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Game Preview: Steelers at Patriots

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NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (0-0) vs. PITTSBURGH STEELERS (0-0)
Week 1: Sunday, September 8, 2019 - 8:20 P.M. EDT
Gillette Stadium - NBC, NBC Boston, 98.5 FM The Sports Hub

The New England Patriots will begin the defense of their Super Bowl LIII Championship this week when they host the Pittsburgh Steelers in a primetime Sunday Night Football game. The Patriots are the last team to defend their title after winning back-to-back Super Bowls in 2003 and 2004.

SERIES HISTORY

The Patriots and Steelers will meet for the fifth straight time in the regular season and for the fourth time in a regular-season opener. The Patriots have opened the season at home against the Steelers in 1979, 2002 and 2015. The '02 and '15 games occurred when the Patriots were coming off a Super Bowl win. The Patriots are 2-1 in opening-day games against Pittsburgh. Over the last five regular-season matchups, the Patriots are 4-1. The only loss was last year on Dec. 16 when the Patriots traveled to Pittsburgh and lost, 17-10, at Heinz Field.

This week’s matchup will mark the 33rd meeting overall. Pittsburgh leads the regular-season series by a 15-12 margin, while New England leads 4-1 in the postseason. Overall, the series is tied at 16-16. The Patriots had won the last five meetings overall with regular-season wins in 2013, '15, '16, '17 and the 2016 AFC Championship Game before last season’s regular-season loss.

The teams played in the AFC Championship Game during the 2001, '04 and '16 playoffs, with the Patriots winning each time, en route to Super Bowl titles. The teams also met in the 1996 and '97 Divisional Playoffs. The Patriots defeated Pittsburgh, 28-3, at Foxboro Stadium en route to their Super Bowl XXXI appearance. Pittsburgh beat New England the following season, 7-6, at Three Rivers Stadium.

The Patriots are 4-4 in home games against Pittsburgh in the regular season, including 4-1 in home games at Gillette Stadium. The Patriots are 2-0 in home games against Pittsburgh in the postseason with wins in the 1996 and 2016 postseasons.

The Patriots first regular-season home game at Gillette Stadium was the 2002 season-opening 28-21 win on Sept. 9, 2002.

QUICK HITS

(INCLUDES POSTSEASON)

Overall Record:16-16

Home Record: 6-4

  • Gillette Stadium: 5-1
  • Foxboro Stadium: 1-3

Road Record:10-12

  • Heinz Field: 6-3
  • Three Rivers Stadium: 4-9

Bill Belichick vs. Pittsburgh: 13-10 (11-4 with New England)

Mike Tomlin vs. New England: 3-7

SCOUTING THE MATCHUPS

By Paul Perillo, Patriots.com Writer

When the Patriots run:

This is a matchup of strength vs. strength, at least based on how these teams fared in this department a year ago. New England ranked fifth in the NFL in rushing in 2018 while Pittsburgh’s run defense finished sixth. The majority of the key principals on each side return, but there are some concerns here for the Patriots. Sony Michel is healthy entering the season and now has some support with Rex Burkhead and rookie Damien Harris around to chip in. But his offensive line is in a bit of flux after the news of David Andrews being lost for the season due to blood clots in his lungs. That leaves Ted Karras as the starting center while Isaiah Wynn makes his debut at left tackle in place of the departed Trent Brown. Michel looked fresh and dynamic in a preseason cameo, and the Patriots want to run the ball. The Steelers front is stout with Cameron Heyward, Javon Hargrave and Stephon Tuitt creating space for the linebackers. Keep an eye on rookie linebacker Devin Bush, who has impressed in the early going.
Edge: Patriots

When the Patriots pass:

The Steelers can get after the passer, as evidenced by their league-leading total of 52 sacks last season. While T.J. Watt led the group with 13 from the outside, what may be of greater concern to the Patriots given the loss of Andrews is the trio of Heyward (8), Hargrave (6.5) and Tuitt (5.5) up the middle. That has traditionally been one way to make Tom Brady uncomfortable and Karras will have a tall order in the opener. Making matters worse for Brady is the uncertainty among his pass catchers. Julian Edelman got a cameo in the preseason finale and tweaked a thumb injury that caused him to open camp on NFI. He could see plenty of Joe Haden, who recently signed a contract extension and is the Steelers top corner. Josh Gordon and Demaryius Thomas also got their feet wet against the Giants while Phillip Dorsett had a solid camp to earn his spot. Look for Brady to use James White and Burkhead out of the backfield on quick throws that could keep the pass rush at bay.
Edge: Steelers

When the Steelers run:

Le’Veon Bell is long gone and the Steelers are quite happy with his replacement. James Conner rushed for 973 yards and 12 touchdowns despite missing three games and most of a fourth. He’s backed up by Jaylen Samuels, who ripped the Patriots for 142 yards rushing last December in a Pittsburgh win. Both are effective out of the backfield as receivers as well. But New England’s front has been stout against the run this summer with Lawrence Guy and Adam Butler anchoring the inside. A versatile and deep group of linebackers, including second-year run-stopper Ja’Whaun Bentley, should be able to contain the Steelers ground game. Dont’a Hightower, Jamie Collins, Kyle Van Noy and John Simon can be used in a variety of ways and will be certainly be part of the run defense as well. Pittsburgh’s offensive line is one of the best in the business, so expect Mike Tomlin and offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner to try to establish the run Sunday night. Just don’t expect it to be all that successful.
Edge: Patriots

When the Steelers pass:

Bell isn’t the only high-profile Steeler to be shown the door. Antonio Brown his way out of town and is now in Oakland, a fact that might actually please Ben Roethlisberger. Roethlisberger may not be as old as Brady but at age 37 he’s certainly been around the block. Big Ben can still get it done, too, as his 5,219 passing yards in 2018 indicates. Roethlisberger can still be prone to mistakes (16 picks a year ago) but he can also shred even the best of secondaries. He’ll now rely upon JuJu Smith-Schuster as his unquestioned top target. Smith-Schuster led the team with 111 receptions for 1,426 yards a year ago, and with Brown gone he is The Man in the Pittsburgh passing game. Expect Stephon Gilmore and Jason McCourty to be involved in coverage against him while Jonathan Jones will look after slot man Ryan Switzer, who replaced the departed Eli Rogers. Donte’ Moncrief and James Washington need attention as well, as Pittsburgh air attack is capable of creating havoc. Expect the Steelers to have some success Sunday night.
Edge: Steelers

Special teams

Both Stephen Gostkowski and Pittsburgh’s Chris Boswell had some ups and downs in 2018 and are looking to bounce back to form. Boswell missed five PATs and seven field goals a year ago while Gostkowski missed five field goals of his own and struggled a bit in the preseason. He’ll be breaking in a new holder as rookie Jake Bailey won the punting job from Ryan Allen, which adds some intrigue to that process. Jordan Berry handles those duties for Pittsburgh, and he too struggled a bit last season. The Patriots have some uncertainty in the return game. Rookie Gunner Olszewski may be asked to return punts and/or kicks in his debut if Bill Belichick would like to give Edelman some rest. Pittsburgh will use Switzer for both, and while he lacks explosiveness in that department he has demonstrated solid ball security and decision making. Gostkowski’s experience kicking at Gillette Stadium, coupled with what have been strong coverage units for the Patriots, give the home team the edge.
Edge: Patriots

TALE OF THE TAPE

Table inside Article
2018 REGULAR SEASON NEW ENGLAND PITTSBURGH
Record 11-5 9-6-1
Divisional Standings 1st 2nd
Total Yards Gained 6,295 6,453
Total Offense (Rank) 393.4 (5) 403.3 (4)
Rush Offense 127.3 (5) 90.3 (31)
Pass Offense 266.1 (8) 313.0 (2)
Points Per Game 27.3 (4) 26.8 (6t)
Total Yards Allowed 5,746 5,235
Total Defense (Rank) 359.1 (21) 327.2 (6)
Rush Defense 112.7 (11) 96.1(6)
Pass Defense 246.4 (22) 231.1 (10)
Points Allowed/Game 20.3 (7) 22.5 (16t)
Possession Avg. 31:05 30:41
Sacks Allowed/Yards Lost 21/147 24/166
Sacks Made/Yards 30/238 52/347
Total Touchdowns Scored 51 54
Penalties Against/Yards 93/744 111/1026
Punts/Avg. 64/45.1 64/43.4
Turnover Differential +10 (5) -11 (28)

WHAT TO LOOK FOR

IF THE PATRIOTS WIN...

  • The Patriots will improve to 5-1 all-time in season openers after winning the Super Bowl. Following a Super Bowl win, the Patriots have opened on Monday Night Football once and three times on Thursday Night Football. This will be their first home opener appearance on Sunday Night Football after a Super Bowl win.
  • The Patriots will improve their record against the Steelers on Kickoff Weekend to 3-1. The Patriots have opened the season against the Steelers three prior times (1979, 2002, 2015), all of which were home games. Their two wins (2002, 2015) came in home openers following Super Bowl Championship seasons.
  • The Patriots will claim their 10th win in their past 11 home openers on Kickoff Weekend. It will also mark the team’s 34th Kickoff Weekend win all-time. They are currently tied for third amongst AFC teams at 33.
  • The Patriots will take the all-time lead in their series with the Steelers, improving to 17-16 (including postseason).
  • The Patriots will improve to 14-straight regular-season wins at Gillette Stadium, the franchise’s fourth-longest home win streak in Patriots history.
  • The Patriots will earn their 178th home victory since 1994 (including postseason), extending their league record during that time.
  • The Patriots will improve their record to 77-50 all-time in primetime games, including a 31-19 record on Sunday Night Football.
  • And hold the advantage at the half, the Patriots will improve to 96-1 all-time at Gillette Stadium when leading at halftime.
  • And a player eclipses 100 yards rushing, the team will improve to 52-1 in the regular season since 2000 when a player crosses that threshold.

KICKOFF WEEKEND AND CHAMPIONSHIP MOMENT

Prior to Sunday’s kickoff, the New England Patriots will celebrate their Super Bowl LIII Championship with a special pre-game ceremony. Fans are encouraged to be in their seats by 8 p.m.

The Patriots are 4-1 all-time in season openers in the season after winning the Super Bowl. Following a Super Bowl win, the Patriots have opened on Monday Night Football one time, and three times on Thursday Night Football. The 2019 season marks the third time opening against Pittsburgh following a Super Bowl win. The Patriots started the season against Pittsburgh following the 2001 and 2014 Super Bowl wins.

BROADCAST INFO

TELEVISION: This week's game will be broadcast by NBC and can be seen locally on NBC 10 Boston. Al Michaels will handle play-by-play duties with Cris Collinsworth as the color analyst. Michele Tafoya will work from the sidelines. The game will be produced by Fred Gaudelli and directed by Drew Esocoff.

NATIONAL RADIO: Sunday's game will be broadcast to a national audience on Westwood One. Kevin Kugler will call the game with Jason Taylor providing analysis.

LOCAL RADIO: 98.5 The Sports Hub is the flagship station for the Patriots Radio Network. A complete listing of the network’s 38 stations can be found here. Play-by-play broadcaster Bob Socci will call the action along with former Patriots quarterback Scott Zolak, who will provide color analysis. The games are produced by Marc Cappello.

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