Notorious for their wide receiver talent, things are no different for the Pittsburgh Steelers this season as they feature playmakers such as Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool, and rookie George Pickens on the outside.
As the New England Patriots prepare to take the field in Pittsburgh this weekend, they know they will have their hands full.
“This group’s a really good group. You got Diontae Johnson out there, [Chase] Claypool, and [George] Pickens. So those guys are extremely talented guys, big guys,” Patriots cornerback coach Mike Pellegrino told reporters via Zoom on Tuesday. “You also have [Miles] Boykin, [Steven] Sims, and Gunner [Olszewski] over there as well that compliment the group very well. I would say for the most part the challenges is them throwing up the football. They do a really good job of that, making contested catch situations...”
Pittsburgh’s size at the position will be a strong test for the Patriots new-look secondary. After dealing with speedsters such as Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle last week, the 6-foot-4 Claypool and 6-foot-3 Pickens will provide a new skillset and challenge.
“I would say Miami, a little bit more dynamic, speed threat. Not that these guys aren’t fast, these guys are definitely fast. It’s a different type of speed and size that you’re going to deal with this week,” Pellegrino added. “Again, I respect this Pittsburgh group a ton. Claypool, Johnson, and Pickett, they’re a very talented group. They have great hands, great dynamic ability with the ball in theirs hands. They do multiple things on the field. ...”
Against Miami in Week 1, the Patriots used cornerback Jonathan Jones along the boundary to match-up with the Dolphins’ speed. Throughout his Patriot career, the 5-foot-10 Jones has primarily played in the slot. Facing Pittsburgh’s size this weekend, Pellegrino would not specify how the Patriots plan to deploy their veteran corner.
“I’m not going to show you my hand, right now,” Pellegrino said with a smile. “We’re in New England, not giving away too much here.”
Besides the Steelers wide receivers, they have an assortment of talent at the other skill position to surround new quarterback Mitch Trubisky. That includes tight end Pat Freiermuth and dynamic running back Najee Harris, who believes he’ll be good to go on Sunday despite suffering a foot injury in Week 1.
“Really, they’re good all across the board at every position,” Patriots safeties coach Brian Belichick said. “Their receivers are really good. They have some dynamic guys, some really big guys, but they’re all good football players. Tight ends are good. They have good, young tight ends that are a problem. And some really good guys that we don’t know, so that will be good this week to dive into these guys that we haven’t played much recently.
“And then, obviously the running backs are good as well. Lot of guys to see here and big challenge for us.”
As for Trubisky, the 2017 second overall draft pick signed a two-year deal with Pittsburgh this past offseason, he is likely familiar with the Patriots despite not seeing the field against New England since 2018: he spent last season backing up Josh Allen in Buffalo.
“I’m sure indirectly he’s familiar with playing against us, just because he was up in Buffalo, saw how our team played last year,” linebackers coach Steven Belichick said on Tuesday. “For him, obviously, he’s a very athletic guy. Strong in the pocket, throws the ball well. So we’ll have our hands full but we’re excited to get back out there on the field.”