Well Patriots fans, the waiting is down to a minimum. The New England Patriots will begin their title defense of Super Bowl LIII Sunday night. The opponent? None other than the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday Night Football. Everybody is hyped up, including myself, for the banner unveiling before the game. But remember Pats fans, there is an actual game that needs to be played for the 2019 season. With that all being said, lets look at a few keys to Sunday's matchup with the Steelers.
Containing JuJu Smith-Schuster and James Conner
The Pittsburgh Steelers took a few big hits to their offense this off-season. Antonio Brown publicly claimed he wanted out and saw his way to the Raiders. Le'Veon Bell didn't play a single snap for the Steelers last season, and is now playing for the Jets. But, the combination of JuJu Smith-Schuster and James Conner is a lethal one that the Patriots will have to pay close attention to all game.
With Smith Schuster, I think the game plan is simple. Put Stephon Gilmore on him and lock him up all night long. If you need to, have Devin McCourty trailing to help out in double coverage. This is going to be the year that Schuster becomes the number one receiver in the Steelers offense. More eyes will be paying close attention to the rising star receiver. With Conner, you need to wrap him up at the line of scrimmage. Do NOT give him the opportunity to gain second chance yardage. Guys like Michael Bennett, Deatrich Wise Jr., and Danny Shelton have to challenge the Steelers line of scrimmage and contain Conner. You put clamps on those two guys, and a big part of their offense shuts down.
The Wide Receiving Core
This receiving core on paper is scary good. On the field, how will they respond all playing together for the first time under Tom Brady? It all starts with Julian Edelman. The latest reports are that he is ready to go on Sunday night.
How will that hand hold up is the real question? If it holds up well, then Brady has his security blanket. Then there is the duo of Josh Gordon and Demaryius Thomas. Gordon is finally stepping back onto the field in regular season play. We've been waiting for Gordon to break out like he showed glimpses of in Cleveland. Gordon can be a great downfield threat for the Patriots. The only possible obstacle in the way? Joe Haden could potentially be assigned to cover Gordon. With Thomas, it's all about how his ACL holds up. He looked great in the last preseason game against the Giants, catching two touchdown passes. Will Brady be able to trust these two on a more consistent basis? Sunday will give us a good indication.
How Good Will This Defense REALLY Be?
Everybody is excited about the defense, myself included. How good will this defense truly be though? There are a lot of questions that need to be answered. Who fills in for Patrick Chung with everything he has going on in his personal life? What role will Michael Bennett play in this defense? Will Jamie Collins be as explosive as he was in his first Patriots stint? The Steelers aren't exactly the worst team in the NFL. So, the defense will be tested from the first snap.
The game itself should be fun to watch. Yes, the banner ceremony will be cool and all. The actual football part will be better to experience. This Patriots team looked very good in the preseason. Now we can just sit back and take in Patriots football once again. Only three more sleeps until Game One!