logoThis 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 britt@patriotsdaily.com