By: Russ Goldman
The Patriots (5-1) are coming off of their bye week, and now are back in action today to face the the Pittsburgh Steelers (5-2) on the road at Heinz Field. 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 today on WBZ-TV Channel 4 at 4:15 PM EST. You can also listen to the game on 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston.
GAME NOTES: The Steelers are coming off of a 32-20 road victory against the Arizona Cardinals. They have been playing much better after a tough start to the season. Pittsburgh as always will be a very tough opponent for the Patriots.
On defense, they are in the top 10 in most categories in the NFL. In passing yards they are only giving up 171.9 yards per game which is 2nd in the league. They are also only giving up 17.4 points per game which has them currently 3rd in the NFL.
On the defensive line they are led by nose tackle Casey Hampton who could give Patriots Center Dan Connolly problems. Aaron Smith at defensive end is another player on this unit that the Patriots need to watch.
The strength of this 3-4 zone blitz defense are the linebackers. Lawrence Timmons and James Farrior control the middle, and are both top linebackers. The player to watch out for has to be LaMarr Woodley, and he is a force from his outside linebacker position. He already has 7 sacks, and also has 34 tackles with 1 interception.
If there is a weakness of this defense it would be in there secondary. However, the safeties are really very good with Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark. Where this unit can be taken advantage will be their cornerbacks as they are average with Ike Taylor and Bryant McFadden.
On offense, the leader of this unit is quarterback Ben Roethlisberger who is back to playing at an All-Pro level once again. He already has thrown for 1810 yards with 12 touchdowns.
This unit is now more focused on the passing game than running the ball now. The difference this season has been the emergence of wide receiver Mike Wallace who has become a real deep threat. Wallace already has 36 receptions for 730 yards and 5 touchdowns. At the other wide receiver position you have Hines Ward who continues to be extremely productive. A player in the passing game, the Patriots will need to control will be tight end Heath Miller who seriously moves the chains for the Steelers.
In the running game they are led by Rashard Mendenhall who is a solid running back. The Steelers will still run the ball, and the Patriots will need to limit Mendenhall in this game.
It is strange to say this with the Steelers, but this game has the potential to be a shootout. I do see the Steelers taking advantage of the Patriots secondary, but I like Tom Brady’s chances in being able to take advantage of the Pittsburgh defense. I do see the Patriots coming out of Pittsburgh with a victory, but it will be a serious challenge.
Here are my “five keys” which I believe could play a role in a potential victory for the Pats.
1. The Patriots need to put pressure on Ben Roethlisberger. In the game last season, the Patriots blitzed and harrassed the Steelers quarterback often. I feel they are going to need a similar effort from the defense. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Brandon Spikes and possibly Patrick Chung come on several blitzes in this game.
Also, I think it will be important to get pressure up the middle to affect Roethlisberger from stepping up in the pocket. Vince Wilfork and Albert Haynesworth could be very important in this game. The Patriots secondary is suspect, and a pass rush will be needed to help them out.
2. The Patriots need to contain tight end Heath Miller. I have heard much talk in the media that the player the Patriots need to take away first is Wallace. I disagree as I see the bigger threat being Miller. He moves the chains for the Steelers, and on third down is Roethlisberger’s go to reciever.
3. The Patriots offensive line needs to do a much better job in protecting Tom Brady. Now, the offensive line was great in the beginning of the season, but in the last 2 games Brady was hit often and sacked. For the Patriots to win they will need to do a much better job against the Steelers.
4. The Patriots need to take shots down the field in the passing game. To open up the passing lanes in the middle of the field, I expect the Patriots to throw deep more than a few times. The Steelers in the past have been vulnerable over the top, and this might be the game to air it out. We might see an appearance from Chad Ochocinco.
5. The Patriots tight ends need to make a huge impact in this game. I don’t know if the Steelers have answers for Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. If the Steelers are forced to play in their sub-packages the majority of the game they could be in trouble. I can see the tight ends feasting in the middle of the field. This match-up definitely favors the Patriots, and should be a huge key in this game.
The Patriots have had 2 weeks to prepare for this game, and are tough to beat after their bye week under Bill Belichick. I expect a close game as the Steelers are one of the best teams in the league. However, I envision the Patriots finding a way to win in the 4th quarter similar to their last game against the Cowboys. I am predicting a 31-28 victory for the Patriots against the Steelers.
What are your predictions? Feel free to post them in the comments section below.