Well Steelers Nation, it’s all come down to this: another Week 15 showdown with the New England Patriots.
Last year’s game was marred by “Jesse Caught It”, and this year’s game should be a shot at payback for the Steelers to avenge their home loss to New England in 2017. However, with a three-game losing skid, Pittsburgh is looking for more than payback as they need to redeem their season with wins, regardless of opponent.
That makes this week’s game hard to stomach for those who have seen the Steelers seemingly find ways to lose games over the last month. With those underperforming players and other storylines attached to this game in mind, here are the five Steelers you need to keep an eye on this Sunday.
I think Ben is tired of a lot of things. He’s tired of hearing about how the Steelers can’t beat the Patriots. He’s tired of hearing about how his team underachieves. He’s tired of subpar performances and losing games.
Only one problem: Roethlisberger is dealing with injured ribs, which may or may not affect his status in Sunday’s game. One hit could put second-year quarterback Joshua Dobbs into the game.
The positive from this is Dobbs will be taking more starting reps this week as Big Ben rests at practice.
The Steelers placekicker
This could be Chris Boswell or someone else. Right now, we don’t know.
Regardless, the Steelers will need whoever is kicking field goals and extra points to be perfect, as playing the Patriots means the winner at the end is the one who makes the least number of mistakes.
Jon Bostic & L.J. Fort
Bostic went from having a stellar season to going on the bench in favor of L.J. Fort. The move wasn’t indicative of his play, rather, a change to scheme against recent opponents.
That brings us back to the Belichick chess match we’ve witnessed in past Patriots/Steelers encounters where the opposition exploits the inside linebacker matchup. Prior it would be Lawrence Timmons or Vince Williams, even a dash of Sean Spence when Ryan Shazier went down last season.
And in no way was it ever pretty.
The Patriots have Sony Michel, James White, and WR Cordarrelle Patterson lining up in the backfield. Watch for how the Steelers deploy Bostic and Fort: it will dictate how Tom Brady and company operate out of the huddle.
I mentioned that “Jesse Caught It” but Vance McDonald is the other Steeler to watch on Sunday.
While the tight end position has been the Steelers defense’s kryptonite for years, I’m convinced they feel the same way about beating New England. Vance did not play in last year’s game, and the Steelers were without Ladarius Green in 2016 too: both tight ends Pittsburgh acquired in the previous offseason to bolster their offence.
With McDonald healthy and on the field Sunday, watch for opportunities to open up as the Steelers stretch the Patriots defense.
And potentially without RB James Conner, the team may have to rely on their passing game for a victory, making McDonald’s presence even more important.