Damien Harris Crucial to New England Patriots vs Pittsburgh Steelers

Damien Harris

Following a lackluster performance in Week 1, the New England Patriots take on the Pittsburgh Steelers in a matchup that many believe is a must-win. With how the offense struggled in Week 1 and the Patriots unable to make crucial defensive stops in Miami, all eyes are on how New England responds. Damien Harris was one of the lone bright spots in Week 1, and he should be key to a Week 2 victory.

Damien Harris, Run Game, Key For New England Patriots vs Pittsburgh Steelers

Starting Strong On The Ground With Damien Harris

An up-and-down Patriots offensive line in Week 1 left fans with reasons for both optimism and pessimism. While the line did lead the way for Damien Harris to average 5.3 yards-per-carry, falling behind to the Dolphins early forced the Patriots to play catch-up, throwing the ball thirty times. Last season, the Patriots had a balanced run/pass offense, allowing the two to play off of one another nicely. But, similar to last year, that strategy only worked when the Patriots were leading or tied with their opponent. 

Sluggish and slow starts in 2o21 torpedoed the Patriots gameplans, as they forced New England to lean on a passing game that is not flush with high-end talent. If the Patriots can start strong in Pittsburgh, they can manage a balanced offensive attack and hopefully garner more than a single touchdown in Week 2. 

Protecting Mac Jones

The pass protection left a lot to be desired in Week 1. While Miami is a notoriously blitz-heavy defense, New England is likely to see a similar amount of blitzes from their opponents until they can stop them. 

Though the Patriots will catch a break with T.J. Watt likely going to injured reserve with a torn pectoral, New England will still have to contend with Cameron Heyward and Larry Ogunjobi. The two bulldozing defensive linemen will likely bring plenty of pressure to the backside of the offensive line. With miscommunications between Cole Strange, David Andrews, and Trent Brown last week, the Patriots will have to scheme around the pressure against the Steelers.

Look for the Patriots to run bootlegs opposite Heyward and Ogunjobi, as well as utilize a running back to shore up the left side of the offensive line with extra protection. 

Adjustments On Defense

The one bright spot for the Patriots in Week 1 was their ability to defend the Dolphins. New England’s defense only allowed 13 points against a dynamic duo of receivers in Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle and a flurry of other talented skill players. The Patriots, now facing the Steelers, will still have their hands full against a young Pittsburgh offense. 

Stuffing The Run

The Dolphins only picked up 65 yards on the ground in Week 1 due to the stoutness of the Patriots front seven. New England recorded six tackles for loss and received good penetration up-front from Christian Barmore and Davon Godchaux.

With running back Najee Harris suffering a foot injury in Week 1, the Patriots defensive line will try to feast on a limited Harris and co. If the Patriots can stuff the run early, they will force Pittsburgh to throw more often, putting the onus on the inconsistent Mitchell Trubisky to win the game for them. Should this be the case, the Patriots secondary could be the biggest beneficiaries of his turnover-prone playstyle. 

Picking Up Where They Left Off In The Secondary

Save for the blown play before halftime that led to a 42-yard touchdown pass, the Patriots secondary played their typical bend-don’t-break-style of defense. With reliable safety help from Devin McCourty, Kyle Dugger, and Adrian Phillips, cornerbacks Jonathan Jones and Jalen Mills managed to contain Miami’s receivers. 

Now facing Chase Claypool, Dionte Johnson, and, second-round rookie George Pickens the Patriots look to build on their solid performance against a talented, albeit inexperienced, receiver room. Be on the lookout for more snaps for rookie cornerbacks Marcus and Jack Jones following an unimpressive outing by Myles Bryant against the Dolphins. 

New England Searching For Their Identity

With questions and speculation swirling in Foxboro, the Patriots find themselves in a precarious position, finding their identity early. In 2016, Bill Belichick told Mike Reiss, “the identity I’d like to have is a team that wins a lot of games.” And while that answer feels uninspired, if true, the Patriots need to start winning to engender Belichick’s team identity.

How the Patriots plan to win these games, however, is a far more interesting question. Do the Patriots try to win solely with their defense, despite the NFL trending in the opposite direction? Are they about to unveil their offense in full this week and shock the naysayers? Or are the Patriots still trying to figure it out? A team is capable of winning in a variety of different ways, but understanding what they are good at is important. If New England does not have a bread-and-butter-style of play by mid-October, their inability to understand themselves could be their undoing.

The first step towards mounting a run at success starts with a win. Whether or not they begin that run depends on the outcome of their matchup with the Steelers. All eyes are on them this week in New England to see if they can.