Coming off a big, comeback win versus the Miami Dolphins last week, the New England Patriots now play host to the visiting Pittsburgh Steelers, a team coming a off an ugly looking loss to the Oakland Raiders last week. The Patriots had major troubles last week in the first half, but really turned things around in a big way, scoring 27 unanswered points in the third and fourth quarters, en route to a 21-17 win. The Steelers struggled early versus the Raiders, and could not complete the comeback attempt, losing 21-18. While the Steelers are only 2-5 this year, far removed from their dynasty days, they are no pushover team, and tend to always play the Patriots very well, and tough. The Patriots need this win to continue to separate themselves from the rest of the AFC East.
1. Keep Running That Football!
The Patriots started three weeks ago against one of the very best run defenses in the NFL against the Jets, then proceeded to play the middle of the pack Dolphins, and ran it very well against them. This week? They play one of the very worst running defenses in football, the 27th to be exact. This should bode well for Stevan Ridley and company, who have really come together and ran well these past few weeks. Ridley last game led the Patriots with 79 yards and a touchdown on only 11 carries, followed by LeGarrette Blount who carried the ball 11 times as well for 46 yards. The Patriots did lose Sebastian Vollmer last week to season ending surgery on leg, but they can’t let that slow them down. With Brady and his receivers having a really up and down year, it’s up to these runners to be consistent and keep drives alive, as well as make those third downs which the Patriots have struggled mightily with all year, more manageable.
2. Take the Pass Rush Momentum from Last Game, and Deliver some Punishment to Roethlisberger
The Patriots had there very best pass rushing game of the season last week versus the turnstiles, also known as the Miami Dolphins offensive line. This week they play the team that is 7th in the NFL in sacks given up in the Steelers, they have to keep up that momentum from last game, and translate that into more success this game. Save for David DeCastro, the Steelers line is nearly as bad as Miami’s, and Chandler Jones, Rob Ninkovich and rest of the Patriots pass rushers should be licking their chops. We all know it’s not easy to take down a player like Big Ben, but this could be the big difference maker in this game. The Patriots were able to constantly put Tannehill in bad situations of 3rd and long a few times last week, and they stole all the momentum away from the Fins offense. The Steelers offense is pretty explosive when given the chance with Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders on the flanks, but they won’t be able to do much damage, if the Patriots can keep Ben on his back.
3. Which Receiver Will Step Up Today?
When it comes to the New England Patriots wide receivers, you only get about one consistent, good performance from one of them, per game. Last week saw Aaron Dobson really step up, catching four passes for 60 yards and a touchdown, while the rest of the receivers only put up nine catches for 56 yards. So someone will have to step up and be Brady’s favorite target of the day, and I’m going to go out on a limb and say this is the game that Danny Amendola finally scores a touchdown. It’s been a very frustrating year for Danny, who’s missed a lot of time with groin and concussion issues, and has really struggled to create chemistry with Brady because of this missed time. The first game he caught 10 passes for over 100 yards, but since then, has only played three games, and caught nine passes for just 70 yards. Amendola is just a gut feeling, as anyone of these receivers could step up big time, but it’s so tough to tell which one.
4. The Improved Run Defense
These past few weeks have really shown off the true weakness of this Patriots team: Its rush defense. Chris Ivory ran 30+ times for over 100 yards, Lamar Miller ran for almost 90 yards on only 14 carries. It had become a pandemic, as the Patriots dropped to 31st in the league versus the rush. While a lot of this can be blamed on injuries to Mayo, Wilfork and Kelly, the Patriots decided to stop sitting around, and made a big move to help solve this. The Patriots made the only move of the NFL Trade Deadline, by dealing a fifth round pick to the Philadelphia Eagles for NT Isaac Sopoaga and a sixth round pick. This was a fantastic move, as it brought in a veteran presence, at the weakest position on the team. While both Joe Vellano and Chris Jones had played admirably and actually quite well, they had some major struggles against the run. Combined with the fact that the Steelers are the 30th ranked rushing team in the NFL, this could be the big moral boosting game the Patriots have so desperately waited for. If the Patriots can’t control the Steelers rush game, then I’m not sure who they could stop in the NFL.
The Patriots will have another physical, knock em down, slug it out kind of fight, disguised as a football game. The Steelers season doesn’t look like it has much going for them, but they do play in a fairly wide open AFC North, and will be looking to pray on the Patriots weaknesses. With only one week left till the bye, the Patriots just have to get through this game, and then they have not only a much easier schedule, but also some much needed reinforcements like Shane Vereen and Tommy Kelly. So what do you guys think? What do the Patriots have to do to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers?