It’s a game when you see it on the schedule, you circle it. Because you know immediately this is going to be what football is all about.
Tough. Physical. Hard-fought.
The list could go on and on.
The Steelers take on the New England Patriots on Sunday at Heinz Field, a game that will be filled with a lot of familiar matchups as the teams have faced each other regularly over the last few years.
“There are a lot of familiar faces here,” said Patriots Coach Bill Belichick. “A lot of guys we have competed against before. It almost feels like a division game.”
Belichick, along with other coaches and players, weighed in on Sunday’s matchup, including talking about Ben Roethlisberger, JuJu Smith-Schuster and more.
* * *
Belichick on what he admires about Ben Roethlisberger:
“His consistency, his production, his toughness. That is a tough kid. I don’t know if he gets enough credit for all of the things he does. He stands in there every week and makes big plays and gets the ball to his playmakers. He is a hard guy to get to. He has been a tremendous player, deep balls, play action, third down. He is a tough guy, tough competitor.”
Belichick on how dangerous Ben Roethlisberger is spreading the ball around:
“It’s very, very dangerous. They do a great job. They do a great job of passing the ball, protecting the quarterback and getting the ball to all of their multiple receivers with very good variety of schemes. They get it to them different ways, so not only do they get everybody the ball, but they make you cover them vertically on catch-and-run plays, tear screens and things like that. They just do a good job. They’re very well-coached. They’ve got a great guy pulling the trigger and they have great players. They’re extremely talented and they’re a very explosive offensive team as we know by the amount of production that they have.”
Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels on if the Steelers are running the same defense they have in the past:
“There's plenty of carryover from what we've competed against in the past. They've got a certain volume of things that, I would say, are core things to them, that they do each year. They have plenty of change-ups that, depending on the game, the opponent or how they feel like they need to defend you, that they can kind of unveil and use at their disposal each week also. We've played them a lot but it's always a difficult preparation, one, because they have good players, two, they're very well-coached and their style of play. They play with great effort, physicality. There's nothing easy, they don't give up many big plays and then they create a lot of disruptive plays with what they do.
“Really, really tough opponent, tremendous amount of respect for Coach (Mike) Tomlin and Coach (Keith) Butler and this whole defensive group. We've played against them a lot and they're obviously playing very well right now, lead the league in sacks, create a lot of negative plays, don't give up many yards, stop the run, good on third down. This is a big challenge, and this is a tough place to play.”
PHOTOS: Practice - Buccaneers Week - Day 1
The Steelers prepare for the Week 3 matchup against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Belichick on what Mike Munchak does with the offensive line that has impressed him the most:
“They’re very sound. The technique’s good. They do an excellent job of protecting the quarterback, especially inside with (Maurkice) Pouncey, (Ramon) Foster, (David) DeCastro. That’s probably three of the top players in the league at those positions. They’re strong. They’re big. They’re really long. Those guys have real long arms so it’s hard to get into them. They play well together. Obviously, they’ve been playing together for a long time, so they have good chemistry with each other and a good feel for each other. They don’t make a lot of mistakes. It’s very seldom there’s a guy that runs free or runs through the line. They get a hat on him and they block him. It’s a struggle to even get close to the quarterback.
“They are long, very long. They do a good job using their hands, keeping the blockers away from their body. It’s a really good group inside, they are probably as good an inside group of players there is in the league. The tackles do a good job too. It’s an excellent group.”
Linebackers Coach Brian Flores on the Steelers offensive line and how you handle not over-committing to being aggressive:
“It’s a very fine line. They've got a terrific offensive line, they do a great job with protections, they handle twist games, blitzes, exotic looks. They handle them all well. Obviously, Ben is one of the top quarterbacks in the league and really probably of all time, and then they've got two of the best receivers in the game. So, you've got to pick your spots, but at the same time we want to be aggressive and we want to do as much as we can to pressure the quarterback and pressure the offense overall, but definitely got to pick your spots. They've got great players across the board and the quarterback does a good job of getting everybody the ball, spreads it around, tight ends, backs, receivers. He can extend plays, he's a hard guy to tackle in the pocket. Obviously, he's been doing it for a long time and this will be a big challenge for us this week, specifically because we're on the road. It's a tough environment to play in. It will be a great challenge for us.”
Belichick on what kind of problems the Steelers defense presents in terms of taking the ball away:
“They’re a very disruptive team. They have a real good scheme, a lot of pressures so a lot of fumbles and strip sacks. They pursue very well so they get plays from behind where they knock the ball out and they’ve used multiple coverages so man, zone, blitz zone, some blitz man, different combinations of split and post-safety coverages. It’s easy for the offense to make a mistake and stop when they should keep going, go when they should throttle down, convert when they shouldn’t convert, not convert when they should convert based on the rotation or the corner and safety alignments. If you make a mistake, then you just throw it right to them. They’re very multiple on defense and probably one of the most multiple teams we’ve seen all year. It’s going to, again, take good team execution offensively up front from our skill players and just everybody working together to do a good job in all of those areas.”
Flores on what he has seen from the Steelers’ run game, James Conner and other backs:
“I would start with the offensive line. This is as good a group as we've faced. They do a really good job in the run game. Conner is a fantastic running back. He's a tough runner, downhill, good vision, jump cuts, physical runner, good in the pass game, as well. Jaylen Samuels, he played last week. Another good runner, downhill runner. Stevan Ridley, obviously we had him here, so we have some history with him and we know what kind of runner he is. He was obviously productive for us a few years back. They've got a good stable of backs, a good offensive line, good tight ends, those guys block, as well. It's going to be a tough test for us.”
Belichick on what he has seen from Bud Dupree and T.J. Watt on the edge of the defense, or the outside:
“They do a real good job of creating penetration and forcing the quarterback back to the edge rushers. The edge rushers do a good job of forcing the quarterback up into the inside part of the pass rush. Their blitzes create a lot of movement and so forth. They do a good job of everything. I don’t know what the exact sack breakdown is, but it’s not like one guy has 20 sacks. There’s a lot of people on that defense that have hit the quarterback. There’s a lot of times that the guy who hits the quarterback gets him because somebody else penetrated and somebody else created an opening for them. Again, we have to deal with all of them. That’s a very impressive group. But certainly not taking anything away from what both Watt and Dupree, those two guys, they’re both having a great year.”
Belichick on JuJu Smith-Schuster’s performance considering he plays alongside Antonio Brown:
“I think both of those players complement each other. You’re worried about one player and the other one gets you and vice versa. They’ve got plenty of guys besides them, too. But those two in particular, they have great speed, quickness, catching ability, instincts and run-after-catch. Whenever they get the ball it’s a problem, and there’s a lot of different ways they can get the ball with their skill set and certainly their offense with Coach (Randy) Fichtner’s offense and the quarterback. They can get them the ball. Yeah, they complement each other well. It’s a very explosive team.”
Belichick on Smith-Schuster’s season:
“He has had a tremendous year. He is a great player. Does everything well. He is quick, fast, strong with the ball in his hands. Long passes are a problem. Catch and run are a problem. Being opposite Brown, that’s a problem. He does a great job going up to get the ball, taking it away from defenders. Hard to tackle. You would like to have one receiver like that, Pittsburgh has two. It’s unusual to see players of that caliber at all, to see them on the same team is tough to defend.”