Five Storylines Heading Into Steelers-Patriots Week 1

The good, the bad, and the unknown

Matt Koll
September 06, 2019 - 12:18 pm
Patriots v. Steelers

Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

5.  Patriots Use Bulletin Board Material…Against Themselves

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During a media availability, Patriots cornerback JC Jackson, listed as the backup to Jason McCourty on their depth chart, had some things to say about JuJu Smith-Schuster. According to WEEI in Boston, this exchange occurred between Jackson and reporters about the Steelers top wideout.

Q: How much confidence did you get going up against some of the best WRs in NFL last season now going into your second year?

Jackson: "Who are some of the best receivers in the NFL?" 

Q: JuJu [Smith-Schuster].

Jackson: "You think he's the best receiver in the NFL?" 

Q: One of.

Jackson: *Rolls eyes*

A few follow-ups were later asked.

Q: You’re not buying JuJu being one of the best receivers in the league?

Jackson: “In my opinion, I don’t think so. There’s a lot of good receivers in the NFL."

Q: What do you see in him?

Jackson: “I mean, he’s a great receiver. I’m not saying that. He’s a good football player. ... He’s physical. He’s a good route runner and he has strong hands. He makes a lot of plays on the ball.”

I’m not sure how the Patriots practice schedule works but the Steelers typically have a walkthrough practice on the South Side facility Friday before game day. If that’s the case in New England, he might come back to it with his nameplate stripped and his locker cleaned out.

Anyone with NFL knowledge knows that any kind of distraction, particularly one like this that Belichick himself usually uses as motivation for his own team, is one the best ways to make him angry.

Will JuJu even pay attention to this? Maybe. I think JuJu is pretty in tune with what is going on. He’s plugged in on social media; he probably spends a fair amount of time on the internet. Will it motivate him? I think he’s already pretty motivated by all the doubt swirling around him and the receiving corps post-AB. He showed me he has the right mindset by saying this Thursday.

4. Is Mike Tomlin Going To Hold Devin Bush Back?

During his weekly press conference Tuesday, Mike Tomlin mentioned Devin Bush by name when talking about being careful of playing time…excuse me…division of labor…for Sunday night.

So he is really going to keep Bush off the field just because he is a rookie stepping into an NFL stadium against Tom Brady?

I think this would be a great mistake, especially if he simply takes him off the field just because it’s his first game. If he’s getting behind, he’s getting fooled by something the Patriots are doing or somehow getting burned down the field, sure, yank him. The Steelers have built that depth now with Williams and Barron to be able to do that. But if he’s thriving, if he’s running around and flying to the ball like we saw him do for much of the preseason, just let him do his thing. I would really only bench him if he’s gassed or truly doesn’t fit the package you want to have on the field.  

No need to keep your lion in its cage.  

Related: Bush Entering Patriots Game with Confidence, Not Nerves

3. Time To Trust Kam Kelly...I Guess

As of Thursday, Sean Davis still had not practiced for the Steelers all week. That means former AAF player Kam Kelly is likely to start against Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and the defending Super Bowl champion Patriots.


But maybe not.  Mike Tomlin has said throughout the preseason that he likes what he’s seen from him and I think he’s acquitted himself well. Is he Sean Davis? Clearly not. But I don’t know how noticeable it will be that he’s out there rather than Davis. I don’t think Kelly is going to take risks or try to play outside of what he’s capable of. As long as he doesn’t get lured into big mistakes, there could be a lot worse things going wrong with the Steelers headed into Week 1 than Kam Kelly starting instead of Sean Davis.

I think it will be a little tougher for Brady to “pick on” Kelly as a safety as opposed to say, Artie Burns as a cornerback. History tell us it’s possible though *cough cough* Anthony Smith.

2. What Will The Patriots Look Like Without Gronk?

No doubt this is a huge factor coming into this game. Rob Gronkowski was a Steeler killer. In seven career games, Gronk had 41 catches for 685 yards and 8 touchdowns against Pittsburgh. That’s 6 receptions for 98 yards and a touchdown per game. While I think his absence is significant, I don’t think it’s crushing as far as the Patriots offense functioning well without him.

Gronkowski wasn’t always healthy throughout his career. It’s the main reason why he’s out selling CBD products instead of playing. He took a beating. Throughout that time the Patriots adjusted on the fly to having their most dynamic playmaker out of lineup aside from #12.

The Patriots have known for a while that Gronk was retiring. That’s a lot of time to change their offense, to tailor it in a different direction (or directions) and create other ways to pick apart a defense.

Consider what Boston Globe Patriots writer Ben Volin had to say about it on The Fan Morning Show Friday.

1.Is This The Year?

Gillette Stadium has been a house of horrors for the black and gold in the Brady/Belichick era. In fact, the Steelers are 0-5 in New England in games where Tom Brady started. So is this the year they break the streak?

Here’s a couple things to give you hope:

-The Patriots have started each of the past two seasons slowly. In 2017 they lost at home coming off a Super Bowl title, the exact situation they find themselves in Sunday night. They got hammered by an Alex Smith-led Kansas City team 42-27 and started 2-2 that year. Last season they started the season 1-2. It seems like the Steelers are meeting them at the right time of year.

-They’ve had significant roster changes, including having to replace their leading sacker in Trey Flowers and defensive line starter Malcolm Brown. They also lost last year’s starting left offensive tackle and their center.

I see a better, deeper, faster Steelers defense. I see a clear advantage in the trenches on both sides of the ball. I think the Steelers can wear them down with a strong running game from James Conner and Jaylen Samuels. I think the league’s leader in sacks as a team can get some pressure on Tom Brady again.

I’ve been saying all week that the Steelers win 24-17. Maybe that’s a little nuts.  We’ll see.


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