The 7-5 Pittsburgh Steelers will play their thirteenth game of the 2023 regular season on Thursday night, and this week it will be a home contest against the 2-10 New England Patriots. This week the Steelers will enter their game as home favorites mainly due to New England’s injury woes and personnel. Below are five key things that I believe the Steelers will need to do Thursday night at Acrisure Stadium to come away with their eighth win of the 2023 season.
Raise Your Hands High – The Patriots figure to start QB Bailey Zappe Thursday night against the Steelers. It will mark just his fourth career start if that happens. In total, Zappe has attempted 156 passes for his career and five of those were batted down at or behind the line of scrimmage. The Steelers have batted down 13 passes so far this season.
I bet Zappe isn’t even 6’1” if he stood on a phonebook. Even if he is that tall, I think batted passes could be a thing Thursday night for the Steelers defense if they continue to get their arms and hands up as the Patriots quarterback gets rid of the football. The Steelers defense is about due to have a batted pass float up and into the arms of one of their players. A turnover or two Thursday night could decide this game.
Do 30 Something – Will Steelers RB Najee Harris (knee) play Thursday night? My guess is that he will as he’s yet to miss an NFL game to date. However, even if Harris does suit up Thursday night, the Steelers should probably seriously consider giving RB Jaylen Warren as many touches as possible in this contest. After all, he has averaged six yards per touch so far this season.
The Patriots’ run defense is incredibly good, and you can bet head coach Bill Belichick’s game plan will focus on shutting down the Steelers ground attack. Even so, the Steelers still need to attempt to run against the Patriots defense. Warren hits the hole a lot quicker than Harris does and if he does manage to bust through once or twice, he might just be able to gain considerable yardage. Warren also enters Thursday night second on the team in receptions with 38. The offensive game plan Thursday night should be to get him the football as many times as possible in hopes that he can deliver an explosive play or two.
Give Jackson His Share Of Action – The Steelers will obviously need to throw football some Thursday night and especially with the Patriots defensive game plan being centered around stopping the Pittsburgh running game. We can probably expect QB Mitch Trubisky to be on the aggressive side Thursday night and if that is indeed the case, he should probably look at attacking Patriots CB J.C. Jackson as much as possible.
To date, Jackson has allowed 26 receptions on 45 total targets for 337 yards and three touchdowns since rejoining the Patriots earlier in the season. He should switch sides throughout the game. He’s the kind of cornerback that Steelers wide receivers Diontae Johnson and George Pickens should be able to have some success against and especially if Trubisky gives either of them a chance to make a play or two.
Watch Your Backs – The Patriots won’t have starting RB Rhamondre Stevenson on Thursday night, but they will have veteran RB Ezekiel Elliott. Elliott figures to be a Thursday night workhorse for the Patriots and not only as a ball carrier, but as a pass catcher out of the backfield as well. The Patriots like to use their running backs out of the backfield and to date, that position group has 66 receptions for 415 yards. Only five other NFL teams have more receptions from their running backs than the Patriots.
RB JaMycal Hasty is likely to be active Thursday night and he is a smaller and shiftier type of player. He has 50 career NFL receptions to date but has yet to touch the football this season for the Patriots. That could change Thursday night. The Steelers have some issues at inside linebacker entering Thursday night and the Patriots might want to try to exploit that by getting their running backs involved heavily in the passing game.
Stop The BS – The best way for the Steelers to lose to the 2-10 Patriots on Thursday night would be to duplicate some of the things that happened last Sunday against the then-2-10 Arizona Cardinals. Some of that BS against the Cardinals in Week 13 included bad snaps, illegal formations, too many men on the field, not enough men on the field, false starts, and various silly penalties on special teams.
Last week, the Steelers had 10 penalties called against them with one of those being declined. Three of those penalties were by special teams ace Miles Killebrew. While those penalties aren’t the only reason why the Steelers lost to the Cardinals last Sunday, they certainly didn’t help the overall cause. Merely playing a cleaner game Thursday night when it comes to unforced errors should go a long way in helping the Steelers beat a lackluster Patriots team, one that is even worse than the Cardinals.