Patriots @ Steelers
Final Score: Patriots 17, Steelers 14
Writer: Matthew Bevins (@MattQbList on Twitter)
Patriots fans spent the last week in a collective gasp over whether Mac Jones would actually make a start this week, or if the titanium back he’s been working with in attempts to hold up this incredibly fractured and make-shift Patriots squad had finally worn him down. While the Patriots have spent the past six months lying to themselves that Jones was ready to take the team back to the promised land, it’s very clear that the Super Bowl isn’t within reach. While this can be disheartening, the Steelers offense that fell behind on the rubber-band-like elbow and arm of Ben Roethlisberger, and is now in the hands of Mitch Trubisky until the rookie poised behind him gets his wings under him. This game had it’s moments, but the final box score total speaks to basically the pace and overall vibe of this game, as it was a whole lot of nothing, and found itself very reminiscent of what the Patriots game has been for years now. Let’s dive in!
New England Patriots
Mac Jones: 21/35, 252 yards, TD, INT | 7 carries, 6 yards
Mac Jones may have a long career in the NFL, as a very unexciting quarterback who peppers in moments of greatness slathered in between games of “get it done” wins with 200 yards passing, two touchdowns, and two picks. This was honestly one of those games. Jones was a week-long “What If”, as there was a worry his back wasn’t going to be something the team would rush him back on. It’s possible the hype on the issue was overblown, but it was very clear that Mac wasn’t his usual self, and gutted his way through a very average and hampered game. The first half was mostly peppered passes to Jakobi Meyers (to the excitement of those who know Meyers was a PPR hidden gem for the prior two years), but even the lone touchdown on his resume for the day was a saved misthrow by Nelson Agoholor, who played over back rebounder on a defender to save a horrible underthrow. Mac should have had multiple INTs, as he had a handful of throws that were either just over the head of or right into the hands of butterfingered defenders.
Mac Jones doesn’t yet have a ceiling, and many have said he could end up being the best quarterback out of this draft, but it sure seems like there’s going to be less pomp and circumstance, and more “Shut Up and Get It Done” games than anything else.
Damien Harris: 15 carries, 71 yards, TD | 2 targets, 2 receptions, 16 yards
Rhamondre Stevenson: 9 carries, 47 yards | 2 targets, 1 reception, 4 yards
The tandem of Rock (Rhamondre) and Steady (Damien) showed up on Sunday and just did what needed to be done. There were murmurs in the offseason, that were then magnified in training camp & preseason that Rhamondre Stevenson may just take Damien Harris‘ job, but it sure seems like the team is more than content with splitting the carries, as the team is taking the current NFL trend of not wearing down their primary back, opting instead for a regular 75/25 split. Rhamondre may be a bowling ball, but the Damien Harris rushes are consistent, and seemingly looks to have tuned down the fumbleitis that plagued him last season. Damien was actually the one out there for the goal-line rush, and that was intriguing to see, as Rhamondre has almost thirty pounds on Harris. The rushing game was unexciting, but consistent and held the offense together without any consistent breaks or pauses, as both averaged over 4.5 yards per carry. Harris seems to be the “primary” back, but it’s very clear both will continue to catch some play.
— Alabama Rydeouts (@MarvinBama16) September 18, 2022
Wide Receiver/Tight End
Nelson Agoholor: 6 targets, 6 receptions, 110 yards, TD
Jakobi Meyers: 13 targets, 9 receptions, 95 yards
Kendrick Bourne: 3 targets, 2 receptions, 16 yards
Lil’Jordan Humphrey: 2 targets, 1 reception, 11 yards
Devante Parker: 2 targets
Hunter Henry: 1 target
Jonnu Smith: 3 targets
It’s possible while this game’s box score and pace of play may have seemed rather uninspired, we actually can find some things to glean from this game. The Patriots’ offense seemed to be primarily centered around a consistent lemon peppering of Jakobi Meyers in the middle of the field (his sure-handedness is something most teams would love to have) while looking to Nelson Agoholor to get the can opener out and take the top off the defense. Agoholor has made a living off his inconsistent explosiveness, but this game showcased the elite burst he posseses, as he was consistently around and open deep in this game. His touchdown pass received by Mac Jones was an immense underthrow, and while many times would merely be a throw off the back of a defender, the acrobatic catch was turned into a touchdown with a little shimmy to round it out.
The second takeaway was that the potential worry about the usefulness of Jakobi Meyers was done may have been incredibly overstated, as he was back and in the sharp form in this game, as he took on almost 40 percent target share in this game, and caught almost 75 percent of the passes thrown his way. While many teams would utilize their running backs or tight ends on these short quick fire plays, it was clear the tight-ends are not the centerpiece of this offense, as Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry combined for 4 targets with 0 receptions and could likely see themselves traded for 6th round picks in Bill Belichick’s dreams. Henry had one target that bounced off his shoulder pads before he even turned back to look.
DeVante Parker was a non-factor in this one, as he simply couldn’t find any open space for which to receive targets. He was targeted on Mac’s lone interception and had no chance of making a play on the ball to break it up. Kendrick Bourne finally returned and made a couple of flash plays, but he continues to be in the doghouse despite displaying clear chemistry with Mac.
NELSON AGHOLOR MOSSED 'EM 😤 @brgridiron
WHAT A CATCH.
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) September 18, 2022
Mitch Trubisky: 21/33, 168 yards, TD, INT | 1 carry, 7 yards
This cannot be the whole year’s entirety, trying to make Mitch Trubisky a thing. The Super Mario version of Tim Tebow, Trubisky was a shaking mess in most of this game, and while his final boxscore may just show 12 incompletions, the depth of pass and inability to make the explosiveness capabilities of his offense a thing may cause this team to look to their backup quarterback options sooner than later. Trubisky, fresh off a new contract, was clearly brought in as a gap-year quarterback, but the fans in Pittsburgh may soon be booing this guy off the field. They’ve already started with the “KENNY!” chants..
So the Kenny chants have started in Pittsburgh pic.twitter.com/7YKKnRLR0T
— Glen Chisholm 🏈🖖♿ (@glenchisholm) September 18, 2022
Najee Harris: 15 carries, 49 yards | 6 targets, 5 receptions, 40 yards
Jaylen Warren: 4 carries, 15 yards | 1 target, 1 reception, 0 yards
Derek Watt: 1 carry, 2 yards
The sigh made by Patriots fans when Mac Jones dealt with back spasms may have only been topped by the grunts and grumbles from Steelers’ fans when Najee Harris left the game early last week for foot issues, after just missing the extended part of the preseason for Lisfranc issues. Harris was back in this game, and he ended up carrying the ball three times more than Jaylen Warren (everyone’s first and likely regretted number one waiver wire priority), hopefully quelling us of concerns he’s hurt and won’t be able to hold up for this season. It may just tell us that we need to hold onto his backup if we have Najee in our starter roles. Najee looked spry on a couple of rushes, but for the most part, he was a shell of what he normally can be, and it was mostly a showcasing that he was able to play more than “how well he can play.”
Not much to show here, but at the very least we can rest assured Najee is back in the lineup and ready to take on starters’ minutes, just may take a bit to find his explosiveness again.
Wide Receiver/Tight End
Diontae Johnson: 10 targets, 6 receptions, 57 yards
Chase Claypool: 6 targets, 4 receptions, 26 yards
George Pickens: 3 targets, 1 reception, 23 yards
Pat Freirmuth: 7 targets, 4 receptions, 22 yards, TD
The offense that has the electric potential of the Chiefs is nullified by the gameplay of Trubisky, as this team continues to wait for Kenny Pickett to be ready for the NFL. Diontae Johnson fell somewhat in drafts, and it’s now clear those thoughts may have been warranted, as Trubisky can’t hit him deeply or at all. Your deep threat targets may be few and far between, and George Pickens may not see much value until a new quarterback is behind center. Trubisky made some reasonable passes, but for the most part, they were saturated in Najee Harris and Pat Freirmuth (‘MUTH). The Muth was loose and made a big-bodied play, and maybe the next obstacle of a tight end to take down, but there wasn’t much excitement to pull out of this offense.
Pat Freiermuth saved the likely subpar output game from Trubisky by hauling in a short yardage touchdown from Mitch, and that was absout the only adoration this offense could pull from Trubisky.
Pat Freiermuth TD 🙌 Penn State going crazy in the NFL this seasonpic.twitter.com/kVpofnz5dB
— Barstool Penn State (@PSUBarstool) September 18, 2022