By: Ian Logue/PatsFans.com
October 26, 2004

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FOXBORO, MA -- The past two weeks were both considered to be big tests for the defending champion New England Patriots, but they could have their hands full this week as they get set to travel to Pittsburgh to take on the Steelers.

Despite a loss in week two against the Baltimore Ravens, the Steelers are similar to New England. Like the Patriots they're not blowing out their opponents. During their five wins this season they haven't won a game by a margin greater than 11 points.

Needless to say they're not exactly making a lot of noise and putting up big numbers on the scoreboard. The reason they're 5-1 is simple, they're executing and doing enough to win.

Critics may also say that the Steelers haven't beaten anyone just yet. Their one loss came against the Ravens who are the only team they've played so far with a winning record, while their five victories have come against teams with a combined 14-25 record. They have rookie quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (this kid even has his own website BR-7.com) who has the second best QB rating in the AFC, and former Philadelphia running back Duce Staley who is tied for 6th in the conference in rushing.

Either way the Steelers have a balanced attack and will likely present some problems for the Patriots. Head coach Bill Belichick will now have to spend this week trying to get his team ready for what will likely be another tough challenge this Sunday.

"I have seen quite a bit of him, all there is to see," Belichick said of Roethlisberger. "I saw him coming out of college a little bit."

"He has a strong arm. He reads coverages well. People have tried to give him some different looks, blitzing them, changing up on them and all of that, and he does a pretty good job of sorting that out. He doesn't have very many turnovers and has a lot of big plays and a lot of wins."

Meanwhile wide receiver Hines Ward remains a productive target for the Steelers, ranking 3rd in the AFC in receiving yards and catches (43 grabs, 531 yards), while Plaxico Burress is second on the team with 18 catches for 356 yards. Both players each have two touchdowns on the season, and are two guys Belichick feels are the reason why Pittsburgh has been so successful inside the red zone this year. The Steelers have scored 14 touchdowns in 17 trips inside their opponents 20-yard line, and although the Patriots have been successful in stopping their opponents with a short field so far this season, this Pittsburgh team will be their biggest test of the year.

"The red area is a big emphasis for us every week," said Belichick. "The Steelers are good at it because they can run the ball, number one. Number two, they have big receivers that can go up and get the ball."

"They have good balance down there, and it is tough to stop them."

While there has been a moderate player turnover since New England last went into Heinz Field when they won the AFC Championship three seasons ago, there are still some players stinging from that loss and feel the better team didn't win that day. Not to mention the fact that the fans likely haven't forgotten about it either and will certainly be loud. The Patriots have yet to go into a truly hostile environment and play a tough team, but they'll have to deal with one on Sunday.

To make matters worse they'll likely be without another significant player in Dan Klecko who left Sunday's game with what appeared to be an injury to his right knee. The team has already been without wide receivers Troy Brown and Deion Branch who have missed the last two weeks due to injuries, and they were without fullback Patrick Pass and cornerback Tyrone Poole last Sunday against the Jets. Brown reportedly practiced last Friday and could be the one most likely to make his way back onto the field on Sunday, and although his team has been able to overcome all the injuries so far this season one has to wonder just how many more hits the Patriots can take before it all finally catches up with them.

In the meantime sitting at 6-0 Belichick's team remains focused on the task at hand, and that's winning this week.

"I think our team acknowledges it and I think we are proud of the fact we are 6-0 this year," quarterback Tom Brady told the Metrowest Daily News. "But I think you also realize that it is so tough to win each week. We just don't take anything for granted, and I think that has shown that can be pretty successful for us."

"Coach Belichick, I think his whole philosophy is 'What are you going to do for me this week?' Not what you do for me last week, or what are you going to do for me next year, or what did you do for me last year? I think that is how he addresses the team that is how he watches us at practice. That is what it is all about for us."


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