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 tackle Nate Solder (77) in Super Bowl XLIX against the Seattle Seahawks at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

New England LT Nate Solder vs Pittsburgh ROLB James Harrison (and Jarvis Jones)

On the opposite side of the ball, the same match-up is important as well. New England left tackle Nate Solder just re-upped for another two seasons to protect Tom Brady’s blind side. The past two seasons have seen Solder struggle initially in the preseason and at the start of the season. However, this summer he has appeared locked-in during the preseason and practices and held his own in limited playing time.

He had better be ready to go because ageless wonder James Harrison is waiting for him lining up at right outside linebacker for the Steelers. With pass rush threat Jason Worilds shockingly retiring to step away from football in his prime at age 27 to work with the Jehovah’s Witnesses religious group, the Steelers need Harrison to reprise his amazing performance from 2014 where he came out of retirement to wreak havoc on opposing quarterbacks.

After an underwhelming season in Cincinnati in 2013 miscast in the 4-3 defense as a run-stuffing strongside linebacker, Harrison seemed to be done. Pittsburgh had invested a 2013 first round draft pick in Jarvis Jones to be the heir apparent to Harrison. As a rookie, Jones struggled to reach the quarterback and came back from injury in 2014 to find Harrison had taken his job. He played just seven games and less than 240 snaps and failed to make an impact.

Harrison turned 37 years old this offseason and asking for a reprise of 2014 may be too much to ask of him. Jones is going to have to step-up and show the promise that he showed at Georgia and led him to be the 17th overall pick. With Nate Solder across from them during Thursday night’s game, they will have a tough job to get pressure on Tom Brady.

The Steelers need to create pressure and much of that falls on Harrison and Jones. They absolutely need to win their match-up against Solder and get to the New England quarterback. If Solder earns his big payday and keeps Harrison and Jones from getting to Brady it could be a long day for the Pittsburgh defense.

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