Pittsburgh Steelers: Opening Salvoes


Brace yourselves Steelers Nation. The 2015 NFL season begins this Thursday evening and it is the Pittsburgh Steelers who get the ball rolling taking on the defending league champion New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium.

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All the buzz this offseason has centered around Tom Brady and “Deflate-Gate.” Brady won his battle and avoided any suspension thus will be under center when the game begins. That isn’t the case for Pittsburgh’s Le’Veon Bell and Martavis Bryant who are serving suspensions for drug-related infractions. Bell is out for the first two games while Bryant will miss the first four weeks.

Heading into this game, the Patriots are about a seven point favorite but with this being the opening game, New England’s advantage is helped by the fact that they are not just defending Super Bowl champions but more so because they are playing at home where it is extremely difficult for a visiting team to win.

So what should a neutral fan expect from this league opening, nationally televised game on NBC? From a Steelers’ offensive point of view, without Bell and Bryant there could still be fireworks. That’s because the Steelers still have the amazing Antonio Brown considered by many as the NFL’s best wide receiver. Heath Miller is always a dangerous weapon for the short yardage chain moving plays. Markus Wheaton may have been surpassed on a talent level by the absent Martavis Bryant, but he can still stretch the field. Don’t count out the newest member of Pittsburgh’s backfield, DeAngelo Williams, a proven commodity.

The question for New England is whether their 2014 13th ranked defense can contain the Steelers offensive machine. Last season, the Patriots were ninth against the run, but more precariously 17th against the pass which if they are not improved in that area could work in the Steelers favor. Ben Roethlisberger and his offense have turned themselves into a passing juggernaut and may be better served in a shoot out rather a defensive struggle.

Pittsburgh is hoping that their defense will be improved with their new coordinator Keith Butler taking over and hoping to get the Steelers ranked higher in 2015 than their disappointing overall ranking of 18th last season. Almost always tough against the run, Pittsburgh’s pass defense sagged to a ranking of 27th in 2014.

Naturally, the Steelers’s defense will have to focus on Tom Brady. LeGarrette Blount who was Le’Veon Bell’s partner in crime in last year’s preseason arrest will not play in this game serving a one-game suspension. That means Pittsburgh will get a dose of James White and Brandon Bolden.

Brady’s primary weapons in this game and throughout the season will be tight end Rob Gronkowski, Danny Amendola, anew Julian Edelman. Defensively, New England does not have a lot of household names but they get the job done. After all, they did win the Super Bowl and did it in dramatic fashion with a game ending interception. For Pittsburgh, this will be the first season opener without Ike Taylor, Troy Polamalu, and Brett Kiesel in uniform in many years.

The new look Steelers defense will get a stern test right off the bat.  #1 draft picks making their NFL debut for both teams are defensive tackle Malcolm Brown for the Patriots and Bud Dupree for the Steelers. Neither will start and the odds are more in favor of Dupree seeing action.

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  • When the Steelers have the ball: Todd Haley will give DeAngelo Williams a chance to establish the ground game to set up the pass. But if Williams can’t get his engines going, watch for Big Ben to take to the air more often. Make no mistake, Roethlisberger will put the ball up more than 20 times probably more like 35. Keep your eyes glued to Michael Vick because he very well could be brought in for a few “wildcat” plays.

    New England’s defense will use the same strategy most teams put into play when facing Pittsburgh…get to Ben Roethlisberger. But that can be dangerous because no one is better rolling out and buying time than Big Ben Roethlisberger. That will be key for the Patriots, getting the Steelers quarterback on the ground. With Le’Veon Bell they will challenge DeAngelo Williams to run into the teeth of their defense.

    When the Patriots have the ball: The Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski show. That is what most football fans will think of first when thinking New England offense. But any smart football fan knows New England is much more than that. There is no denying how well Bill Belichick schemes and plans like him or his team or not. New England is well aware that Pittsburgh’s defense is somewhat rebuilt and the Patriots will try to find the weak links and take advantage.

    Cameron Heyward has stepped forward for Pittsburgh as the defensive leader not just in performance but vocally. Ryan Shazier wants to forget about his injury riddled rookie season and bring the speed that Tomlin had hoped for when he drafted the Ohio State star in 2014.

    Bud Dupree specialized in attacking the quarterback when he was at Kentucky but it will take time for him to get more minutes. For this season opener, it will mean the Steelers must get to Brady and avoid what New England has done in the past when beating Pittsburgh. The Patriots have riddled the Steelers in past game with the “dink and dunk.”

    Summary and Prediction: If New England’s defense can stand up to the offensive wizardry of Pittsburgh, this game could be low scoring. But if either defense fails to make stops, it could be a 37-31 game or higher. Prediction: This writer’s gut feels upset. Pittsburgh 31 New England 27.

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