While the challenge has changed a bit given the injury to Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh still has plenty of weapons New England must prepare for in Sunday's trip to Heinz Field.
That was a big part of Bill Belichick's mid-week message in his big Wednesday press conference in the media workroom at Gillette Stadium.
Sure, Landry Jones is no future Hall of Fame passer. He lacks the Super Bowl rings, the experience and the playmaking ability that Roethlisberger brings to battle.
But, Jones still has a cast of options to work with that includes running back Le'Veon Bell, wide receiver/dance Antonio Brown and others who "can score from anywhere on the field."
Belichick's morning presser actually got going in very unique fashion. One day after the coach announced in a conference call that he'd become a grandfather, a baby onesie was awaiting him at the podium.
"Look at this. How cute," Belichick said. "Is this from everybody or just somebody special?
"It's all of you guys? Nice."
For the second week in a row, Belichick also spent a lot of time praising the overall organization in Pittsburgh, continuity that's helped the team be a consistent contender more often than not over the years.
Here's a look at some of the highlights of Belichick's morning press conference as his team prepares for Pittsburgh.
1. Bell, "Oh my god": Bell missed the first three games of the season to a suspension. But since his return, the young, versatile back has once again proven to be a multi-dimensional weapon. He's rushed 48 times for 263 yards (5.5 avg.) and caught 20 passes for 177 yards. With Roethlisberger out, Pittsburgh could lean a bit more on the Bell-led backfield that also includes impressive veteran DeAngelo Williams.
When a reporter began to ask about Bell Wednesday morning, Belichick interrupted.
"Oh my god," Belichick said almost in awe of the fourth-year playmaker. "He's a tremendous player, great hands, catches the ball, very quick, makes people miss, strong, breaks tackles, excellent balance, tough, doesn't run out of bounds, fights for extra yardage, a great player. DeAngelo Williams, I mean he led the league in rushing the two weeks where he played earlier in the year when he had a lot of carries. He's had a tremendous career. Really one of the all-time great careers statistically. He's been tremendous. Again, they have a lot of depth at every position. They have a lot of depth at running back and it doesn't matter who's in there – they're a problem. But [Le'Veon] Bell's as good as anybody we'll play."
2. Getting to know Jones: Pittsburgh's fill-in starter on Sunday is a former 2013 fourth-round pick out of Oklahoma who has started two of 11 games plays in his short career. Jones' two starts came a year ago when he led the Steelers to a 1-1 mark, completing 32 of 55 passes for 513 yards with three touchdowns and four interceptions for a 77.3 rating.
That's not a lot to go on as the Patriots prepare, but Belichick still offered up a limited scouting report on the young passer.
"[He's] athletic, good arm, quick release, doesn't hold the ball," Belichick said. "I thought he played well last year when he played in Arizona and Kansas City. Got some shots of him in the preseason. [He's] another good player, experienced player, he knows their system. They have a lot of experienced players in their system."
Jones has hit some big plays in his short time and isn't afraid to attack a defense through the air.
"He does a good job – comebacks, in-cuts, deep balls, throws all of those well," Belichick said. "But the catch-and-run plays, if you drop back and take those away, those are a problem, too. They do a good job on the crossing routes and obviously I mean they get the ball to the backs; those guys are dangerous. Tight ends really show up a lot in the red area so he doesn't discriminate. He gets the ball to everybody. That's the tough thing about defending the Steelers is that they get behind you it's all over in one play and if you take that away then they get chunks of yardage on catch-and-run plays and the running game. So they're very hard to defend, very explosive."
3. Brown the next passing challenge: A week after raving about the talents of Bengals No. 1 receiver A.J. Green, Belichick and his secondary have another immense challenge in dealing with the Steelers Brown. The All-Pro leads Pittsburgh with 41 receptions for 486 yards with five touchdowns in six games. He's clearly one of the top handful of targets in the game today and will be a focal point of the Patriots defensive game plan, even if he is working with a backup quarterback.
Belichick went into fine detail as to what exactly makes Brown such a difficult guy to defend, regardless of how you choose to match up with him.
"[He's] very difficult. He's got a tremendous skill set, very quick. He almost always can create separation in his route," Belichick advised. "He's a very good technique route-runner so he does a great job of setting up routes. He does a really good job of getting on top of the DB's [defensive backs], almost stepping on the toes before he goes into his route so they can't get any kind of – they can't really anticipate it. He does a great job of stacking the defenders where he gets a step on the defender then he kind of cuts him off so that the defenders like a full man behind him so he can use his body to protect the ball on the deep balls. He's hard to jam on the line because of his great quickness and then as I said, when he gets that half a step on the defender, not that he necessarily outruns everybody on the field, but once he moves in front of them and stacks them then he is on top of them. The skills with the ball in his hand as a runner are exceptional. You see that on the punt returns. You see it on a lot of those under routes, catch-and-run plays, so you don't want to back off of him and let him catch it and break a tackle or if you get up on him he runs behind you. That's a problem and he's a good intermediate route runner, too; in-cuts, comebacks, curls, things like that. He has great quickness coming out of cuts so he's very, very hard to cover. And he's seen a lot of double-coverage, too. I don't think that really bothers him either. He knows how to beat that. When you double him I mean at some point he attacks one guy so it really becomes single coverage. He takes the other guy out of it and then he beats that guy. So he's tough. He's really tough."