Malcolm Butler vs. Antonio Brown
Talk about arising by fire. The second-year pro Butler has followed adult his Super Bowl heroics with a clever offseason and positively deserves a initial moment during replacing Darrelle Revis on a left side of a Pats defense. Unfortunately, it’s tough to prognosticate a worse initial matchup for Butler than Brown, whose speed and fluidity make him arguably a league’s best route-runner.
Brown will win his share of battles, generally with Le’Veon Bell and Martavis Bryant dangling for a opener. Last season, Brown was remarkably unchanging on a per-game basement in terms of targets, receiving between 12 and 16 targets 8 times and saying fewer than 9 passes only once. With Ben Roethlisberger’s tip delegate weapons missing, a Pats should design Brown to see a high finish of that aim total.
If we wish to know how many New England unequivocally trusts Butler, watch what happens when Brown moves to a slot, as he mostly does in three-receiver packages. Do a Pats ask Butler to shade from an unknown alignment, or do they keep him pinned to a left side and ask Devin McCourty or Logan Ryan to play a slot?
Brown is an enthusiastic talent, as evidenced by his NFL-record 33-game strain of during slightest 5 catches and 50 yards. In truth, a Patriots’ idea is to forestall a league’s many inclusive receiver from holding over a game.
Rob Gronkowski vs. Ryan Shazier and Mike Mitchell
If Brown is Pittsburgh’s descent trump card, Gronkowski represents an equally terrifying tender on New England’s offense. No one has ever had a genuine answer for a healthy Gronk, and Pittsburgh’s porous pass invulnerability is frequency packed with solutions to that problem. Based on Football Outsiders’ DVOA metric, a Steelers ranked 28th in fortifying parsimonious ends final year, permitting hostile players during a position to hoard a DVOA 17.4 percent above a joining average.
However, Patriots fans shouldn’t indispensably pencil in a widespread diversion from a All-Pro parsimonious end. Gronkowski didn’t play during all in a preseason, that suggests that Bill Belichick prefers to have him use a start of a unchanging deteriorate as a de facto tuneup. While that proceed preserves a frail parsimonious finish for games that indeed count, it potentially boundary his efficiency during a start of a year.
Indeed, during final September’s descent malaise, Gronkowski averaged only 6 targets, 3.3 catches and 36.8 receiving yards per game. He will certainly get situational work on third downs and in a red zone, though keep an eye on his snap count opposite an exploitable Steelers behind seven.
Dominique Easley vs. Ramon Foster and Cody Wallace
The Patriots clearly shifted from a coverage-oriented invulnerability to a pressure-reliant one this offseason. And while a abyss during edge-rusher is a many intriguing partial of New England’s defense, a growth of a second-year 3-technique Easley could yield a additional extract that puts a section over a top.
After impressing during a preseason, Easley receives a comparatively soothing initial matchup. Assuming he plays many of his snaps on a interior diseased side, he’ll expected block off opposite left ensure Foster and core Wallace. Foster is a fast oldster who has started all though 5 games a past 4 years for Pittsburgh, though Wallace is a large hillside from All-Pro core Maurkice Pouncey, who is out until midseason with a fractured ankle.
Finishing rushes is vicious opposite Roethlisberger, who was the league’s best quarterback opposite vigour final season, according to Football Outsiders. In other words, merely perspicacious a slot hasn’t indispensably deterred Roethlisberger, who escapes sacks improved than scarcely any other quarterback in a league. Easley competence possess a many auspicious matchup of New England’s rushers on Thursday night, so he’ll have an event to make a clever initial sense after a unsatisfactory rookie season.