By CHRIS BROCKMAN
LOS ANGELES — We’re here. Finally. It’s been 221 days since Brady to Gronk, Wilson to Matthews, Edelman’s zag and Butler’s interception of a lifetime. Two-hundred and twenty-one days days since the confetti fell on the New England Patriots in Glendale and the Super Bowl of a lifetime. Lots has changed since then but what hasn’t is the champs kicking the season off with a Thursday night spectacular. Tonight, the Pittsburgh Steelers come to Gillette Stadium in what should be an epic showdown between these iconic franchises. Between Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger there are nine Super Bowl starts and six rings. Enough hardware to last a lifetime. What won’t last a lifetime, just 15 weeks actually, is my Thursday Night Football 5-Technique! I’m going to run down each week what I’m watching out for in the week’s opening game from the football to the wacky. We’ll see how it goes. Enjoy.
Both starting running backs in this game – LeGarrette Blount and Le’Veon Bell – are suspended which means a combined showcase of Running Back By Committee featuring the likes of DeAngelo Williams, James White, Branden Bolden, Dri Archer and whomever else Mike Tomlin and Bill Belichick trot out. Rain is in the forecast tonight, too, but I still wouldn’t expect any of these guys to get double-digit carries. Both the Steelers and Patriots were middle of the pack last year in rushing yards per game (109.5/107.9) and both have injuries on their offensive line so an elite rushing attack just isn’t in the cards.
PRESSURE UP THE MIDDLE
With Steelers All-Pro center Maurkice Pouncey out for considerable time with an ankle injury, I’m curious if New England can generate pressure up the middle and disrupt Ben Roethlisberger’s rhythm in Todd Haley’s offense. Sure, Vince Wilfork is gone up front for the Patriots so we’ll see if the combination of Alan Branch, Sealver Siliga and Dominique Easley can make life difficult for the defending NFL passing champion. We all know Big Ben is good on the run and doesn’t shy away from getting outside of the pocket but every quarterback would prefer to stand tall and throw cleanly.
The Steelers gave up the second most passing yards per game in the league last year (301.6) and the sixth most passing touchdowns (33). Not a good sign when facing a quarterback coming off four-straight seasons of at least 4,100 yards and oh-by-the-way the most ridiculous sporting scandal of all-time who is more probable than not to have an enormous chip on his shoulder despite the fact he’s a four-time Super Bowl champion and three-time Super Bowl MVP. Now, the Patriots do have issues at wide receiver. Brandon LaFell, last year’s chief deep threat, is out at least the first eight weeks with a mysterious foot injury, which leaves Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola and Brady’s main outside targets. But we all know TB12’s first option is Rob Gronkowski. He’s been targeted nearly 200 times his last 20 games. How are the Steelers are going to stop him? Can they stop him?
Honestly, I’m pretty curious to see how Tom Brady looks. Not football sense per se, though I’m curious about that too, but more body language. Does he look nervous? How’s his hair? Is he bouncing around? Is he screaming at teammates? Is he head-butting Edelman and Gronk? Cursing with Josh McDaniels? Or is he on the bench in the zone? All of it interests me tonight. Look, I can’t imagine what it’s like to be TB12. None of us can. This guy is so famous he has to destroy cell phones every four months (so he says). And the funny thing is, his wife is more famous and makes more money than he does! Based on some of his emails, and by his own admission this week, this offseason wasn’t the best. There was a divorce rumor, his complaints about pool covers and inquiring about Tom Ford clothing and on and on. It’s strange. It’s not what we could consider “normal” and that’s fine. He’s a professional athlete. They are a unique subset of American culture. I wonder if it’s a situation where he just needs to get hit, complete that first pass, hear that first cheer and he’ll be back. Who knows.
Shifts of the Earth’s tectonic plates are a rarity in the northeast but I’m hoping seismologists in the greater Foxborough area have drank enough coffee, eaten energy bars and are on their Ps and Qs for what’s about to happen around 8pmET tonight. Maybe The Rock should be on speed dial with his helicopter and speed boat. The fourth championship banner is going up to the rafters and while I really wish it was the middle finger banner making the internet rounds Thursday, I’m almost positive it’s one with four Lombardi Trophy’s on it. The well-lubricated fans will be raucous, rambunctious and ridiculous to say the least. The reverberations from the noise to come from Gillette will be heard for miles around. There’s no way to stop what’s coming. Just sit back and enjoy it.