Curran's Patriots-Steelers preview
WHEN THE PATRIOTS HAVE THE BALL
The once-feared Steelers pass rush has been punchless this season. That’s sweet music to the Patriots as they’ve gone against a fleet of solid pass rush groups and had their issues. The strength of the Steelers defense is now in the secondary with Ike Taylor, Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark prowling. Tom Brady knows what it takes to undress the Pittsburgh defense – he’s done it enough in the past – but getting his running mates to be in concert with him is vital. Stevan Ridley, whose ball-carrying talent has been inexplicably on ice the past two weeks, will have room to run against Pittsburgh which is allowing 4.0 yards per carry. The best Steelers defender currently is Lawrence Timmons. The linebacker will be in matchups with Marcus Cannon on Sunday. With the slot position having been quiet the past two weeks, don’t be surprised if it re-emerges on Sunday.
WHEN THE STEELERS HAVE THE BALL
Pittsburgh is just awful offensively right now. Punt, punt, punt, field goal, punt, punt, missed field goal, missed field goal, punt, interception, touchdown, punt, interception, touchdown. They are every bit as ugly as the Patriots with only fleeting attempts being made at running the ball and Ben Roethlisberger taking sacks at the same clip he often does – frequent (26 through seven games). Le’Veon Bell carried 13 times for 24 yards last week. That’s not enough touches and one would expect Pittsburgh to be a bit more stubborn with the run this week against a Patriots defense that’s been permissive recently but is reshaping itself. Antonio Brown is the focal point of the Steelers passing game – 56 catches for 630 yards in just seven games – those are outstanding numbers. But the player who’s killed New England in the past has been tight end Heath Miller. The Patriots linebackers – Brandon Spikes and Donta Hightower in particular – need to play better this week. Jerod Mayo’s gone and he ain’t coming back this year. Time to raise the game.
THE KICKING GAME
The Steelers released former Pats punter Zoltan Mesko this week. Veteran Mat McBriar takes over there. Kicker Shaun Suisham is having a solid season but missed a pair of kicks last week. The Steelers coverage team is outstanding on kickoffs. Antonio Brown is an explosive punt returner because of his speed so expect the Patriots and rookie Ryan Allen to be careful with him. Steve Gostkowski keeps making big kicks every week.
PATRIOTS SICK BAY
OUT: Tommy Kelly. QUESTIONABLE: Kyle Arrington, Aqib Talib, Leon Washington. PROBABLE: Danny Amendola, Brandon Bolden, Marcus cannon, Julian Edelman, Rob Gronkowski, Tom Brady, Matthew Slater.
STEELERS SICK BAY
OUT: Curtis Brown, CB; David DeCastro, G; Markus Wheaton, WR. PROBABLE: Ramon Foster, G; Steve McLendon, DT; Heath Miller, TE; Ben Roethlisberger, QB; Lawrence Timmons, LB; Guy Whimper, OL
GAME WITHIN THE GAME
The Steelers just don’t run the ball much. With 147 attempts in seven games, they have yet to give a back 20 carries in a game. The last two weeks, the Patriots saw the Jets and Dolphins attack the Patriots undermanned front-seven. Does Pittsburgh game plan differently for this one? How do the Patriots align defensively with Isaac Sopoaga plunked down in the middle of their defensive line? Last week, they eventually slid Chandler Jones to OLB to free him up while putting Andre Carter at the right defensive end in the 3-4.
PATRIOTS GOTTA STOP …
LaMarr Woodley. He’s a really good linebacker and has five of the Steelers 10 sacks. Coming off the left side of the defense, he’ll be going against Marcus Cannon frequently. That’s a matchup to watch.
STEELERS GOTTA STOP …
Tom Brady. Pittsburgh hasn’t gotten enough pressure on opposing quarterbacks – just 10 sacks all season – and the third game back from Gronkowski and Brady’s due for a day in which he gets his timing and decisiveness back.
DON'T BE SURPRISED IF …
The Patriots come alive this week. Pittsburgh’s on the back end of back-to-back road games, their fourth road game in five weeks. And one of those games was in London (a bye week followed). The Patriots have played consecutive poor games offensively and the offense is due to click. It defies logic to believe it can’t stay this ineffective.
THAT SUMS IT UP PATRIOTS STYLE
“You see guys hanging all over him, hanging on his legs, hanging on his waist and he stiff arms them and still throws the ball 40, 50 yards downfield. He can throw without his legs. You can be draped on his legs and he doesn’t need to step and throw. He has the arm strength to let it go more than half the length of the field. There have been a bunch of times where guys have gotten a clean shot on him and it’s almost like he looks out there and knows that they can’t bring him down or at least bring him down right away and he just stiff arms them or shrugs them off and stands out there and throws.” – Bill Belichick on Ben Roethlisberger
THAT SUMS IT UP STEELERS STYLE
“He is a special player. He does a lot of things for them. The vertical stuff down the field obviously, the red zone talents are what they are. He is a big component of the passing game. He has been back for a couple of weeks and I think he has been targeted 23 times. So, obviously we need to allocate some work to try and minimize his role in the game.” – Mike Tomlin on dealing with Rob Gronkowski.
THE WINNER IS...
Patriots 27, Steelers 16