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Week 1 X-Factor: Steelers Need to Stop Evan Engram

The Steelers' biggest challenge on Monday night won't be stopping Saquon Barkley, but slowing their tight end production.

We're just a few short days away from the kickoff of the Steelers 2020 season. 

There is a lot to be excited about, especially the very favorable matchup with the New York Giants in week 1. If events unfold as planned, it should serve as a proper tune-up game for Ben Roethlisberger and company to start the season off with a W. 

There is one matchup to watch, though, and it might not be what you think. 

Many will think the key to stopping the Giants is by containing Saquon Barkley. That might be true in most cases. But slowing down Evan Engram will be a much more critical and challenging task for the Steelers.

Engram only played in eight games for the Giants in 2019. But when he was on the field, his impact was definitely felt. The thing that makes Engram such a tough assignment is his absurd speed and athleticism for the tight end position. And, though they were among the best in the NFL last year in terms of yards allowed to tight ends, the Steelers allowed eight touchdowns to tight ends, tied for sixth-most. So, the potential is there for them to struggle with any tight end, especially one with Engram's skillset.

Devin Bush will likely be the defender assigned with covering Engram most of the night. Athletically and physically, Bush is more than capable. 

Last year, though, Bush was not great against tight ends in coverage. It's the next step that many fans hope to see him take as he enters his second season. Lucky for us, we'll get a chance right away in week 1 to see just how much Bush has improved in that area over the offseason. 

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If/when Engram splits out, it will be interesting to see if Bush follows him or stays in the box, and a corner covers Engram. If Bush follows, it's an early sign of increased confidence in him from the coaching staff.

The problems will start to arise if Bush isn't able to hang with Engram in man coverage. Whatever the solution would be, it would likely include Minkah Fitzpatrick. Whether it involves Fitzpatrick covering Engram man-to-man, or merely providing help to Bush across the middle, it still results in one major problem. It will take Fitzpatrick out of the deep middle of the field where he does his best work. 

That's the last thing the Steelers want to do. Take Fitzpatrick out of his center field position, and the defense takes a hit.

So, what's the ideal situation? 

Ideally, Bush will do a good enough job on Engram that Fitzpatrick will be able to play his usual role. It's especially important because although their roster isn't great, the Giants have a respectable trio of receivers. The combination of Sterling Shephard, Darius Slayton, and Golden Tate is no easy group to match up with. 

Sure, Joe Haden, Steven Nelson, and Mike Hilton are likely the best cornerback trio in the league. But, it'll still be nice to have help from their first-team All-Pro safety over the top. It all comes down to Devin Bush. If he can contain Engram, the Steelers secondary should be able to blanket the Giants wide receivers, allowing Pittsburgh's elite pass rushers to go to work. From there, it all goes downhill for Daniel Jones and company. 

Connor Deitrich is a Contributor with AllSteelers. Follow Connor on Twitter @CDeitrich22, and AllSteelers @si_steelers.