By: Russ Goldman
After losing to the Browns 34-14 in Cleveland, the Patriots are on the road again to play the Pittsburgh Steelers. Before each Patriots game this season, as always here’s a preview with my five keys to the game that I hope will lead to a Patriots victory.
WHERE TO WATCH: The game will be shown live on NBC Sunday Night at 8:20 PM PM EST. You can also listen to the game on 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston.
GAME NOTES: The Steelers are coming off a 27-21 victory against the Bengals. They’re currently 6-2, and possibly one of the best teams in the league. With the Steelers you know what to expect. They are very tough on defense, and offense they will run the ball and also have a potent passing game led by quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
On defense, the Steelers are ranked #1 in the NFL, giving up only 15.4 points per game. They have playmakers on all three levels of this unit. On the defensive line they have nose tackle Casey Hampton, who happens to be one of the best at his position in the NFL. All four linebackers are impact players . Outside Linebacker James Harrison already has 7 sacks, and on the other side LaMarr Woodley has 5.5 sacks this season. The secondary is led by safety Troy Polamalu who is a heavy hitter, and a difference maker for this secondary. This defense knows how to get after the quarterback, and also create turnovers. Tom Brady should have his hands full with this unit.
On offense, the Steelers running game is led by Rashard Mendenhall. He has already ran for 702 yards with a 4.2 yards per carry average. In the passing game this unit starts with Roethlisberger. They’ve got some good wide receivers in Mike Wallace and Hines Ward. They also have a tremendous tight end in Heath Miller.
The Steelers are a very good team. However, I actually believe the Patriots have an excellent chance at a victory on Sunday. I think the Steelers are a predictable team, and I feel New England can take advantage of their style of play in this match-up.
Here are my “five keys” which I believe could play a role in a potential victory for the Pats.
1. The Patriots need to win the turnover battle. The Steelers are fantastic at creating turnovers and have a +9 turnover ratio. New England is close with a +5 turnover ratio, but for the Pats to win they cannot afford to give the ball back to the Steelers. The Patriots had two crucial turnovers in the Browns game which obviously had a huge effect on the end result – and that can’t happen this week.
Patrick Chung’s return Sunday night should give New England’s defense quite a boost. (PHOTO:Icon/SMI)
2. Patrick Chung needs to make an impact in stopping the run. Chung has been out the last 2 games, and I feel the Patriots suffered defensively without his presence. His ability to come up, and stop the run I think could make a huge difference against the Steelers. He is listed as questionable, but I would be shocked to see him not play. The Patriots need him against the Steelers, and I think his return will be a key factor in improving some of the problems we saw defensively last week.
3. The Patriots need to keep Roethlisberger in the pocket. I feel this is a major key to this game. Roethlisberger is very dangerous when he gets outside of the pocket, and he’s someone who does a good job of making plays when he is on the run. If the Pats can keep him in the pocket, it could hopefully lead to a turnover. I say make Roethlisberger slowly work down the field, and I will take my chances with the ‘bend don’t break defense” of the Patriots.
4. The Patriots need to go to a spread formation on offense along with a no huddle. The Patriots in past seasons have been very successful with these offensive philosophies against the Steelers. If Brady can control the tempo, and take advantage of an aggressive defense, the Pats could have a very good day offensively. I feel a spread formation with Brady in the shotgun gives them the best chance to win. I wouldn’t bother in trying to run unless they have some success early on.
5. Shayne Graham needs to have strong kick-offs . I am not concerned with field goals. Graham actually has a better field goal percentage for his career than Stephen Gostkowski. The issue will be in kick-offs. Graham in general has never been a kicker that has had a tremendous amount of touch-backs. His kick-offs could be huge in helping or hurting the Patriots defense with starting field position.
I actually feel pretty confident about this game for the Patriots. I wouldn’t be shocked to see Brady go up top a few times against the Steelers secondary. I also think the Patriots can contain Roethlisberger, and the Steelers offense. In the end, I see the the Patriots bouncing back with a 31-21 victory against the Steelers.
What are your predictions? Feel free to post them in the comments section below.