The Patriots visit the 'Burgh after a not-so-good showing in Miami in week-1 where the Dolphins held the Patriots offense to 7-points in route to a 20-7 win.
The Steelers are going off of an unexpected week-1 win in Cincinnati after forcing five turnovers and piling-up seven sacks against Joe Burrow and company.
There have been a few people labeling this a "must win" game for the Patriots, who face the Ravens and Packers in weeks-3 and 4.
The Steelers are looking to move to 2-0 with a home win and then winnable games against the Browns and Jets coming up.
My three keys to victory for the Steelers:
1) Pressure QB Mac Jones.
The Dolphins used the blitz to make Jones uncomfortable in the pocket and force quick throws in week-1. The Steelers, despite losing T.J. Watt to injury last week, must have another good game from OLB Alex Highsmith, who had three sacks and a forced fumble in week-1.
The Steelers secondary is young and vulnerable and if the Steelers allow Jones the time to set-up in the pocket and feel safe they will struggle in coverage too often.
2) Play stout and tough in the middle.
The Steelers will need to play tough in the middle of their defense. The Patriots will try to soften-up the middle of the Steelers defense with inside runs, thus setting-up play-action and the passing game.
The Steelers will need their three defensive lineman to clog the middle and eat blocks, freeing their linebackers to chase and tackle. If the Patriots are able to push around the front-3 of the Steelers 3-4 defense it will create many opportunities for the Patriots offense in both the run and passing attacks.
3) Establish the run.
The Steelers must be able to run the ball. If they can't, the Patriots will have their way with the Steelers' on third-and-longs vs a far below average offensive line.
Nahje Harris is expected to play after injuring his ankle in week-1, and he will be a big part of what the Steelers will need to do on offense to be successful. QB Mitch Trubisky will be in for a long day if he is made the focal point of their offense in this one.
If the Steelers can have some success running the ball it will open-up some space for their talented of group of WR's and TE Pat Frieimuth. Look for the Steelers to use play-action and some quick-hitters to Frieirmuth who at 6'5" and 255lbs should have a favorable match-up vs the undersized Patriots Linebackers.
My three keys to victory for the Patriots:
1) Stop the run.
If the Patriots can keep from the Steelers from having success on the ground it will force the Steelers offense to put the ball in Trubisky's hands, and that is not what the Steelers want to do.
The Steelers probably have the edge in the WR / defensive back match-up, but if they can force the Steelers into 3rd-and-longs they will be able to pressure with their front-4 and make it a lot easier for their secondary to cover the Steelers versatile receiver group.
2) Run the ball successfully on early downs.
The Patriots don't want the Steelers to pin their ears back and go after Jones with confusing blitz packages. If they can have success running the football on 1st and 2nd-downs and keep the 3rd-down yardage needed below five yards they will limit the Steelers defense from blitzing in obvious passing situations.
If the Patriots can't run for an average of 4-yards per carry in this one they will be in danger of experiencing the same thing the Bengals did last week - sacks and turnovers.
3) Get the Tight Ends involved.
The Patriots for years have beaten the Steelers with their ability to attack the middle of the Steelers defense. They need to attempt to do the same in this one.
Look for Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith to threaten the deep middle of the Steelers defense, forcing their linebackers to drop further away from the line of scrimmage in pass coverage, which will then open-up room for the run up the middle, which will also then make play-action passes much more effective.
The Patriots should try to suck-in the Steelers linebackers with play-action and then throw over the middle to their TE's.
Whether they use the run to set-up the pass or the pass to set-up the run, play-action passing will make them both much more effective if they are able to remain balanced on offense and stay out of long distances on 3rd-downs.
Prediction: I'll take the home team in a very even match-up. Steelers 20 Patriots 19.