Scouting Report: New England Patriots visit Pittsburgh in NFL Week 14
Steel City Underground will provide fans in Steelers Nation a pre-game scouting report of each of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ opponents during each week of the 2023 NFL regular season, comprised of items from top storylines and insights.
The month of December is here and that means the 2023 NFL regular season is winding down. In Week 14, the New England Patriots (2-10) will visit Acrisure Stadium to face the Pittsburgh Steelers (7-5). We look at the top news and conversations surrounding the Patriots ahead of kickoff on Thursday Night Football.
The quarterback situation
The Patriots are experiencing issues putting together effective offense this season, and that has led to Mac Jones being replaced as the starting quarterback – at least in Week 13 – in favor of Bailey Zappe. With their record, head coach Bill Belichick is looking for anything to give his team a competitive lift. Zappe confirmed, this week, that he’d been given the nod to start against the Steelers. That has required Zappe to put in extra effort to prepare for a short week.
“There were some things that I can (improve) — better ball placement, things like that. So I’ve just been working on that stuff as much as possible today and tomorrow before we head off and try to get ready for Thursday,” Zappe said following the Patriots’ on Tuesday – New England’s lone practice ahead of the game in Pittsburgh.
Zappe completed 13-of-25 passes for 141 yards in Week 13 against the Chargers. He also took five sacks in the game that featured an ugly first half of play. Zappe was unable to complete any passes longer than five yards downfield but looked a bit more comfortable in the second half. Against Pittsburgh’s defense, he’ll have a real challenge to get the ball out quickly to keep New England’s offense moving, let alone scoring.
"He didn't break all those records in college for no reason."
Jabrill Peppers voices the defense's support for Bailey Zappe pic.twitter.com/znc5yFCL4q
— NBC Sports Boston's Patriots Coverage (@NBCSPatriots) December 5, 2023
Zeke takes over for Rhamondre
With running back Rhamondre Stevenson likely out for the remainder of the season due to an ankle injury, the bulk of rushing duties have been handed over to three-time Pro Bowler Ezekiel Elliott. Against the Chargers, Elliott carried the ball 17 times for 52 yards and added four catches for 40 yards.
Elliott is familiar with being called upon to carry a heavy workload, but the Patriots will likely add either JaMycal Hasty, Kevin Harris, or Ty Montgomery as additional depth for Thursday’s game. Hasty was claimed off waivers in November and has yet to dress for a game with New England. In 2002, while with the Jacksonville Jaguars, Hasty posted a career-high 320 yards from scrimmage (194 on the ground, 126 receiving). Harris was a sixth-round draft selection in the 2022 NFL Draft out of South Carolina that was utilized only as an emergency backup last season and has been on the practice squad throughout this season. Montgomery has seen in-game action this season, and he’s considered a hybrid rusher/receiver who spent much of his time on special teams plays. Whether he’d be given a bigger role against Pittsburgh is a question mark.
Although the Patriots offense is ranked 32nd in the NFL this season, the Steelers will need to get back on track in run defense. Pittsburgh allowed James Conner to rack up the yardage against them in Week 13, and add two touchdowns on the ground. New England ran the ball well last week and only the Detroit Lions and Baltimore Ravens have a higher expected point added per play on average on run plays than the Patriots since Week 7.
Patriots injury report
Due to having just one practice, the injury report for Tuesday is listed below. Updates are likely on Wednesday, so it’d be worth keeping an eye on the official release from the Patriots before game time. Also, this week will be a homecoming of sorts for receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster who started in Pittsburgh, but how he’ll be received should be interesting.
DID NOT PARTICIPATE
- WR Demario Douglas, Concussion
- RB Rhamondre Stevenson, Ankle
- DL Christian Barmore, Shoulder
- LB Chris Board, Back
- WR Kayshon Boutte, Shoulder
- OT Trent Brown, Ankle/Hand
- WR DeVante Parker, Knee
- OL Riley Reiff, Knee
- WR JuJu Smith-Schuster, Ankle
REMOVED FROM LIST
QB Malik Cunningham has reverted back to the practice squad.
— New England Patriots (@Patriots) December 4, 2023
For the bulletin board
The New England defense ranks 8th in the league through Week 13, per Fox Sports, with 310.5 defense yards average and just 26 points allowed to opponents. The Pittsburgh defense ranks 21st with a 348.3 defense yards average and just 22 points allowed. Therefore, expect a low-scoring affair as NFL spreads list the Steelers as a six-point favorite at home with an over-under set at 30.5!
The Patriots’ pass defense is ranked 16th and has a passing yards allowed average of 221.8 with 13 passing touchdowns allowed versus the Steelers’ rank at 19 with a passing yards allowed average of 227.3 and 14 passing touchdowns allowed.
The Patriots’ run defense is ranked 3rd and is allowing an average of 88.7 yards on the ground by opponents and has allowed nine rushing touchdowns versus the Steelers’ run defense, ranked 22nd and allowing 121.0 yards on the ground for opponents and 8 rushing touchdowns.
This game is expected to be more of a defensive battle, so both offenses are on notice.
LIVE: Bailey Zappe Press Conference 12/5: https://t.co/pypF1HedUH
— New England Patriots (@Patriots) December 5, 2023
LIVE: Bill Belichick Press Conference 12/4: https://t.co/E8wH02MKHW
— New England Patriots (@Patriots) December 4, 2023