Top Ten Takeaways From NFL Kickoff: Patriots v. Steelers
What Can We Learn From Last Night's NFL Kickoff Game?
2015 NFL Season
On this, the first full and official day of the 2015 NFL regular season, I’ve decided we’ll spend some time talking about last night’s game. As you might’ve noticed, I’m not usually one to write about takeaways from specific match-ups, but it’s good to stretch oneself. Below, you’ll find a rundown of the top ten takeaways from yesterday’s Patriots v. Steelers contest. Spoiler alert: the Pats are still the Pats.
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1. Tom Brady is still Tom Brady. There was some concern (in certain circles) that New England Patriots QB Tom Brady might struggle on the field after his tumultuous offseason. Those doubters would be, um, wrong. Brady completed 19 passes in a row during the second and third quarters (the NFL record is 22), threw for four touchdowns, and had 288 passing yards.
2. New England seems to lack a solid offensive line. If you were paying attention at all last night, you probably noticed that the Patriots had seven or eight players rotating on the offensive line. While I’m all for keeping the opponent on their toes, it looked more like preseason tryouts than an actual game. We’ll see if Belichick finally settles on a line-up by Week 2, not that it hindered Brady’s performance this week.
3. The Patriots have a great deal of confidence in Malcolm Butler. With the loss of CB Darrelle Revis over the offseason, Malcolm Butler, a second-year player, was given a great deal of responsibility last night. Belichick and Co. decided to put him on Pittsburgh Steelers WR Antonio Brown, who is one of the league’s best. Butler’s performance, though, left something to be desired. I’m not convinced he’s the guy who should be covering No. 1 wideouts all season long.
4. Dion Lewis may have made a name for himself. Following the loss of RB Shane Vereen to free agency and the brief suspension of RB LeGarrette Blount, New England Patriots RB Dion Lewis stepped-up to the plate last night. Lewis had 69 rushing yards and 51 receiving yards, plus some impressive footwork. While Lewis isn’t likely to become the team’s starter once Blount returns, he may have just garnered himself some more time on the field throughout the season.
5. Pittsburgh won in the trenches. The Pittsburgh Steelers, while soundly beaten, definitely won in the trenches last night. The New England Patriots’ run defense left much to be desired. The Steelers had 134 rushing yards (to the Pats’ 80) and that was without starting RB LeVeon Bell. I’d say New England’s defensive coaches have some work to do to shore-up that line.
6. Rob Ninkovich will likely find himself on the bench. Continuing from my point in No. 5, DE Rob Ninkovich, a longtime Patriots starter, let Pittsburgh RB DeAngelo Williams run over him (literally) all night long. I wouldn’t be surprised if Jabaal Sheard is given the starting job from here on in.
7. Dominique Easley’s injury could be detrimental. DE Dominique Easley, who looked solid while he was on the field last night, exited the contest with a hip injury. The severity of the issue remains unknown. If I were a Patriots fan, I’d be hoping against hope that Easley returns soon. Back-up Geneo Grissom isn’t nearly the player that Easley is.
8. Rob Gronkowski and Scott Chandler are a deadly duo. As you all know by now, I’m no New England Patriots fan, but I do love to watch TE Rob Gronkowski. Last night, Gronk and TE Scott Chandler were an absolutely deadly combination. This is likely to be a trend all season, so defensive coaches around the league should probably head to the drawing board.
9. Pittsburgh’s suspensions killed their offense. The Pittsburgh Steelers lacked two key players last night, with both RB LeVeon Bell and WR Martavis Bryant suspended for the first game of the year. While the running game still looked solid (thanks in large part to New England’s subpar defensive line), having Bryant on the field could have turned the tide of the ballgame. Big Ben Roethlisberger had only one real target in WR Antonio Brown, which posed a major issue.
10. The new extra point rule didn’t phase anyone. The 2015 season is the first for the NFL’s new extra point rule (points after are now 33-yard field goals), but it seemed to play a very minimal role in last night’s game. The New England Patriots opted for the point after on all four of their touchdowns, as is standard practice. The Pittsburgh Steelers did go for a two-point conversion after their sole visit to the end zone, but that was likely more out of desperation than pure strategy.