Five Key Match-ups to Watch: New England Patriots vs Pittsburgh Steelers

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Feb 1, 2015; Glendale, AZ, USA; New England Patriots defensive end Chandler Jones (95) celebrates a sack against Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson (3) during Super Bowl XLIX at University of Phoenix Stadium. The Patriots won 28-24. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Pittsburgh LT Kelvin Beachum vs New England RDE Chandler Jones

One of the most dynamic defensive players during the preseason has been New England right defensive end Chandler Jones. In just 63 snaps and 38 plays rushing the passer(per PFF), Jones had two sacks, a quarterback hit, and two hurries. Seemingly at full health after last year’s mid-season hip injury and with impressive rookie fourth round draft pick Trey Flowers behind him to keep him fresh, Jones looks primed to have the type of dominant season long-predicted of the athletic defensive end.

However, he will have a tough match-up in week one. Kelvin Beachum is probably the second-best offensive lineman in the league who no one knows nationally and gets no media attention (Baltimore’s Marshal Yanda is simply the most dominant lineman in the NFL and yet is near-anonymous). Beachum has gone from a seventh round draft pick in 2012 who was thrust in a starting role at the end of his rookie year.

Beachum improved significantly when stepping in at left tackle in week six the next season. Despite some early struggles, he was a bright spot by the end of 2013. Beachum took a big step forward last season as he continued to improve. Playing every snap for the Steelers, other than a hiccup in week four against Tampa Bay, he was downright dominant as a pass blocker. The key component to allowing Ben Roethlisberger time to throw downfield last year was Beachum.

Game viewers should keep their eyes on Jones and his match-up against Beachum. If Jones is winning these battles and getting pressure on Roethlisberger it could be bad news for the Pittsburgh passing attack. However, if Jones is stuffed by Beachum, the New England secondary may have a tough time defending the Pittsburgh offensive weapons if the Steelers’ quarterback is given time to sit comfortably in the pocket and throw.

Next: How do the Patriots stop James Harrison?