Prior to Ben Roethlisberger’s injury, it would have been safe to say that the Pittsburgh Steelers matchup against the New England Patriots had the ingredients to being the game of the year—at least to this point.
Now, with Roethlisberger sidelined, the meal will probably come out tasting kind of bland.
The Steelers (4-2) host the 5-1 Patriots on Sunday at Heinz Field, and Landry Jones will be leading the Pittsburgh offense. He’s no Roethlisberger, but he has had his share of game experience in previous years, particularly last season. Jones spent time playing and/or starting for the injured Roethlisberger and Mike Vick. His success, though small, hasn’t gone unnoticed.
“He’s obviously a good quarterback,” Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell said Wednesday. “I think he has a lot of good things that he can bring to the table. We’ve just got to, as a whole entire offense, help him out and get him comfortable and get him confident in himself, and that’s when he really will start striking.”
Bell will undoubtedly become a bigger part of Pittsburgh’s offense, particularly this week with Jones’ first start. A versatile running back such as Bell can give a guy like Jones a sense of comfortability, and it will be imperative for the Steelers to get the run game going early and often in Roethlisberger’s absence. Jones has thrown one pass in the regular season and had an up-and-down preseason.
Antonio Brown has seen his production fall when anyone not named Roethlisberger is behind center, but the Steelers can ill-afford to not get him involved.
Defensively the Steelers are facing arguably their biggest challenge yet in Tom Brady. He hasn’t missed a beat since serving his four-game suspension to start the season. He has 782 passing yards and six touchdowns in two games. He hasn’t thrown an interception, and has completed 57-of-75 passes. Brady or no Brady, the Patriots haven’t thrown an interception yet this season.
“Obviously, from my perspective he’s Tom Brady,” Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said. “He’s got six touchdowns, no interceptions and completing 76 percent of his ball, so from my perspective we face a stiff challenge.”
New England tight end Rob Gronkowski appears to be back to 100 percent, and presents a difficult challenge for the Steelers defense. He has 13 catches for 282 yards and a touchdown in four games. His counterpart, Martellus Bennett, provides the Patriots offense with a one-two punch at tight end. He has 26 receptions and four touchdowns on the season.
The Steelers should get linebacker Ryan Shazier back this week, which could help limit tight end contribution to the passing game. He was upgraded from limited to full participation in practice in the latter parts of the week.
“At the end of the day the coach still gives the ‘yes’ or ‘no’,” Shazier said. “I feel great. We’re just going to have to see what he says.”