This Week – Pittsburgh Steelers (8-3; Against AFC East 0-0)
Here’s a “Happy Black Friday” to all of the Patriots Daily readers. It will also be a “Black Sunday” as the Blade will be host to the Steelers when they come out of the tunnel for the 4:15 PM EST kickoff. Before we get into how the Pats will try to win the game, let’s start this off with some of the things everyone should know about the visitors.
Pittsburgh has the NFL’s Number 1 overall defense. They are also #1 in the following defensive categories – Points Allowed (14.5), Total Yards per Game Allowed (235.4), Passing Yards per Game Allowed (168.8), and Rushing Yards per Game Allowed (66.5). They are 3rd in the NFL in Sacks Recorded (37), 3rd in Rushing TDs allowed (4), 5th in Passing TDs allowed (10) and tied for 7th in Passes Defensed (71). For a team is tied for 12th in scoring offense, this type of defense is not only daunting but down right scary.
Outside of the normal offensive mantra (control the ball, get manageable third downs and no turnovers), how do you score against this team? Would you believe the old cliché – “A best offense is a good defense”? In this game, that’s just what the Pats need to do to win.
The weakest link in the Steelers’ offensive game is actually the man behind center, otherwise known as Madden’s other QB man-love crush. The singular-named Ben (since Old Man John can’t correctly pronounce his last name more than twice a game) has thrown eight interceptions, lost 2 fumbles, sacked 15 times and had an average QB Rating of 49.7. Daunte Culpepper laughs at those stats, which is good because he needs a reason to smile right now.
It doesn’t help Crash the QB that the guys who are supposed to be his backfield are better at getting tackled than running. They’re 25th in the NFL in rushing yards per game (a shade over 100 yds), 24th in yards per rush (3.6) and are tied for 27th in rushes longer than 20 yards (4). I don’t expect these stats to dramatically rise against the Pats; even if Wee Willie Parker makes it back from a hobbled knee.
To have a chance to win against the Steelers, the Pats have to be aggressive with their defense. If there is anything left in Capers tank, he needs to help Pees come up with some crazy blitzing schemes; both run and pass. The Pats need to take away any kind of running game to force the issue with Roethlisberger and his accuracy issues.
By turning the Steelers into a passing team, they can focus on getting to Big Ben often. It’s proven that if Roethlisberger is pressured and forced out of the pocket, he’s too slow to run down the field and he’ll try to force a pass that he shouldn’t.
However, in order to get that pressure, the Pats can’t play a Cover 2 scheme. That means that Meriweather and Sanders need to man up and cover guys like third WR Nate Washington and sometimes, TE Heath Miller. If they can keep those guys in check and force Lumbering Ben to go off book, it will play into the favor of New England.
Even if the Pats can’t get a couple of picks from this generation’s Drew Bledsoe, they can still win the field position battle if they can get the Pittsburgh offense to go three and out. The Steelers rank 29th in the NFL with a 39.6 punting average and a long of 61 yds (tied for 22nd in the league).
If the Pats do find themselves on a short field, they should go strong to the left behind Mankins and Light since starting RDE Keisel and RILB Foote are more than banged up. Yes, Harrison is still over there but that’s a better option than seeing LBs Woodley and Farrior locking down the right side.
Lastly, it would be interesting to see the Pats go four-wide, no-huddle for a good portion of the first half. Not only would it take out some of Pittsburgh’s tough LBs but it can test the back-up DBs against the resurgent Pats WRs. It’s doubtful that there will be the same results as against Miami but seeing the way Cassel is now in sync with the WRs, the chances that the Pats can nickel-and-dime (pun intended) their way up the field.
Even the most casual observer knows that this game will not be an easy one but if the Pats can shake up the QB and play the majority of the game on the Steelers side of the field, the Pats could get their playoff hopes on more stable footing.
Next week, the Pats head out west to take on the other team from the Extra Large Super Bowl, the now 2-10 Seahawks. Can the Pats take care of business against the NFC West cellar dwellers? Will Deion Branch try to sneak back on the Pats plane back home? Come back in seven to get your first look on the Pats’ next game plan.
Britt Schramm’s ‘Line Em Up’ appears weekly on Patriots Daily. He can be reached at email@example.com
As a wise friend of mine said, " Whenever a team with a great offense and a suspect defense plays a team with a great defense and suspect offense the defensive team wins." This is going to be a tough one for the Patriots.
I don't know what all this hand wringing is about. But, to me, if the Pats are a playoff team and a potential division winner this should not be that tough a game. Basically the Steelers' O line stinks. Big Ben has been harassed tons more than the sacks would indicate. And he has only 2 go-to guys and that is Ward and Miller. And neither of them should be that tough to defend. I think if can score 20 pts. with at most 1 turnover we win.
Bruce, I'm hoping against hope that you are wrong but I have a sinking suspicion that you are right. There are many more examples of a great defense carrying a suspect offense (the 2000 Baltimore Ravens, for instance) than the other way around (Hello, 2008 Denver Broncos).
bobd, the whole crux of your argument is that the Pats are a playoff team and a potential division winner, which as of this point, they are not. One way to prove that they are both is to beat a quality playoff team. Like I said above, I hope for the win but I'm not betting my dog's life on it.
Britt, the crux of my argument is what I have seen of the Pats the last 4 weeks. And what I've seen of the Steelers makes me think they are highly overrated.
I thought last week's game vs. Miami in Miami was a tougher match up. And it was very tough till the Pats kicked it in gear. On my personal power chart I have the Pats ranked 2nd in the AFC, very close to the Titans. And if the playoffs were this Sunday the Pats could easily beat the Titans in Tenn. There is no team in the AFC that I fear. And I would love to see a rematch of the Giants and Patriots.
I like your thinking Bob – I hope you're right! There's nothing I want more.
Bob, I wish that I was as optimistic as you, my friend.
Well, Britt and Bruce, I was just going over my charts for the AFC and NFC to see who has made the biggest improvements since week 1. (I like to update only once a month). And it's very interesting. In the AFC only the Pats and Jets have moved up and both significantly. A lesser move up has been made by Indy. In the NFC the only team making significant improvement has been Atlanta. I think it's important to see who is getting better and who is slip sliding away because then I think you can see how the playoffs are going to shake out. It's going to be fun to see how these 4 teams do in Dec. So far Las Vegas hasn't caught up with Atlanta.
I heard that in the nickel formation the Pats will be bringing in an old lady driving a Chrysler as the 5th DB.
I am not sure if this is the same old lady driving a Chrysler that coaches the Colts