8 things to watch for at New England


What to keep an eye on in regular-season game No. 1 against the Patriots:

STARTING FAST: Steelers G Ramon Foster emerged from the preseason finale against Carolina stressing the importance of getting off to a fast start on offense, defense and special teams in regular-season games. Playing well early in all three phases figures to be particularly beneficial at New England.

PICKING UP THE SLACK: It'll be on the entire Steelers' team to compensate for the losses of C Maurkice Pouncey (injured), RB Le'Veon Bell (suspended) and WR Martavis Bryant (suspended). But the need to do so is especially incumbent upon the replacements for those players, C Cody Wallace, RB DeAngelo Williams and WR Darrius Heyward-Bey. For those three in particular, opportunity is knocking.

HEAD GAMES: In what surely will be an emotionally-stoked environment, the Steelers are going to have to keep their heads and their focus and keep playing throughout the entirety of the evening, Whether they've taken a punch or landed one, it'll be essential to keep swinging and to keep their composure.

STOP THE RUN: It can be easy to forget when facing a QB with Tom Brady's resume, but stopping the run is always Job One for the Steelers and critical to any success they might be able to enjoy against Brady's arm. The Patriots are also 40-1 since 2000 when a player rushed for 100 yards.

EXECUTE TO THE LETTER: Brady is famous for finding weaknesses in a defense and exploiting them. The Steelers can't afford to make it easy on him by making mental errors that compromise coverages and schemes. Make the Patriots earn what they get.

FINISH THE FIRST HALF: Brady and the Patriots scored an NFL-high 66 points in the final two minutes of first halves in 2014, producing points in such situations 10 times in 16 regular-season games. That success late in second quarters helped the Pats extend their winning streak when leading at halftime at home to an NFL-record 74 consecutive games.

KEEP ADDING ON: New England's defense didn't allow a second-half TD in its last six regular-season games a season ago. The Patriots outscored opponents in that span 67-12.

SNIFF OUT THE SNEAK: Brady is 96-for-104 (92.3 percent) converting first downs on runs of 2 yards or fewer on third downs (71-for-75) and fourth downs (25-for-29). He'll take it if you give it to him.

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