John Madden
John Madden
Expect mistakes early
By John Madden
ALLMADDEN.com

The regular season is finally here and I'm as excited as heck about that. I will be in New England for a Monday Night Football game featuring the Patriots and the Pittsburgh Steelers (ABC, 9 p.m. ET).

You have the team that won the Super Bowl last February hosting the team that they beat in the AFC championship game to get to that Super Bowl. It doesn't get any better than that to start off the season, and it's going to be a heckuva game.

Matchup to Watch:
Something to watch in this game is how the Pittsburgh receivers deal with New England's press coverage in the passing game. Getting away from press coverage was a problem that the Steelers had in that AFC title game loss to the Patriots last year.

I watched a lot of tape of that game in preparation for the game this Monday night, and that's something big that I noticed. Pittsburgh's wide receivers weren't able to get open in that game and that's because New England's defense did a good job of press, or tight, or bump-and-run, or whatever you want to call it, with their coverages.

The unknown will be big in this game. Everyone will be excited, and usually the play isn't the best early on when everyone's excited. Guys are nervous and they have to get through the first quarter or two to get that out of them. Heck, it's the opening game and everyone's watching on Monday Night Football and the game is being playing in a new stadium.

On one hand, it will feel like a championship game and a Super Bowl game, but on the other hand, you have to realize that it's just the first game of the regular season. So, are you ready for all of that energy and emotion? The answer's probably not. And if it's probably not, then you are going to find a lot of mistakes.

The team that can get the turnovers and win that turnover battle in the first and second quarter, and capitalize on the mistakes, will probably be the one that wins the game, and the team that commits those turnovers will probably lose.

I did the Super Bowl at the end of last season when New England beat St. Louis, and I was really impressed with Patriots' quarterback Tom Brady. The area where he really excels in is in the shotgun and how quickly he gets rid of the ball to his receivers. Boom! The ball is out of his hands like that. On passing downs New England will go shotgun.

When a quarterback's lined up in the shotgun, it takes awhile for him to catch the ball on the snap and then get it up and get ready to throw it, and Brady does that very quickly and very well with great accuracy.

Kordell Stewart
Kordell Stewart causes many matchup problems for defenses.
For Pittsburgh, quarterback Kordell Stewart is able to keep the pass rush down because he's so big and strong and such a good runner. That's a tough package for an opposing defense to stop. When he stays in the pocket you really can't rush or collapse that pocket because if you collapse it too much then he'll run with the ball. And when he does that, he can either run with it and then throw it or run with it and keep on running with it. That's a tough go for a defense. Every defensive coordinator in football hates to play against a quarterback who can really run, and most importantly, hurt you when he does.

I've watched a lot of Steelers' running back Jerome Bettis over the years and I'm a big fan of his. He's a guy who runs it downhill and really pounds it in there. That could be a big difference in this game. Last season, in the AFC championship game, he was fighting a groin injury and he didn't do much against the Patriots. This year, he comes into the season in good shape.

In that loss to New England, Pittsburgh fell behind on the scoreboard. Monday night, though, if the Steelers can get ahead, then they will give the Patriots a heavy, heavy dose of the run game, because they have a good offensive line and they have backs like Bettis and Chris Fuamatu-Ma'afala who can really pound it in there.


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