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Week 10 at Steelers pre-game analysis, keys, opinions
I thought I would try to put together some game previews, thoughts, opinions, keys to the game and other pre-game analysis in one place. Please feel free to go ahead and add your own thoughts, stats, columns, or anything else about the game at Pittsburgh here.
For starters, here's the latest on Pittsburgh's injuries:
Steelers defensive end Brett Keisel (hamstring), guard Chris Kemoeatu, tight end Heath Miller (knee), kicker Jeff Reed (illness), safety Will Allen (illness) and defensive end Aaron Smith (triceps) didn't practice Thursday. Keisel returned to action briefly against the Bengals on Monday after missing two games. If he doesn't practice today, he's unlikely to play Sunday night against the Patriots, along with Kemoeatu and Miller. Smith, who has missed the past two games, isn't ready to return.
The good news for the Steelers' battered offensive line: an MRI confirmed that knee and ankle injuries suffered by Chris Kemoeatu on the same play last Monday night are not serious.
The bad news for Kemoeatu and the Steelers is that the starting left guard is questionable at best to play Sunday night against the visiting Patriots.
Kemoeatu, who sprained both his knee and ankle when teammate Trai Essex fell on his lower right leg, said he will not try to practice until Friday. If Kemoeatu is not able to go, then he almost will certainly miss Sunday night's game.
"I'm not feeling too good," Kemoeatu said. "It's nothing major. I think it just needs a little rest."
Kemoeatu re-injured the same knee he hurt earlier this season in the Steelers' 27-21 win over the Bengals. If he is unable to play Sunday night, Ramon Foster likely will start in his place.
"I'm just happy it's not as bad as it felt and the MRI looked pretty good on it," Kemoeatu said, "so if it's not ready, we'll take this week and get it right and hopefully come back next week."
Steelers offensive tackle Max Starks was lost for the season today when the team placed him on the Reserve/Injured List due to a neck injury suffered in Monday night’s game against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Starks, a seven-year veteran, will require surgery and the team expects him to make a full recovery in time for the 2011 season.
The Steelers replaced Starks on their roster by activating rookie offensive tackle Chris Scott from the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) List. Scott (6-4, 319) was selected by the Steelers with the team’s first pick in the fifth round (151st overall) out of Tennessee in last April’s NFL Draft. Scott missed all of training camp and the first eight games of the regular season after he injured his foot while working out last summer.
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A: " They avoid turning the ball over and if they come out with an aggressive offensive game-plan. Play-caller Bill O’Brien would be wise to pick up the tempo on offense by utilizing the no-huddle, which Tom Brady has been successful with this season.
"It would also be helpful for the Patriots’ defense to force some turnovers of their own, or at least not let Ben Roethlisberger convert over 50 percent of his third-down chances."
The key for them here will be containing Pittsburgh's running game in general and Rashard Mendenhall in particular, then forcing Ben Roethlisberger -- who improves each week -- to carry the offense. I know, the Patriots' pass defense is nothing special, but it's coming around. Besides, another dose of Peyton Hillis-caliber numbers against these guys, and the pass won't matter. The Pats are cooked.
They couldn't beat Cleveland because they couldn't get Hillis and the Browns' offense off the field -- which meant they couldn't get Brady on the field. If you can neutralize Pittsburgh's edge pass rushers and limit the pressure the Steelers put on the quarterback, you can beat their secondary. But tell me who does that.
The Patriots' offensive line better, that's who. Brady can win this game -- heck, he's 5-1 against the Steelers -- but he must have sustained drives and must operate without Pittsburgh's pass rushers in his grill. The Steelers are allowing the fewest points in the NFL and should stonewall the Patriots' rushing game. But Brady? Stay tuned.
The Steelers enter the game allowing just 2.64 YPA on the ground. It's not only the stingiest run defense of 2010, but also puts Pittsburgh on pace to field the greatest run defense of the Super Bowl Era. The existing record is held by the famed 2000 Ravens (2.69 YPA). The New England offense responds with a ground game that's merely ordinary: their average of 4.12 YPA ranks 15th in the NFL. So the evidence here tells us the Patriots will have trouble establishing a run game.
However, New England's offensive line is among the very best in football at protecting the passer. It surrenders a Negative Pass Play (sack or INT) on just 6.52 percent of drop backs (fifth). The Steelers are not as dominant rushing the passer as they have been in past years. They force a Negative Pass Play on 10.15 percent of drop backs (ninth). It's good, but not great.
Given the expected inability to run the ball, the Patriots need to be in peak form protecting quarterback Tom Brady to have success moving the ball against the league's stingiest defense.
Sure, James Harrison and the Steelers' aggressive quartet of linebackers (Lamarr Woodley, Lawrence Timmons, and the ageless James Farrior) are ferocious in pursuit of the quarterback -- the foursome has 16.5 sacks, 3.5 more than the Patriots have as a team.
But something interesting happens when they don't get to the QB -- the pass defense is often exposed. The Steelers rank 24th in the NFL in pass defense at 240 yards allowed per game. It is imperative that the Patriots' line gives Tom Brady enough to time to find the open receivers against so-so cornerbacks Bryant McFadden and Ike Taylor.
Jeff Howe brings up a lot of other really good points in the column below; this is the best preview I have seen on this game:
Pittsburgh's offensive identity is defined by its ability to run the football and control the game, and third-year running back Rashard Mendenhall has started to develop as one of the league's premier feature backs, a role of which is a dying breed in today's NFL. Mendenhall is fast, elusive, breaks tackles and catches passes, which essentially means he's the complete package.
But the Steelers will remove him from the field on passing downs in favor of Mewelde Moore, who is one of the better third-down backs in the league. Moore, though, is trying to overcome a concussion, and his status is uncertain for the weekend. If Moore can't play, the Patriots might try to test Mendenhall's blitz pickup ability. The Steelers are already weak, having lost both starting tackles -- Willie Colon and Max Starks -- to injury, so the belief is they should be susceptible on the edge. If the Patriots are going to be successful on defense, they absolutely have to take advantage of Pittsburgh's beatable offensive line.
Sometimes, though, the Steelers go away from Mendenhall for curiously long stretches -- similar to the Vikings' strange obsession with forgetting about Adrian Peterson for two or three series at a time -- so if the Patriots sense the Steelers are becoming one-dimensional, that will obviously work in their favor.
2. With the injuries and moving parts at the two tackle spots, is there some concern with the Steelers' offensive line?
BTSC: Yes, there's a huge concern about the state of the offensive line. I don't have the reserach handy, but I don't imagine there's been too many teams in NFL history to make it to the Super Bowl without the services of their top two tackles to start the year. Jonathan Scott, a free agent who arrived in Pittsburgh from Buffalo along with offensive line coach Sean Kugler, will likely start in Starks' absence. One possibility that has been discussed by the fans at least is moving Flozell Adams back to his natural left tackle position. If Adams could anchor that critical spot on the line, the Steelers could then tinker with their multitude of options at right tackle - Jonathan Scott, Tony Hills, rookie Chris Scott, or even Ramon Foster. But the short answer is, yes, there is lots of concern about the line. The one silver lining is that Kugler is experienced dealing with these types of situations, having underwent a similar decimation to his line last season in Buffalo.
Hines Ward – you got it, as physical a wide receiver as there is in the game – has been more of a force since Roethlisberger’s return (12 receptions for 165 yards and one touchdown the first four games; 18 for 210 yards and three TDs in the last four). Ward has extended his streak of consecutive games with a catch to 186, third longest in league history.
Speed burner Mike Wallace (nine receptions for 211 yards and two touchdowns the first four games; 13 catches for 296 yards and three TDs the last four) has had more of an impact as well.
As times, Roethlisberger has the ability to extend a pass play by merely standing his ground when a small quarterback may have gone down.
That ability can become even more of an asset behind a line that is as banged up as the Steelers’ is. At various points during last Monday night’s 27-21 win in Cincinnati, the Steelers, who had only dressed seven offensive linemen for the game, lost center Maurkice Pouncey (ankle), left guard Chris Kemoeatu (knee/ankle) and left tackle Max Starks (neck). Kemoeatu hasn’t participated in practice with the team this week, while Starks was placed on the injured reserve list on Wednesday.
Through it all, though, while Dixon and Batch were sacked a combined nine times in 81 passing attempts, Roethlisberger’s gone down seven times in 109 attempts and just once behind a patchwork offensive line in Cincy.
“He’s a strong quarterback,” said Banta-Cain. “He’s fighting to get the ball off even as he’s getting sacked. He’s trying to complete a pass. So he’s a guy that you’ve really got to get him down and not let him break loose and make a play.”
What the Patriots respect more than anything is Roethlisberger’s ability to keep plays alive.
At 6-foot-5 and 241 pounds, Roethlisberger is a load to bring down. And while he isn’t quick on his feet, he is nimble enough to fend off pressure by moving outside the pocket.
However, Roethlisberger typically doesn’t look to scramble in those situations. Instead, he attempts to buy precious seconds while his receivers work to free themselves.
“He can create,” Patriot linebacker Tully Banta-Cain said. “And he’s got a big arm, so when the receivers get open he can find them.”
So the defense’s objective is to make Roethlisberger uncomfortable in the pocket without letting him wander away and then, ideally, to bring him down. Although he’s been sacked seven times, that strategy is easier said than executed.
Because Roethlisberger is so strong, he’s often able to fend off a defender. That’s led to grumbling that officials ignore the “in the grasp” rule when it comes to Big Ben.
“He can stand in there,” coach Bill Belichick admitted. “You see a lot of plays where he throws the ball with guys hanging on him, hanging on his jersey and his leg and around his waist and everything else (and) he can still rear back there and throw it. So what’s in the grasp and what isn’t, that’s the officials’ call.
“Our job is to try and get him down and that’s a tough job. He’s good and he’s strong in there.”
Pulling off an upset of the Steelers on Sunday night at Heinz Field won’t be easy for the Patriots. The team will have to accomplish a lot of things: playing physical football, keeping Ben Roethlisberger in the pocket, containing running back Rashard Mendenhall and avoiding mistakes.
“The underlying tone of the whole thing is playing a physical game,” Patriots offensive lineman Matt Light said. “You have to play physical against these guys. You have to match their intensity. You have to finish every play. I think if you can do that and stay out of all of the situations you want to avoid when you’re playing on the road, which is long yardage, mental errors, penalties and all that stuff then you will do all right. If you do a combination of any of those things, then it’s going to be a long day.”
At 6-foot-5 and 241-pounds, Roethlisberger is a big quarterback who is tough to bring down. He has the ability to keep plays alive by breaking tackles and getting outside the pocket, which means that New England’s defensive backs will have to stay in coverage longer if that happens. If the Patriots can prevent him from getting outside the pocket and extending the play, it will make the job of their secondary that much easier.
The reason the Patriots are tied for the fifth-best third-down percentage (44-percent success rate) on offense is because they’ve typically been able to gain yards on first and second down, which has set them up in third-and-short situations. Their third-down percentage has dropped in recent weeks, but if they can be successful moving the ball on first and second down, it will give them a better shot at converting on third down against a tough Pittsburgh defense.
In addition, the Patriots are at their best when they’re forcing turnovers and taking care of the football. In their six wins, the Patriots have a plus-10 turnover ratio, meaning that they forced a combined 10 more turnovers in those games than they gave up. In their two losses, the Patriots are minus five.
So the plan is all laid out for the Patriots.
As Patriots coach Bill Belichick likes to say, it’s all going to come down to execution.
Taylor said running backs that are successful against the Steelers don’t dance around before hitting the hole. “With Pittsburgh, you have to be patient,” he said. “Each run can’t be a home run. [Against] certain teams you have to alter your running style and know when to take your shot. You have to be extremely patient with those guys. You have to run physical, downhill, one cut. We’ve always been taught against the Steelers just that one cut — stick your foot in the ground, get three, get four, get three yards. Try to stay away from the negative.
Sunday against the Patriots will be the fourth starting line combination in nine games and will include new starting left tackle Jonathan Scott, who started eight games in Buffalo last season.
Max Starks was placed on injured reserve and will have surgery to repair a herniated disc near his neck. Rookie Chris Scott was activated off the physically unable-to-perform list on the last day the Steelers had to do so. Also, Chris Kemoeatu has a sprained MCL and a sprained ankle, did not practice Wednesday and might not play against New England.
Casey Hampton has remained in the game more often when the Steelers switch from their base 3-4 defense to their nickel or dime packages when one lineman comes off the field. In the past, Hampton almost always came off for an extra defensive back while the two ends remained. Recently, one of the ends leaves and Hampton stays. It happened often Monday night in Cincinnati, when the Steelers played more nickel/dime than they have all season. "We're not going to let people dictate to us when Casey plays," Tomlin said. "At times you get the feeling that people put three wideouts on the field to get him off the field, and that's not necessarily going to be the case moving forward."
... All three players who left Monday's game with concussions were back on the practice field after passing tests -- running backs Isaac Redman and Mewelde Moore and safety Will Allen. Defensive end Brett Keisel (hamstring) and tight end Heath Miller (knee) did not practice.
Brady is very good at throwing the long ball, especially to his left, but will most likely stick to underneath passes in this game. The Steelers excel at forcing turnovers, and Brady will have to avoid miscues for the Patriots to win.
Polamalau is a team leader in the locker room and on the field. He has very good speed and burst and is consistently around the ball. He lines up all over the field pre-snap, but can't get caught out of position against the clever Brady.
Polamalu is effective in the short zone and is great at breaking on the ball and delivering hits. He's impressive in the box, and is a good tackler. Those talents will be challenged by the Patriots, however, who love to attack on short and intermediate routes with slot receiver Wes Welker and tight ends Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski.
Polamalu has impressive ball skills and can make some great interceptions. If he can force Brady into some turnovers, the Steelers will have a great chance to win.
Bonus matchup: Steelers wide receiver Mike Wallace vs. Patriots cornerback Devin McCourty
The Steelers are 9-0 when Wallace has a touchdown, but McCourty has played well in recent weeks with two interceptions.
Re: Week 10 at Steelers pre-game analysis, keys, opinions
Spread, but with 2 TEs and sub-runs with Woodhead. That's where it's at. Gotta find a way to get all 3 TEs on the field at times though - not enough Crump last week, guy is a devastating blocker at times.
Last edited by BradyManny; 11-12-2010 at 02:17 PM..