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5 ways Steelers can beat Patriots in 2015 season opener

Don’t count the Pittsburgh Steelers among those who were disappointed at Judge Richard M. Berman’s decision to lift Tom Brady’s suspension.

The Steelers wanted Brady all along in the 2015 season opener, even though they’ve never beaten Brady at Gillette Stadium.

“Our best against their best,” Cameron Heyward, one of the few Steelers defenders with a discernible pulse, told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “So let’s join the party.”

Heyward’s idea of a party must be a root canal or a rectal exam, because the Steelers’ last visit to Gillette Stadium felt like one of those prodecures.

The Patriots pounded the Steelers 55-31, gashing the Steelers defense for 610 yards. It was a Steelers record for yards allowed and points allowed in a single game.

The Steelers defense might be even worse this season. So how do the Steelers beat the defending champions, with Brady amped up to prove that he can win with properly inflated footballs?

They’ll have to check off at least one of the boxes on the following list.

Limit Rob Gronkowski

The Steelers already have blown the cover off this one.

Safety Mike Mitchell and inside linebacker Ryan Shazier told ESPN.com they plan to jam the Patriots’ All-Pro tight end at the line of scrimmage, that the Patriots’ offense relies on “timing.”

Those words are probably pinned on the Patriots’ billboard.

Disrupting Gronkowski would be a good way for Shazier to prove that he’s ready for a breakout season after being drafted 15th overall in 2014. The Steelers’ secondary won’t be able to control the 6’6″, 265-pound Gronkowski on its own. Shazier and fellow inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons can’t allow Gronkowski to get behind them in the middle of the field.

Gronkowski tied his career high with nine receptions for 143 yards and a touchdown the last time he faced the Steelers. That can’t happen again.

Butler has to add a few wrinkles

Brady is 7-2 in his career against the Steelers. Five of those wins came against Dick LeBeau-led defenses. Brady pretty much had LeBeau figured out.

But does he have Keith Butler figured out?

The answer to that question is yes unless Butler puts his own stamp on this defense. The septuagenarian LeBeau wasn’t inclined to change much of his scheme. Butler needs to throw some stuff at Brady that he hasn’t seen before.

That’s easier said than done because Butler doesn’t have a ton of talent to work with.

Win the turnover battle

The Steelers have forced 76 takeaways over the past four seasons, fewer than any team in the league.

That has to change in 2015, starting Thursday night at Foxboro. The Steelers defense has to set up the offense with some short fields. A good way to do that would be for Jarvis Jones to make his way to the quarterback more often in his third season. He has just three career sacks. Two of them came in the first three games last season before he sat out two and a half months with a wrist injury.

Jones, Stephon Tuitt and Heyward have to get in Brady’s face and force a bad pass or a fumble. Tuitt, if he’s healthy enough to play, can create havoc on the defensive line with his length. Drafted in the second round last year, Tuitt is another young player who has to emerge for the Steelers defense to become respectable.

Make a splash on special teams

For the first time in recent memory, the Steelers actually had some competition at punter during training camp.

Jordan Berry beat out incumbent Brad Wing, and the Steelers parlayed the situation into a seventh-round draft pick by trading Wing to the Giants.

Berry averaged 49.8 yards per punt during the preseason, and the Steelers were fourth in that category as a team. The Steelers will need that Australian leg to ensure that the mighty Patriots offense doesn’t have favorable field position.

Shamarko Thomas was supposed to replace Troy Polamalu at strong safety, but he was so ineffective in the preseason that he could be benched in favor of Will Allen, according to The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. But that doesn’t mean Thomas can’t contribute.

The last time the Steelers played a game that counted, Thomas blocked a punt for a safety in the Steelers’ wild-card loss to the Ravens. If the Steelers can’t stop the Patriots and the offense is bogged down without Le’Veon Bell, Martavis Bryant and Maurkice Pouncey, they’ll need points on special teams to have any shot at beating the Patriots.

Antonio Brown has returned one punt for a touchdown in three of the last four seasons. If he has one in him this year, it wouldn’t hurt to turn it in at New England.

Win a shootout

If all else fails, Ben Roethlisberger will just have to put up more points than Brady.

That might be difficult without Bell and Bryant, but Brady won’t have all his weapons at his disposal, either.

Brandon LaFell, the Patriots’ third-leading receiver last year, is out. So is running back LeGarrette Blount, who will be serving a one-game suspension. Like Roethlisberger, Brady might not have his regular center in front of him. Bryan Stork is going through the league’s concussion protocol.

The Patriots lost cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner and defensive tackle Vince Wilfork in free agency. Super Bowl hero Malcolm Butler will be one of the starting cornerbacks. He’s only started once in his career.

Both defenses in this game can be exploited. If it comes down to which team has the better offense, the Steelers have a much more realistic chance to pull off the upset.

Follow Mike @Steel_Tweets

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