Jamie Collins will make his return Sunday after missing Week 6 with a hip issue, meaning he and Dont'a Hightower will be back on the field together Pittsburgh.
Collins and Hightower represent one of the best linebacker combinations in the league, but it's somewhat of a rarity that the Patriots have both on the field simultaneously. The matchup with the Steelers will be just the fourth time that both will be active and available to coach Bill Belichick and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia.
Last season the pair was active for 10 of 18 games, including both playoff games, and during a Week 5 win over the Cowboys, Hightower played just nine snaps. Collins dealt with an illness that kept him out for four games last season, and Hightower, as has been the case for much of his career, was limited by (and often played through) myriad ailments.
The Patriots will also have rookie linebacker Elandon Roberts on Sunday. Roberts was limited in practice this week with an ankle issue that had him listed as questionable coming into the game.
The Patriots listed as inactive are defensive tackles Woodrow Hamilton and Vincent Valentine, safety Jordan Richards, corner Cyrus Jones, running back DJ Foster, tight end AJ Derby and tackle LaAdrian Waddle.
With both Hamilton and Valentine out, the Patriots are thin on the interior of their defensive line. Malcolm Brown and Alan Branch, as well as Anthony Johnson, should see plenty of work in the trenches with those two rookies out.
Jones is a healthy scratch for the second consecutive week, leaving the Patriots with five corners: Malcolm Butler, Logan Ryan, Eric Rowe and Jonathan Jones. Cyrus Jones was open about where he is at this point in his rookie season, understanding that he has to show coaches more before he's activated again.
With both Jones and Foster out, the Patriots could rely upon Devin McCourty or James White to return kicks at Heinz Field. Matthew Slater typically serves as the traffic cop on those plays, but he's a capable returner as well.
Richards is a healthy scratch and will miss his first game of the season. As a core special-teamer, the Patriots will need to fill his spot, but they will have running back Brandon Bolden on the field for the first time since suffering a knee injury in Week 4. Bolden is a core special teamer as well and will likely see the kicking-game snaps that have opened up with Richards out.