432.0 yards/game (28th NFL)
  • Turnover margin: +5 (1st NFL)

None of the numbers truly stand out compared to the rest of the NFL, except the turnover margin: Pittsburghs’s five takeaways in Week 1 without a single turnover of its own was the best such mark in the league; the +5 is two better than the second-ranked Dolphins and Los Angeles Chargers.

With all that said, let us now jump right to the Steelers’ active roster to get to know each of the players currently with the Patriots’ Week 2 opponents.

(Note: The 53-man roster is up-to-date as of Wednesday 7 a.m. ET)

Quarterbacks

Mitchell Trubisky, Kenny Pickett, Mason Rudolph

With Ben Roethlisberger retired, the Steelers made some big investments at the quarterback position this offseason. Not only did they sign former first-round draft pick Mitchell Trubisky to a two-year, $14.3 million contract, they also invested the 20th overall selection in this year’s draft to bring Kenny Pickett aboard.

Trubisky earned the starting gig over the summer and will likely lead Pittsburgh’s offense into Week 2 as well. However, the future of this team belongs to Pickett. Behind him and Trubisky, Mason Rudolph offers experienced depth as a third-string QB.

Offensive backfield

Najee Harris, Jaylen Warren, Derek Watt, Benny Snell Jr.

There are some questions about Najee Harris’ availability after he sustained a foot injury in the season opener versus the Bengals, but all signs point toward him taking the field in Week 2. If healthy, Harris is undisputed as the Steelers’ RB1 and an explosive weapon as both a between-the-tackles runner and a receiver out of the backfield.

When Harris was out last week, rookie Jaylen Waddle took over; he gained seven yards on three carries. Derek Watt is the team’s fullback, with Benny Snell serving as a four-unit special teamer.

Wide receivers

Chase Claypool, Diontae Johnson, George Pickens, Miles Boykin, Gunner Olszewski, Steven Sims

The Steelers’ wide receiver receiver group is a young one: Chase Claypool and Diontae Johnson are in their third and fourth years in the league, respectively, while George Pickens joined the team as a second-round draft pick earlier this offseason.

Behind the trio, Miles Boykin and former Patriot Gunner Olszewski — who also serves as Pittsburgh’s punt and kickoff returner — offer depth. Steven Sims is primarily an emergency option at this point in the season.

Tight ends

Pat Freiermuth, Zach Gentry, Connor Heyward

Pat Freiermuth is Pittsburgh’s undisputed TE1 and is entering the game against the Patriots as the team’s leader with 75 receiving yards; the second-year man has quickly developed a rapport with Mitchell Trubisky.

Zach Gentry is the Steelers’ No. 2 at the position, being used primarily as a blocker rather than a receiver. Connor Heyward joined the team as a sixth-round draft pick in May and offers versatility as a tight end and fullback.

Offensive tackles

Dan Moore, Chukwuma Okorafor, Trent Scott

The Steelers retained their starting offensive tackles from last season: second-year man Dan Moore, a fourth-round draft pick in 2021, will protect Mitchell Trubisky’s blindside, while Chukwuma Okorafor will man the right tackle position. The two surrendered a combined two quarterback disruptions in the season opener against a talented Cincinnati defensive front.

Trent Scott is the third swing tackle option behind the two starters.

Interior offensive line

Kevin Dotson, Mason Cole, James Daniels, J.C. Hassenauer, Jesse Davis, Kendrick Green

Whereas the Steelers have some stability at offensive tackle, they did rebuild their interior O-line over the course of the offseason. Pittsburgh brought center Mason Cole and right guard James Daniels aboard, and the duo replaced last year’s top options at the position: Cole beat out Kendrick Green over the summer, while Daniels took over for free agency departee Trai Turner. Only Kevin Dotson remains in the same spot he played last year.

Behind the three starters, Green is serving as a depth option. He is joined on the bench by center J.C. Hassenauer and guard Jesse Davis.

Interior defensive line

Cameron Heyward, Larry Ogunjobi, Chris Wormley, Tyson Alualu, DeMarvin Leal, Montravius Adams, Isaiahh Loudermilk

The Steelers defensive line is one of experience. Cameron Heyward, the older brother of rookie tight end Connor, is the leader of the group and at age 33 the second oldest player on the team behind only fellow defensive tackle Tyson Alualu. Both are still playing prominent roles within the rotation, though.

The same is also true for free agency addition Larry Ogunjobi and sixth-year man Chris Wormley; both saw regular action in the season opener and project as starter-level players alongside Heyward and Alualu. Not to be left out is third-round rookie DeMarvin Leal, who served as a rotational pass rusher in his debut last week.

Behind those five, ex-Patriot Montravius Adams and Isaiahh Loudermilk are offering additional depth.

Defensive edge

T.J. Watt, Alex Highsmith, Malik Reed, Jamir Jones

The biggest name along the Steelers’ defensive edge is three-time All-Pro and reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year, T.J. Watt. However, after registering one sack in the season opener he suffered a pectoral injury that will keep him out of the game against the Patriots this week. It seems likely he will be placed on injured reserve at one point, but no such move has happened just yet.

Losing Watt will obviously be a blow to the Steelers defense, but the team has some quality replacement in Alex Highsmith. Coming off the best season of his career, the third-year man notched three of Pittsburgh’s seven sacks in his first game of the season.

Highsmith will be OLB1 against New England, with first-year Steelers Malik Reed and Jamir Jones competing for the right to start opposite him.

Off-the-ball linebackers

Myles Jack, Devin Bush Jr., Robert Spillane, Marcus Allen, Mark Robinson

Devin Bush has not yet lived up to his status as a former first-round draft pick — the Steelers declined his fifth-year option earlier this year — but he is still playing a prominent role at the heart of the Pittsburgh defense. Together with offseason acquisition Myles Jack, formerly of the Jacksonville Jaguars, he is building a formidable duo at the off-ball linebacker spot.

Robert Spillane, who also had a sack in the season opener, is the rotational No. 3 behind the two starters. Marcus Allen is a core special teamer, with Mark Robinson a seventh-round rookie at the bottom of the depth chart.

Cornerbacks

Ahkello Witherspoon, Cameron Sutton, Levi Wallace, Arthur Maulet, James Pierre

While two of the three starting cornerback spots are set in stone, the other appears to be a question mark at the moment.

Ahkello Witherspoon and Cameron Sutton will start on Sunday against the Patriots; both caught interceptions last week. However, the injury status of offseason acquisition Levi Wallace — he hurt his ankle in Week 1 — might again push Arthur Maulet into a prominent role in the rotation. Maulet played 60 percent of defensive snaps last week already.

James Pierre, meanwhile, will be used as a valuable member of Pittsburgh’s kicking game units.

Safeties

Minkah Fitzpatrick, Terrell Edmunds, Tre Norwood, Miles Killebrew

Pittsburgh’s safety group is as good as any in the NFL. Minkah Fitzpatrick and Terrell Edmunds are its two starters, with both offering an intriguing mix of talent, experience and versatility. Having them in the backfield allows the Steelers to disguise their defensive intentions on a snap-by-snap basis.

Former seventh-round draft pick Tre Norwood is the third member in the rotation, regularly serving as Pittsburgh’s fifth defensive back in nickel and dime packages. Miles Killebrew is primarily used in the kicking game.

Specialists

Chris Boswell, Pressley Harvin III, Christian Kuntz

Chris Boswell, who has served as Pittsburgh’s place kicker since 2015, made both of his extra point attempts against the Bengals but he did miss a 55-yard field goal try in overtime. In total, he went 3-for-4 on his place kick attempts last week.

Pressley Harvin and short-time Patriot Christian Kuntz are part of the operation since 2021 and 2020, respectively.

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