Are you ready for some football? Hopefully, because it’s almost time for week two of the 2022 NFL regular season, and if you’re not, there may be something seriously wrong with you (perhaps, you’re a cowboys fan).
The hype around certain teams has never been higher (or lower) after an atypically exciting slate of opening-day showdowns. Everybody’s already declaring their winners and losers on the season based on a week that would’ve essentially still been considered the pre-season only a few seasons ago.
We’ve already heard a lot of negative things about the Patriots this week, so I’m going to do my best not to add anything to that pile. From what I’ve seen, the mistakes have been thoroughly covered and the hopeful optimism heavily outweighs the cynical critiques. There’s a lot to be positive about, and this season is anything but out of reach after a hard-fought week one battle against a rival divisional opponent.
New England Patriots @ Pittsburgh Steelers
This Sunday, the New England Patriots go on the road to take on the Pittsburgh Steelers at hard-to-pronounce Acrisure Stadium, located within the sunny North Shore of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. This will be the Patriot’s second week in a row on the road against a formidable rival opponent, and another epic battle of wills and tests of strength between two young talented teams who are hungry for victory.
The Patriots are the slight favorite coming into the game which is fairly surprising considering the Steelers are coming off a victory against the defending AFC-Champion Cincinnati Bengals, but makes more sense once you consider that Pittsburgh probably shouldn’t have won last week and would’ve been defeated had Evan McPhearson not missed a fairly easy overtime field goal attempt.
Injuries To T.J. Watt and Najee Harris
There are some questions for the rival Steelers going into Sunday’s game, notably those pertaining to the injury report designation of work-horse running back Najee Harris, and defensive stalwart linebacker T.J Watt. It appears as though Najee Harris will be good to go for Sunday, and it’s reported that T.J. Watt will be forced to mix six weeks with a torn pectoral muscle. It’s obviously terrible that a young prime talent such as Watt would get injured, but it’s good that it’s nothing too serious, and it’s also good news for the Patriot’s offense that the heavyweight Pittsburgh defense won’t be operating at full capacity this Sunday.
As for Najee Harris, it’s also good news that he didn’t suffer any serious setbacks, but some of us Patriots fans here in New England were kind of hoping that he’d be unable to play this week against us. Fortunately for us, our defense played extremely well against the run last week, with the run-stop being one of the high points of our defensive effort.
No reason those trends shouldn’t continue, and possibly even improve, and with the likelihood of a decreased snap count to monitor Najee’s injury, there’s a decent chance the Patriot’s defense can still shut down a hungry Pittsburgh offense. I’m calling for three Mitchell Trubisky interceptions if we manage to shut down the running game. If we can’t, it’s probably going to be another long sad Sunday and ensuing long sad week in the soon-to-be sub-arctic region of New England.
One of the biggest concerns for the New England Patriots offense going into Sunday’s game is probably the Pittsburgh Steelers’ secondary. Minkah Fitzpatrick put up insane numbers last week against Joe Burrow and the Bengals. However, Fitzpatrick was penalized two times in what could’ve been costly penalties in such a close game. On the Patriot’s side of things, Jakobi Myers was one of the few offensive stand-outs during last week’s game and is seemingly in control of the WR1 position on the Patriot’s depth chart. It should be an intense match-up between the two talented players and an exciting battle to watch out for during the upcoming rival showdown.
Injuries To Mac Jones And Adrian Phillips
Another one of the biggest concerns for New England going into this weekend’s action is regarding the injury report statuses of Patriots Pro Bowl QB Mac Jones and increasingly likely future Pro-Bowler DB Adrian Phillips. Both players suffered injuries during last week’s game against the Dolphins.
Phillips sustained a rib injury shortly before halftime against the Dolphins last week. He walked off the field unassisted, and the team is currently “cautiously optimistic” about his injury. Fellow DB Kyle Dugger was quoted as saying the following on the subject:
“I’m not 100 percent sure, but I think he’s gonna be all right.”Dugger stated in the locker room after the game.
Mac Jones is believed to have suffered an injury during a tackle in which the Dolphins were penalized for roughing the passer last week. He played through the pain, but seemingly avoided his usual post-game routine in favor of medical evaluation, which was reportedly concerning back spasms.
During a press conference on Monday, Mac Jones sounded optimistic about his injury and didn’t give any obvious indication that he would be missing any time. He’s quoted as saying:
“Wasn’t feeling too hot after the game, but it’s definitely feeling a lot better… ” “…I just kept playing and tried to work through it. Its football. You’re gonna get hit. (I’ve) been hit harder before and will probably get hit harder in the future. It’s a part of the game and its all good.”Mac Jones
Breaking Down Media Monday
Bill Belicheck was of course asked a couple of questions concerning the status report of Mac Jones’s injury on Monday but in stereotypical fashion, provided only short and vague answers when responding to reporters.
Belichick sidestepped 90% of the questions thrown at him, like a language ninja, dodging word shurikens and undoubtedly processing questions and answers in his mind at superhuman levels in something akin to experiencing the sports interview version of bullet time slow-motion. When asked about Mac Jones’s injury status, Belicheck stated the following:
“No update on mac, we’ll see how he is today, but he came back with us, so we’ll see how that goes.”
As you can see, it’s an airtight response. No way to know what’s going on, one way or the other. Belichick delivering answers as only Belichick can.
The various players who have played under Belichick over the years have typically been quick to adapt a similar style of answering reporters, and recent Patriots’ reacquisition Trent Brown is no exception. When asked about the pass protection on Monday, Brown responded with:
“Gotta get better next week, or this week.”Trent Brown
Brown seemed somewhat despondent upon delivering answers that were short and sweet to the point of being near-comical. For example, when a reporter directed Trent to “walk him through the strip sack play” and asked, “what did you see on the play?” Trent Brown quickly and decisively responded to the question with an iron-clad response:
“They made a play.”Trent Brown
Then, shortly after when another reporter asked: “Trent are you happy with the patriots now?”. He nailed it yet again, Belichick-style with a timeless answer:
“I love the patriots.”Trent Brown
These are the ultimate Belicheck-coached answers from a Patriots legend and hometown hero we’re all happy to have back. A good side-observation to take away is how much the game means to a player when you see how much it affects their typical personality during an interview after a tough loss. You could see the pain in Trent’s soul, a fiery desire to win, that any coach is lucky to find in any athlete. It’s fairly easy to surmise that Trent Brown is still in it to win it, and his fire will likely translate to another great season for the veteran bulwark. Which of course, is great news for Patriots fans everywhere.
Another player who gave great Belichick-style interview answers on Monday was Matthew Slater who is of course an all-time Patriots great and arguably one of the greatest special teams players in NFL history.
I just wanted to quickly go on record and say that I predict that Slater will become a head coach in the NFL not long after his retirement. His drive is constant and his love for the game is matched by few, I cannot imagine him choosing the commentating booth over a chance to stay down on the field and be an influence on the game. It’s a near-certainty he’ll be doing one or the other (coaching or commentating) and Patriots fans everywhere couldn’t be more excited to witness how his legacy may evolve.
That being said, during his back and forth with reporters on Monday, there was nothing super interesting in terms of answers. Just a lot of optimistic Belicheck-style football answers. At one point Slater found himself Laughing along with the reporters, showing no signs of weakness after a tough loss. In short, another true pro.
A Flurry Of Roster Moves
The New England Patriots made a small flurry of roster moves early this week, designating Ty Montgomery to the injured reserve, promoting WR Lil’Jordan Humphrey to the 53-Man active roster, and demoting OL Marcus Cannon to the practice squad. They also brought in five free agents on Tuesday to work out with the team, though most likely not any players that anyone is going to get overexcited about in Micah Dew-Treadway, Mika Tafua, Ron’Dell Carter, Sam Kamara, and Lachavious Simmons.
Upcoming Showdown Vs. Steelers
To quote my co-worker and friend Pat Pitts, “The Patriots offense was like an out-of-tune instrument” against the Dolphins during their week one skirmish. That basically sums it up with a perfect analogy, as all the pieces were seemingly there and the right notes were played, but perhaps require(d) a bit more fine-tuning to clean up some occasional and sporadic dissonance, in what was otherwise a cohesive symphony of gameplan and strategy.
The Patriots didn’t seem overly concerned with the loss during media day on Monday and instead diverted any negative attention into optimism and a focus on improvement. Mac Jones mentioned the team doing a lot of things well and showed optimism and exuberance in his personality even in the wake of a tough loss.
I think it’s safe to say people both in and outside of New England are eager and excited to see what the Mac Jones-led Patriots are able to accomplish this week statistically. The Steelers are an especially tough defense with or without T.J. Watt, and if the Patriots can manage to put up decent stats and secure a victory this week, they’ll likely be the talk of the league and the subject of overhyping everywhere in post-week-2 recap discussions.
If they get blown out of the water by the formidable Pittsburgh defense though… We are going to get 20 years’ worth of earfuls about it from every fan base around the league. An earful for every single Brady-Belichick era Tom Brady touchdown pass, from every single fan base in the NFL. It’s to be expected. Even if we lose here, the season won’t be completely out of reach. The official time to panic is 0-4. If and when that happens, maybe I’ll submit to you there’s a small chance that the Patriots don’t make the playoffs this season. Maybe.
Back-Up Linebackers For Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh OLB Alex Highsmith had a phenomenal game in week one against the Bengals and is expected to step up as the main guy on the defense during the absence of T.J. Watt. The other two OLBs expected to see increased playing time due to the injury are Malik Reed and Jamir Jones.
Reed is in his fourth year and has ample experience to fill in after accumulating 700 snaps over the last few seasons as a back-up and fill-in guy for Von Miller and Bradley Chubb on the Broncos. The Steelers have ample depth on defense, but it’s still likely that the replacement guys for Watt will be a point of weakness for the Steeler’s defense and a target of attack by the Patriots this Sunday.
If you look at this chart I found on Reddit from December of last year, it’s obvious to even the untrained eye that Mac Jones prefers to throw the ball in the middle of the field.
Mac’s tendencies along with the Steeler’s absence of arguably the best player at his position in T.J. Watt, make it seem likely that a high volume of check-down passes and short cross/slant routes over the middle and towards the outside should be an effective portal for the Patriots to follow in order to secure a successful offensive outing come Sunday. It might even be a good week to bet the over on receptions for some of the Patriot’s WRs. Please gamble responsibly.
Battle In The Trenches
The Pittsburgh Steelers managed to record seven sacks of Bengals QB Joe Burrow last week, the most in the NFL, and a worrying amount of sacks for the New England Patriots and their fans as the Pats prepare to roll into Pittsburgh this Sunday for their second game of the season. The Patriots managed a respectable three sacks last week, and all signs point to an all-out war being fought in the trenches between the linemen this week. The Patriots only allowed 65 rushing yards last week, around half of what the Steelers allowed (133), so despite being a run-heavy team, there’s still a chance the Steelers are forced to lean on their passing game.
It will be interesting to see if the Patriots can shut down Najee Harris who was injured last week but is seemingly on track to be available for Sunday’s game. If they can, it will then become intriguing to see if they can take advantage of a vulnerable QB in Mitchell Trubisky and put up a high number of sacks. I’m expecting a ton of sacks this week from both sides and a lot of QB pressure all-around. There will also probably be a number of turnovers as both teams’ defenses look to control the game and provide the winning boost their team will likely need to supplement their young and inexperienced offenses.
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