By: Derek Havens
The New England Patriots host the Pittsburgh Steelers in a week nine showdown.
It hasn’t been easy or pretty, but New England moved to a 6-2 record on the year after a 27-17 victory last week. Looking back on the Patriots first eight games this year, only a few plays separate this team from possibly a 4-4 record or even 8-0. Health and consistency have been the biggest problems, but the Pats look to go into the bye week on a high note.
On the flip side, the Pittsburgh Steelers have had a lot of problems of their own this season. They can’t run the ball or pass protect consistently and the defense looks like a shell of itself. The Steelers lost last week to the Raiders in Oakland 21-18. Pittsburgh has not played the Patriots at Gillette Stadium since Nov. 30, 2008, when they defeated New England 33-10.
Here’s a look at how both teams can come away with a victory Sunday. —
How the Steelers win:
Eliminate Turnovers: The Steelers are 29th in the NFL in turnover margin. Through seven games, the team is -9, which means they have turned the ball over nine times more than they have forced. Pittsburgh has fumbled the ball seven times and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has thrown seven interceptions.
On the flip side, the Patriots are fifth in the league, with a margin of + 7. New England is one of the NFL’s best at capitalizing on opponent mistakes. If the Steelers want to get the victory, protecting the football and not giving the Pats extra opportunities is key.
Blitz Often: The Steelers have a lot of talent in the front seven, although the defense has underperformed this season. Amazingly, Pittsburgh only has ten sacks on the season, 31st in the league. The Pats have struggled to protect Tom Brady this season, so the Steelers would be wise to bring some extra pressure. Blitzing and challenging New England with pressure up the middle, where the team has been most vulnerable, could disrupt the Pats offense.
Test New England Deep: The Steelers should take shots downfield. Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders are both good outside threats. With the Pats defense suffering key injuries, the defense has not been as solid as it was to start the season. If Roethlisberger is given enough time, he should be able to take shots down the field.
How the Patriots win:
Start Fast: While the Steelers are not the same team as years past, they don’t shy away from a dogfight. This is a tough spot for Pittsburgh, as they must face the Patriots in New England after traveling across the country to take on the Raiders in Oakland last week. A fast start for the Patriots could give the team a full head of steam and the jump-start the offense needs to get into a rhythm.
Feed Ridley: When you look at the Patriots offense through the course of this season, the team has been more successful when they have been balanced on offense. Getting running back Stevan Ridley the ball keeps the Steelers on their heels, while also taking pressure off Brady and the offensive line. Pittsburgh has allowed an average of 122.5 yards-per-game on the ground, 27th in the NFL. The opportunities will be there.
Be Relentless: Roethlisberger is the toughest quarterback to sack in the league. He has an incredible ability to extend plays and shake off would-be tacklers to make plays downfield. The secondary will have to try and cover players downfield longer this week and Pats rushers have to stay relentless with their pursuit. The Steelers offensive line is a mess and the Patriots should be able to get some pressure throughout the contest. If New England wins up front defensively, they should come away with an easy victory.
Prediction: Patriots 30, Steelers 16.
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