Tom Brady was sacked 27 times in 16 regular season games last year. This year? He's already been taken down 23 times.
It's safe to say the quarterback has noticed the uptick.
"I feel like I stand up here [every] week and say how good of a pass rush there is," Brady ruefully smiled the Wednesday of Week 8.
Pittsburgh has seemingly always had a stout defense, thanks in large part to legendary coordinator Dick LeBeau. And that's the case again this season. For all the 2-5 Steelers' faults, their 302.9 yards per game surrendered rank fourth in the NFL for total defense.
Their pass rush, however, is inconsistent at best. Only one team in the league (Chicago) has fewer than Pittsburgh's 10.0 sacks, and that number got padded by 3.0 in a Week 6 game against the Jets.
So Brady may at least stay on his feet this Sunday. But Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels sees enough in the Steelers 'D' to know keeping Brady upright is only part of the puzzle.
"They have a lot of key veteran players that have been in the system a long time and understand the way that they want to play," McDaniels said in a conference call on Tuesday. "They do a great job of getting their guys in the looks that they want to be in. This is always a difficult team to run the football against, it’s always a challenge to protect the passer against their pressures and they have always been a defense that has taken the football away.
"I think they have a number of great players that are playing at a high level. Troy Polamalu is one of the best players we are going to play against all year. You have to make sure you account for him on every snap. [LaMarr] Woodley is being disruptive on the edge. I think Ryan Clark is one of the best free safeties in all of pro football. He makes a lot of plays not only in the passing game, but in the running game. He is an impact type player.
"[Lawrence] Timmons is a great inside linebacker that has played in their scheme a long time and understands the way they want it done. He is almost always in the right place at the right time for them and makes a lot of impact plays on critical downs."
Timmons is exemplary of Pittsburgh's tough, physical group. The linebacker had 20 tackles in his team's 19-16 win over the Ravens, and some of them came after he broke his left hand. Timmons ended up in a cast but hasn't missed any time. In LeBeau's opinion, the linebacker -- a guy who's worked in Woodley's shadow -- is an All-Pro.
The Patriots hear that loud and clear.
"I just think it is a good, solid defense," McDaniels said. "They don’t give up a lot of big plays and they never have. They make you work for it all the way down the field, make you convert third downs, convert red zone and that’s how they normally end up in the top of the league in defense. I don’t think this year is really any different. It will be a great challenge for us, and we are excited to begin our preparation on them."