New England Patriots

New England Patriots

Sep 18, 2022; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Mitch Trubisky (10) throws a touchdown pass during the fourth quarter against the New England Patriots at Acrisure Stadium. Credit: David Dermer-USA TODAY Sports

The New England Patriots didn’t have much time to reset after their 6-0 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers last week. They’re on the short week, visiting the Pittsburgh Steelers on Thursday night.

This is the second year in a row the Patriots and Steelers will meet in Pittsburgh. Last year’s game was a defensive battle, which was decided in large part by a late muffed punt that gave the patriots a 17-14 win.


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Early expectations are for this year’s game to be another rock fight. The Patriots come in with the 32nd ranked offense in the league averaging 12.3 points per game, while Pittsburgh isn’t too far ahead of them at 28th averaging an even 16 points per game. Some books have the game total as low as 30 points, which would be the lowest for an NFL game since 1993.

Why is this game expected to go so low? Let’s get into that and more with this week’s What To Watch For…

  • Containing Mitch Trubisky

    PITTSBURGH, PENNSYLVANIA - DECEMBER 03: Mitch Trubisky #10 of the Pittsburgh Steelers throws a pass during the third quarter in the game the Arizona Cardinals at Acrisure Stadium on December 03, 2023 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images)

    PITTSBURGH, PENNSYLVANIA – DECEMBER 03: Mitch Trubisky #10 of the Pittsburgh Steelers throws a pass during the third quarter in the game the Arizona Cardinals at Acrisure Stadium on December 03, 2023 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images)

    After starting quarterback Kenny Pickett suffered an ankle sprain last week, backup Mitch Trubisky will start this game for Pittsburgh. Usually starting a backup quarterback makes an offense vulnerable, but given the struggles the Steelers have had offensively last year the change could prove to be a park. With Trubisky plays most of last week’s game against the Arizona Cardinals the Steelers scored 24 points, their highest point total in over a month.

    With Trubisky in the game, his legs become a factor. He’s more of a threat to both extend plays as well as outright run than Pickett, and that’s something the Steelers will likely look to take advantage of.

    It’s something the Patriots know too. This week, defensive tackle Davon Godchaux talked about how important it will be for the Patriots to be disciplined in their pass rush, so Trubisky can’t escape the pocket and take off. It’s something they did a good job of in last year’s matchup, when Trubisky ran just once for seven yards while throwing the ball 33 times (completing 168 for a touchdown and an interception). If those numbers look similar for Trubisky on Thursday night, the Patriots’ defense is probably doing something right.

  • Protecting Bailey Zappe

    FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS - DECEMBER 03: Bailey Zappe #4 of the New England Patriots throws a pass while being chased by Tuli Tuipulotu #45 of the Los Angeles Chargers in the second quarter at Gillette Stadium on December 03, 2023 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

    FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS – DECEMBER 03: Bailey Zappe #4 of the New England Patriots throws a pass while being chased by Tuli Tuipulotu #45 of the Los Angeles Chargers in the second quarter at Gillette Stadium on December 03, 2023 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

    Last week the Patriots’ offensive line struggled significantly with the Chargers’ pass rush. Bailey Zappe was sacked five times, and pressured a total of 13. Khalil Mack in particular was an issue recording two sacks and two more QB hits.

    This week, the task of protecting Zappe gets even harder. The Steelers have one of the best pass rushing units in the league, led by T.J. Watt who has 14 sacks in 12 games. If the Patriots pay too much attention to Watt, Alex Highsmith can clean up on the other side.

    The biggest change that would help the Patriots would be a better game from right tackle Mike Onwenu. Onwenu had his worst game of the year last week, allowing five pressures and a sack. Watt almost exclusively lines up off right tackle in the Steelers’ defense, so this will be a tremendous test for Onwenu in a bounce-back game.

    Zappe needs to do his part in mitigating the impact of pressure as well. A quarterback dropping his eyes is never good, but it could be especially bad in this game. If Zappe is throwing blindly because of the rush, Steelers safety Mikah Fitzpatrick will have a field day jumping routes.

  • Which side makes the special teams mistake?

    Sep 17, 2023; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots place kicker Chad Ryland (37) is congratulated by punter Bryce Baringer (17) after kicking a field goal against the Miami Dolphins in the second quarter at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

    Sep 17, 2023; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots place kicker Chad Ryland (37) is congratulated by punter Bryce Baringer (17) after kicking a field goal against the Miami Dolphins in the second quarter at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

    As mentioned above, last year a special teams mistake was the big turning point in the Patriots-Steelers matchup. Late in the third quarter, Gunner Olszewski muffed a punt that was recovered by Brenden Schooler in the Steelers’ red zone. The Patriots would take advantage by scoring a touchdown on the drive, which ended up being the difference in the game. A similar mistake from either team could prove costly this year in what figures to be a field position battle.

    Last week was a rough one for the Patriots’ punt unit in particular. Bryce Baringer muffed multiple punts, and the coverage unit allowed a 35-yard return that set up one of the two field goals in the game. On kickoff return, Jalen Reagor dropped a ball that cost him yards on a return.

    Additionally, look for a potential kicker change from the Patriots this week. During the one session of practice that was open this week, practice squad kicker Matthew Wright was kicking field goals while Chad Ryland was behind the net retrieving the balls. It wouldn’t be surprising if Wright was elevated from the practice squad for this game.

  • Alex Barth is a writer and digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Looking for a podcast guest? Let him know on Twitter @RealAlexBarth or via email at abarth@985TheSportsHub.com.

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