Coming off a disappointing season opener, the New England Patriots will travel to Pittsburgh to take on a Steelers team that celebrated an upset win over the AFC champion Cincinnati Bengals in Week 1. Needless to say that the team will be no rollover either, despite being in the first year after long-time franchise quarterback Ben Roethlisberger
In order to get a better understanding of New England’s Week 2 opponent, we exchanged questions with Jeff Hartman of Pats Pulpit’s sister site Behind The Steel Curtain — the SB Nation community for all things Pittsburgh Steelers. Our friends at DraftKings Sportsbook have all of the odds for this week’s games, while Jeff has all the answers about the team.
1.) First and foremost, how did the Steelers hold Joe Burrow and the explosive Bengals offense to a mere 20 points in the season opener despite entering it as 6.5-point underdogs?
The answer to this question is simple — harass the quarterback. From the literal first play from scrimmage, the Steelers defensive front was in Burrow’s face early and often. Give Mike Tomlin two weeks to prepare for a game, and he’ll think of some crazy stuff to impact the contest, look at the 2021 Week 1 win in Buffalo as another example.
Losing T.J. Watt will hurt the team, but it should be noted Watt didn’t lead the team in sacks last week. Alex Highsmith had three and Cam Heyward was a dominant force in the middle. There will still be plenty of pressure sent in Week 2.
2.) T.J. Watt is obviously a massive loss, but the Steelers’ front has plenty of talent between the reigning DPOY. Who, besides world-wrecker Cameron Heyward, do you see stepping up in his absence?
The person who needs to step up the most is Alex Highsmith. Coming off his best game as a pro (3rd year in the league), he will have to be a force to be reckoned with on every snap he’s in the game. Watt draws so much attention during games it can make life easier for players like Highsmith. Now it’s Highsmith’s turn to create playmaking opportunities for others, like Malik Reed and Jamir Jones.
3.) How has senior defensive assistant and linebackers coach Brian Flores’ arrival affected the defensive scheme? Have they looked more like Blitzburgh early on?
One week is a small sample size, but you could see Flores’ finger prints on the Steelers’ defensive plan last week. His unique style of pressuring the quarterback was on display, and the trio of Flores, Teryl Austin (defensive coordinator) and Tomlin created some new wrinkles within the Steelers’ defense.
Everyone has gushed over Flores since he joined the Steelers, and his approach, as well as his methodology, has certainly stuck with both the players and coaches.
4.) Mitchell Trubisky was named the team’s starter over first-rounder Kenny Pickett. What has the veteran passer brought to the offense?
If I’m being completely honest, the only thing he provides, right now, which Pickett doesn’t possess is experience. He’s been a starter in the league and going into an NFL stadium during the regular season isn’t “too big” for him. However, Pickett’s play in the preseason has proven he can play in this league, and the chants for Pickett will be loud on Sunday if Trubisky struggles.
Mike Tomlin likes having an experienced quarterback, and is the main reason he went with Trubisky to start the year, but Pickett is certainly not too far away from playing if things trend in their current direction. If Trubisky can make plays with both his arm and his legs, and continue to play clean football, his job is safe for the foreseeable future.
5.) The Steelers have long been known for excellence in the trenches, but their offensive line lacks household names. Is this an underrated group? Or could they be a liability against a disruptive Patriots front?
The Steelers’ offensive line, which has a lot of new faces to it, are still learning to gel as a unit. They did a good job protecting Trubisky in Week 1 versus a very good Cincinnati front, but were unable to ever get any semblance of a running game going. The hope is the group will continue to improve as the year progresses, without having anything drastic happening during these growing pains.
Ultimately, the Steelers are hoping the additions of Mason Cole (center) and James Daniels (right guard) will anchor the interior of the group and eventually lead to a much more balanced offensive approach.