Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger will square off in Foxboro to open the 2015 NFL season Thursday night, and both will be without their starting centers.
New England’s Bryan Stork (concussion) and Pittsburgh’s Maurkice Pouncey (ankle) have both been placed on IR with a designation to return. Needless to say, both quarterbacks will be hurt by their respective losses.
“Yeah, it’s going to make for certainly an interesting time for both these defensive coordinators,” former Super Bowl champion center and current NFL Network analyst Shaun O’Hara said on CBS Sports Radio’s Tiki and Tierney. “The one thing you know is, hey, if they’ve got their backup center in there, guess what? We’re bringing the house. We’re bringing some blitzes, we’re going to make sure that everybody’s on the same page. Because the center and the quarterback are the ones that are declaring the Mike linebacker – hey, this is the guy who all of our blocking schemes are based off of in both (the) run and pass game. If you don’t have a vocal center, if your center is not sure exactly what he’s doing or who they’re supposed to slide to and who they’re supposed to declare and who everybody has in protections, it’s going to be really tough.
“And I know playing the Pittsburgh Steelers for as long as I did, obviously it was Dick LeBeau back in the day, but Keith Butler has the same kind of mindset: He wants to bring the A-gap blitzes,” O’Hara continued. “You slant the nose one way and you bring one linebacker in the backside A-gap, you bring the other linebacker around, and you’re trying to get pressure right up the middle, which frustrates and really throws quarterbacks off. So I expect to see a lot of that, and I think early on in the game, they want to test those centers and find out if they a) know what they’re doing and if b) they can handle their protections.”
Win or lose Thursday night, the Patriots are probably just happy to have Tom Brady back in their quest to repeat as Super Bowl champions. O’Hara, however, does not believe they’re the favorites this year.
“No, no they’re not,” he said. “And it’s funny because this time last year we were saying the same thing: Nah, they’re not as good. People were saying, ‘Well, Brady, is he losing a step? Is he declining?’ And of course they go out and they start 2-2 and everybody’s throwing them into the bay and then they turn it on.”
The Patriots went 13-2 in their final 15 games last season, playoffs included. Their only losses were at Green Bay (by five points) and at home against Buffalo in Week 17 (by eight points).
“Look, they play their best football down the stretch in December and into the postseason,” O’Hara said. “So I don’t expect them to look great tonight, but . . . (Brady) lost Stork. Stork’s out. But I look around at the offense, LeGarrette Blount is suspended. It just seems like every year, it seems like they try to make it hard on Tom, don’t they? It’s like hey, we don’t want to make it too easy on you. Let’s just put in a couple of obstacles and a couple of hurdles. You know what? Your top two corners that you had last year – Brandon Browner and Darrelle Revis – they’re gone. So now you’ve got a totally different defense. They made him sweat through this whole we’re-going-to-suspend-you, we’re-not-going-to-suspend-you ordeal. It just seems like, man, nothing comes easy for Tom.
“But I’ll say this,” O’Hara continued. “I don’t think he would have it any other way – because I think he loves having that extra motivation, that extra fire. But to answer your question directly, I don’t think they’re a favorite to repeat. If you look at them right now on their roster and their talent, you could argue they’re the third most talented team in that division.”