Tag Archives: JuJu Smith-Schuster

Patriots Week 15 Report Card, Mistakes Galore In Another Ugly Loss

Steve Balestrieri
December 18, 2018 at 6:35 am ET

The Patriots road woes continued once again and the team finished the regular season on the road at a dreadful 3-5, losing their last two in particularly ugly fashion. This week’s loss against the Steelers was a continuation of that. Terrible mental mistakes, unforced errors, drops, penalties. Poor offensive line play when it counted and absolutely awful run defense.

We’ve been waiting for this team to get its act together and show who they are. It is becoming increasingly (and frustratingly) clear that this IS who they are in 2018. An inconsistent, and undisciplined group on the road. At home, this team can beat anyone. On the road, they can lose to anyone.

So, check out our grades and see how the team fared in this week’s close win.

Quarterback: B-

Tom Brady, in the grand scheme of things actually didn’t play very badly. He finished 25-36 for 279 yards with 1 TD and 1 INT. Drive killing drops by Julian Edelman and Josh Gordon on third down. Another by James White was behind him where it wasn’t a great throw by Brady but it is one White has made in the past. The interception was a pass he was trying to throw away but the pressure on him caused him to float it.

Penalties were absolute killers. On a first and goal from the 5-yard line, Sony Michel ran to the 2, but a holding call pushed them back to the 15-yard line. On a 2nd and 5 from the Pittsburgh 11-yard line on their final drive, another holding penalty on Shaq Mason pushed them back to the 21. Two passes in the end zone Gronkowski and one to Edelman sealed it.

Brady wasn’t getting his usual support on Sunday that much is for sure. But to score 10 points on a Pittsburgh defense that he’s routinely shredded for 18 years? That isn’t going to get it done.

Running Backs: C+

The Patriots running backs were ineffective running in the first half, they got it going for a short while early in the second half but being down caused them to ditch the running game and concentrate on the pass. Sony Michel (13 rushes, 59 yards, 4.5 avg), Rex Burkhead (4 rushes 25 yards, 6.3 avg.) and James White (2 carries, 12 yards) totaled up 96 yards on 19 carries, a 5.1-yard average, wasn’t bad. But they couldn’t sustain anything and of course, the holding and false start penalties were killers.

White wasn’t used much in the passing game with five catches for just 25 yards and it seemed like they went away from him late in the game. Burkhead had three catches for 18 yards and James Develin had two for 18.

Wide Receivers: D

Not a great day for the wide receivers, on the surface it appeared Julian Edelman had a really big day with seven catches for 90 yards but he had a key drop and then picked up two costly penalties. And he was at the head of the class. Chris Hogan had the huge 63-yard TD on their first possession. But then he had just one more catch for five yards the rest of the game.

Cordarrelle Patterson had three catches for 20 yards but it was the one yard that was taken away that hurt. On a third down, Patterson was stopped about four yards short of the sticks but on the second effort bulled his way to pick it up. But the play was reviewed and they moved his forward progress back to a 4th and 1 and the Patriots punted.

Josh Gordon had his worst game as a Patriot on Sunday. He had just one catch for 19 yards and he too had a very costly drop on 3rd down that was right in his hands and that killed a drive. It was the first time he’s struggled since signing with New England and came at a bad time. He was targeted just those two times and wasn’t even on the field for the final series inside the Steelers’ red zone.

Tight Ends: D-

Rob Gronkowski went from one of his better games of the season to invisible again in the passing game. The Steelers couldn’t cover Jared Cook a week ago and then Gronkowski could manage only one catch in each half. He ended up with 2 for 21 yards….nuff said.

Offensive Line: D-

The offensive line did reasonably well in spurts in the running game and they averaged 5.1 yards per rush. But they couldn’t sustain anything and in the passing game at crunch time, they folded under Pittsburgh’s pressure.

The offensive line was called for six penalties. Two of the holding calls wiped out red zone scoring opportunities. Another holding call wiped out a 25-yard run by Michel, which has happened far too often this year. Michel should have about 1100 yards rushing.

Like the defensive line, the Patriots OL gets pushed around on the road and yesterday it really cost them.

Defensive Line: F

The defensive line got decent but not great pressure on Ben Roethlisberger and notched 5 QB hits with Trey Flowers and Lawrence Guy each with two apiece…that is the good news. The bad news is that they were totally gashed by the run again.

Jaylen Samuels had just 59 yards rushing for the year before Sunday’s game. He ripped the Patriots for 142 on Sunday afternoon on just 19 carries (7.5-yard average), part of the Steelers’ 158 yards on the ground. The defensive line was manhandled at the point of attack and it has been a common occurrence in every Patriots loss this season that the DL has been dominated in the trenches.

We gave them the benefit of the doubt against the Vikings as they went to very light packages to get after the QB and stop them from passing. But Miami and Pittsburgh were two of the worst running teams in the NFL and they have combined for 347 yards rushing the past two weeks. That is a recipe for losing.  

Linebackers: C

The Patriots linebackers can share in the gaffes in run support with the defensive line. They too in run support frequently got washed out. On one play Dont’a Hightower flew up into the line and filled the wrong gap and Samuels shot into the unoccupied space for a big gain.

Kyle Van Noy got a sack when he perfectly anticipated the snap and blew thru the Steelers OL and got Roethlisberger in a bear hug and wouldn’t let go. But the linebackers actually did a really good job in coverage. We were worried about Samuels more in the passing game coming into this one and he wasn’t a big factor in the passing game. In some good news, the linebackers did a good job of securing the middle of the field.

Secondary: A-

The secondary had a rough start to the game. The Steelers began the game by spreading the Patriots defense out and they had great success with it and went down the field with ease on their first drive. On that TD pass, one of two by Roethlisberger, Vance McDonald beat Pat Chung easily for a 5-yard score. Antonio Brown later beat Jason McCourty badly for a 17-yard score. But the secondary did their job and well.

Despite gashing the Patriots in the running game, the Steelers insisted on trying to throw it down the field and Roethlisberger had only 235 yards on the day. He had two TDs and two INTs, both by Duron Harmon. Jonathan Jones was the victim of what we thought was a horrible 26-yard pass interference penalty.

Stephon Gilmore and rookie J.C. Jackson were both outstanding on the perimeter. They held Antonio Brown (4 catches, 49 yards on 7 targets) and JuJu Smith-Schuster (4 catches, 40 yards on 10 targets) in check. Harmon had the two interceptions and the Patriots defense at the end of the day held Pittsburgh to just 17 points.

Special Teams: A-

The Special Teams had the Pats best play of the day. Ryan Allen punted for the far left corner of the end zone. The ball bounced and appeared to be rolling toward the Steelers’ end zone. Jonathan Jones dove and popped the ball straight up. The Rex Burkhead dove into the end zone and knocked the ball out of the air to be downed at the Steelers’ one-yard line. It was a fantastic effort all around.

Allen was excellent all game with his directional punting but got flagged on a false start… as a holder for a field goal. I can honestly say that I’ve been following the NFL for over 50 years and have never seen that one before.

Stephen Gostkowski nailed his only field goal attempt after having a rough afternoon in Miami last week.

Coaches: D

The Patriots coaching staff has a dilemma, which I don’t think is fixable…this year. How can this team play so well at home and be so undisciplined and terrible on the road? It is an issue that may eventually cost them in January. They certainly are capable enough of playing well against good teams.

Once again, the play calling and some of the personnel packages are mystifying. The Steelers were flooding the middle of the field and trying to take away where the Patriots like to work. So on a 3rd and 4, why call a bubble screen to Edelman with only Chris Hogan out there to block for him. The Steelers had too many bodies there and that one had little chance of success.

And on the final series, Josh Gordon wasn’t even on the field as they went with Patterson, who isn’t the route runner Gordon is…head scratcher.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]
Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news.

Bill Belichick Praises JuJu Smith-Schuster

Robert Alvarez
December 17, 2018 at 8:55 pm ET

“Team JuJu” gained a new supporter on Sunday night. 

Following his teams first win over the New England Patriots in seven years, Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster found himself apart of a memorable postgame moment with head coach Bill Belichick. 

Smith-Schuster caught the eye of Belichick postgame and he shared his excitement from the meeting over Twitter.    

https://twitter.com/TeamJuJu/status/1074484531036471296

In two career games against Belichick’s Patriots, Smith-Schuster has 10 catches for 154 yards. 

He had just four receptions for 40 yards during Sunday’s win.   

Steelers Down Patriots 17-10, Knock Them Out of a Bye

Steve Balestrieri
December 16, 2018 at 9:14 pm ET

Steelers Down Patriots 17-10, Knock Them Out of a Bye

Mistakes, mistakes, mistakes. They keep piling up on the 2018 Patriots on the road and it cost them dearly again on Sunday down in Pittsburgh.

Dropped passes, missed opportunities and generally, poor play has the team now on the outside looking in for one of the two teams earning a bye in the AFC. The Patriots, like a week ago in Miami, earned that loss this afternoon in Pittsburgh. They were outplayed, and once again were owned at the line of scrimmage in the Steelers 17-10 win.

Their second loss in a row drops the team to 9-5 and the #3 seed, forcing them to now have to beat the Bills next week at home to win the division. After that, they close out against the Jets and they have to hope that they win out at home while hoping for the Texans to stumble against either the Eagles or the Jaguars in the final two weeks. Other than that, they will be playing on Wild Card Weekend.

The Steelers went to an empty formation early in the game so that the Patriots couldn’t effectively double their wide receivers. It was a great tactic and they easily sliced and diced the defense by mixing in well-designed runs and scored easily on the opening possession.

The Patriots answered when the Steelers totally blew a coverage and left Chris Hogan all alone on a cross from left to right. Brady hit Hogan in stride and he cruised 63-yards without a Steeler in sight. It looked like it was going to be another shootout.

But only one more touchdown would be scored, a Roethlisberger 17-yard pass to Antonio Brown one play after a horrible pass interference penalty on the Patriots for 26 yards set the Steelers up inside the red zone. Pittsburgh went 92 yards in eight plays to take a 14-7 lead. The teams would just trade field goals for the rest of the game.

The game against the Steelers can be summed by the A. Penalties, B. Red Zone and C. Run Defense. And all three of those areas, the Patriots rate A’s this week. Eh…you say. Yes, A’s as in Appalling, Awful and Atrocious.

Penalties: A as in Appalling

The Patriots had 14 penalties on Sunday….That is totally unacceptable on any level. Sony Michel had a 25-yard run wiped out by a holding call at the line of scrimmage after he was clearly past the line and into the second level. That just isn’t smart football.

Another holding call pushed them from the 2-yard line on a Michel run on first and goal at the 5-yard line to the 15. Two plays later Brady was picked off by Joe Haden when trying to throw the ball out of bounds.

On the final drive, facing a 2nd and 5 at the Pittsburgh 11-yard line, yet another holding call pushes them back to the 21. On third down, Brady throws it out the back of the end zone and misses James White standing all alone in the flat. He had an easy 8-10 and would have made the 4th down pass much more manageable.

Red Zone:  A as in Awful

When you go 0-3 in the red zone and a combined 3-11 on third and fourth down attempts, you’re not going to win many football games. The Steelers were getting good pressure on Brady and were intent on taking away the middle of the field….which they did. Which begs to the question, why didn’t Josh McDaniels adjust?

Josh Gordon was MIA in this one, he wasn’t even on the field for the final series inside the Pittsburgh red zone. After his big TD catch, Chris Hogan was rendered invisible as well. Very curious play calling in this one.

Run Defense: A as in Atrocious

Jaylen Samuels sliced and diced the front seven to the tune of 142 yards and a 7.2-yard average. Pittsburgh has been awful at running the football, just like Miami was before last week. And once again the offensive line of the Steelers totally dominated the point of attack all game.

The Patriots front seven doesn’t travel well because in every loss this season, they’ve been blown off the ball. This doesn’t bode well for a team on the outside looking in for a bye in the playoffs.

The Patriots limp home after an abbreviated by disastrous 0-2 road trip. Instead of fighting for the #1 seed and locking up the division, now they are no closer to the division and any chance of the #1 seed are gone.

The run defense is scary to watch…and not in a good way. And the offense is still searching for an identity after 14 games.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news.

Players To Watch Patriots-Steelers Week 15

Steve Balestrieri
December 15, 2018 at 9:10 am ET

Playoffs Start Early For Both Teams


The New England Patriots head to what seems an annual trip to Pittsburgh to take on the Steelers in a very important game for both teams. The Patriots, courtesy of a bizarre last play of the game in Miami blew a golden opportunity to take over the #1 seed if they win tomorrow. The Chiefs were beaten by the Chargers in another wacky finish and New England owns the tiebreaker with KC.

Pittsburgh is reeling right now at 7-5-1, having lost three in a row including the last two in bizarre fashion. Their lead in the AFC North is down to just a half-game over the Ravens and with the Patriots and Saints back-to-back in the next two weeks, the playoffs start now for the Steelers.

Yesterday we posted our keys to the game and key matchups where we broke down the game positionally.

So, from a Patriots perspective, here are our Players to Watch on Sunday:

Tom Brady:

Most times the old cliché, “Player A owns Team B” is really overused and just that a cliché. But in this instance, it is really hard to make that argument. Brady overall is 11-2 against the Steelers but since 2006, he’s 7-1 against what is always one of the best teams in the AFC. In the last four regular-season meetings, Brady has thrown 11 TDs, just 1 INT, completing 70.6 percent of his passes for 1240 yard (an average of 310 yards per game and 9.84 per pass) for a passer rating of 127.7.

The Steelers haven’t changed the way they approach the way they play defense against Brady and the Patriots since Brady’s first matchup with them back in 2001 playoffs. The only time they really changed things up was back in the 2011 season, a Steelers 25-17 win. They rely on their pass rush getting home and creating pressure. The Steelers are 2nd in the NFL with 45 sacks on the season. T.J. Watt has 10 and they have four players with five or more sacks.  But against the three best QBs they’ve faced this season (Patrick Mahomes, Philip Rivers, and Matt Ryan), they’ve allowed 910 yards, 8 TDs 0 Ints for a passer rating of 126.7.

Brady has always known how to attack this Pittsburgh defense, it holds no allusions for him. Unless they change the way they approach things tomorrow, there is no reason to believe that the trend won’t continue.

Rob Gronkowski:

The Patriots big tight end has had unprecedented success against the Steelers as well as Brady. In six career games against Pittsburgh, Gronkowski has reeled in 39 catches, 664 yards, and 8 TDs. His 110.6 yards per game average is the most he’s had against any team that he’s played more than once.

The Steelers defense has struggled against tight ends. Travis Kelce earlier in the season hurt them for seven catches, 109 yards, and 2 TDs. Last week, they played five different defenders on Raiders tight end, Jared Cook and still couldn’t stop him as he had seven catches for 116 yards. Gronkowski took over the game in the fourth quarter a year ago in Pittsburgh hauling in 9 passes for 168 yards and a two-point conversion.

The Steelers have said that they’re going to change up the way they cover Gronkowski this week and may switch up their looks on the big tight end. With lingering back and ankle injuries, he’s been slowed considerably this season. But bad news for the Steelers this week?  He had arguably his best game of the season against Miami last week catching 8 passes for 107 yards and a touchdown.

Stephon Gilmore:

The Patriots best cornerback will have his work cut out for him this week. The Steelers have several excellent targets in the passing game. But Gilmore will be worried about the just the top two, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Antonio Brown. We’d expect that Gilmore will be covering both at times on Sunday and neither will be an easy receiver to shadow. Brown has been the Steelers go-to guy since he entered the league but this year, Smith-Schuster has had more receptions and yards.

Gilmore is having a fantastic Pro-Bowl-type of a season for the Patriots and has been their best at covering the opposition’s best wide receiver this year. Pro Football Focus had him as their 2nd rated CB on 3rd or 4th down this season behind just Marlon Humphrey of the Ravens. An interesting tidbit via Jeff Howe of the Atlantic. The Patriots are 8-0 when Gordon doesn’t allow a TD and 1-4 when he does. Gilmore is currently tied for 3rd place among all CBs with passes defensed with 13.

The feeling here is that Gilmore will go one-on-one with Smith-Schuster which should be a fascinating matchup to watch. He does better against bigger receivers and Smith-Schuster is 6’1 while Brown is 5’10. I’d expect Brown to be doubled with a corner and a safety. Eli Rogers is expected to be back this week which will be another tough matchup.

Josh Gordon:

The Patriots big wide receiver is someone who has had pretty good success against the Steelers in the past and played them often while a member of the Browns. Included in that was a 17-yard touchdown late in regulation that tied the opener, which ended up in a tie. Now he’ll be going with a much better cast of characters against the same Steelers team that he’s faced before. And with a much better quarterback.

Gordon has gradually learned the Patriots offense on the fly since making his first appearance in the Week 4 game against Miami. And since then, he’s put up some very decent numbers (39 catches for 701 yards and three touchdowns) which is very impressive considering he had to learn the Patriots offense in mid-stream. How many WRs have struggled here after having an entire offseason to learn the WR route tree? Gordon’s 18-yards per catch average is the best among NFL WRs since Week 4. And that is troubling to Pittsburgh Defensive Coordinator Keith Butler. “Shoot, he’s a big man that can run,” he said. “He’s a deep-ball guy. If you look for anybody that’s going deep for them, it’s probably him.”

With the Steelers putting a lot of stock in slowing down Gronkowski this week, that will mean a lot of single coverage on Gordon. And this might be the time for him to have that one big monster game that has been lacking from his resume this season.

Devin McCourty:

The Patriots captain and their center fielder at the back end of their defense will have to have a big game on Sunday against a very potent Steelers passing attack. Between Brown and Smith-Schuster they have two of the more explosive wide receivers in the game. Added into the mix is Eli Rogers who tore his ACL in the playoff loss to Jacksonville last year and has spent the season on PUP. Now he’s healthy and is expected to be activated for Sunday’s game. That gives McCourty, even more, to be worried about on the back end.

Rogers career high for catches and yards? The 2017 AFC Championship Game against the Patriots where he caught seven passes for 66 yards. He’s someone that will have to be on the Patriots and McCourty’s radar if he gets his hands on the ball.

One of the more underrated aspects of McCourty’s game and that of the Patriots defense is tackling. This week, in particular, the Patriots have to limit the YAC (yards after the catch). When they’ve been successful, they’ve not allowed teams to run after they’ve caught the ball. McCourty will be a big, big part of that this week.  

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news.

Patriots-Steelers Key Matchups, Who Has the Razor’s Edge?

Steve Balestrieri
December 14, 2018 at 7:00 am ET

Patriots-Steelers Key Matchups, Who Has the Razor’s Edge?

The Patriots go back on the road for their final regular season road game of 2018 with a trip to Pittsburgh to take on the Steelers. This is, in essence, a playoff game for both teams. Each needs to win to try to lock down the #2 seed.

For Pittsburgh, it is even more important as they’ve dropped three in a row and their lead in the division has dwindled to just a half-game over the suddenly surging Ravens. By the time that the game starts, they should know the results of the Ravens-Bucs game. However, Baltimore ends the season with games at the Chargers and home against the Browns who are playing much better. Pittsburgh has New England this week, New Orleans next week and then the Bengals.

This week’s game will be broadcast by CBS on Sunday, December 16 at 4:25 p.m. ET and can be seen locally on WBZ-TV Channel 4 in Boston. Jim Nantz will handle play-by-play duties with Tony Romo as the color analyst. Tracy Wolfson will work the sidelines. The game will also be aired on the Patriots flagship radio station 98.5 The Sports Hub with Bob Socci and Scott Zolak on the call, produced by Marc Capello.

The Patriots (9-4) are coming off an awful loss in Miami, just like a year ago on the last play of the game.  The run defense was terrible as was the run blocking for the offense. But Tom Brady had a big day throwing the ball, tossing for 358 yards and three TDs.

The Steelers (7-5-1) had another late 4th quarter comeback and pulled off a dramatic 39-38 win over the Baltimore Ravens where Ben Roethlisberger threw for over 500 yards and Antonio Brown had 213 yards receiving.

We here at PatsFans.com are continuing our “Razor’s Edge” column in 2018 to give some quick analysis on some of the key matchups of the game and what you can look for in how the game plays out.

Series History:

The Patriots and Steelers are meeting for the 32nd time and the Patriots with a slight 16-15 edge. However, during the Bill Belichick era the Patriots are 11-3 against the Steelers and have won the last five meetings including last years meeting in Pittsburgh.

Here is a look at some of the key matchups and who holds the Razor’s Edge.

First up is the Patriots offense:

Patriots RBs vs Steelers Front Seven – Razor’s Edge Slightly to New England

The Patriots running game has been very good this season until they hit a snag against one of the worst run defenses in the league in Miami last week. Sony Michel has been the workhorse for the Patriots in the running game with James White and Rex Burkhead in support roles.

The Steelers have the #6 run defense (96.9 yards a game) in the league and still use the same 3-4 defense that they’ve been running seemingly forever. It starts up front with the big men, Jason Hargrave at the nose tackle and Stephon Tuitt and Cameron Heyward at the ends. The linebackers are quick and aggressive and will shoot the gaps.

Look for Josh McDaniels to throw in order to run this week. Look for the Patriots to try to take advantage of the Steelers aggressiveness at getting after the passer and try to get Michel going in that way. Some quick hitters with White and Burkhead could be on the agenda this week. The same with some Jet sweeps with Julian Edelman and Cordarrelle Patterson.

Patriots WRs vs Steelers Secondary – Razor’s Edge New England

The Patriots passing game is ranked 15th in the league but much of that has to do with the slow start that they got off to in the first month of the season. Since Josh Gordon has arrived, Brady’s numbers are about the same as they were in 2017 when he was the league’s MVP. The good news is they are getting healthy, Rob Gronkowski had his best game of the season last week. Gordon is heating up and has traditionally played well against Pittsburgh. Rob Gronkowski and Brady have always played well against the Steelers. Brady also Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, Patterson and White and Burkhead out of the backfield.

Pittsburgh is ranked 12th in pass defense allowing just 233.9 yards per game. They get after the QB very well with T.J. Watt leading the way with 10 sacks, Jason Hargrave has 6.5 from the nose which will be very telling in this game. The key to stopping Brady is pressure up the middle, if he can step up in the pocket, he will be very successful. Heyward has 6 sacks and Bud Dupree has 5.5.

It will be interesting to see how Pittsburgh decides to defend Gronkowski. Last year they played him almost exclusively with Sean Davis and he torched them in the second half. They’ll have to decide on whether to go with Joe Haden on Gordon or Coty Sensabaugh. Edelman will also be a tough matchup for them. In the past, the Steelers have played the same defense they always have against Brady. Will they mix things up this week? Or will they continue to just run their defense and try to out-execute the Patriots? Under Mike Tomlin, that is their M.O. they preach execution but they aren’t a big adjustment defense.

Next up the Pittsburgh offense:

Steelers RBs vs NE Front Seven – Razor’s Edge Pittsburgh

The Steelers running game is mired in 29th place in the NFL averaging just 89 yards per game. They haven’t shown the patience with it, even with James Conner in the lineup to stick with it. With Conner banged up and questionable to play, it will be interesting to watch if they do this week.

The Patriots rush defense is in the middle of the pack 15th in the league. But last week, against another team that struggles to run in Miami they were gashed for 189 yards on 21 carries. The defensive line was pushed around at the point of attack and the linebackers in run support were awful.

The Pittsburgh OL is one of the better lines in the league, and if they stay patient with the running game, even without Connor, they could dictate the pace and keep New England’s offense on the bench. From an NE perspective, the DL and LBs will have to play much better than a week ago.

Steelers WRs vs NE Secondary- Razor’s Edge Pittsburgh

Ben Roethlisberger has a dynamic duo in JuJu Smith-Schuster and Antonio Brown on the outside for as good a 1-2 punch as there is in the NFL. Smith-Schuster has 91 catches for 1237 yards and 6 TDs. Brown has 86 for 1063 yards and 12 TDs. Ryan Switzer is the third option outside. Vance McDonald is having a career year with 44 catches at tight end while Jesse James is still out there as well. Jaylen Samuels will be a player to watch this week. We really liked him coming out of the draft this spring and he’s an intriguing player to watch.

The Patriots pass defense has been going thru ebbs and flows. Two weeks ago they had arguably their best game shutting down Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs from the Vikings. But last week Kenny Stills gave them fits in Miami. They will no doubt try to roll their double teams from Smith-Schuster to Brown and disguise them. They have been good at getting pressure on opposing QBs but bad at getting home with sacks.

Look for Roethlisberger to work the middle of the field this week with McDonald and James to set up his top 2 WRs. They’ll try to isolate their TEs on the NE LBs which will be a mismatch.

Special Teams- Razor’s Edge New England

The kickers in this one, the Patriots’ Stephen Gostkowski and the Steelers Chris Boswell both had a rough week. But Boswell has been struggling most of the season. The team brought in former kicker Shaun Suisham to work with him. Boswell is just 3-8 from 40-49 yards this year. Despite missing an extra point and a field goal last week, the Patriots have a big edge here in the kicking game with Gostkowski.

Ryan Switzer has done a good job with the return game for the Steelers but with Patterson and Edelman, I’m going to give the edge to the Patriots here as well.

Next up, who wins and why…

Prediction:

This one should be another Patriots-Steelers classic. Both teams really need this game, last year at this time it was about the #1 seed, this season it is about #2. The Texans are right on their heels in the conference and the Steelers can’t afford to lose their fourth in a row. Even for a team that never puts coaches on a hot seat, if Tomlin were to lose four in a row after a 7-2-1 start, he will start to feel the heat.

Keys to the game from a Patriots perspective:

Put the Ball in Brady’s Hands: He’s had remarkable success against the Steelers thru the years. I know they want to push the running game, but this week, let #12 take the reins and trust in him to get it done.

Target the Big Men: I just have a feeling that the bigger WRs (Gordon and Patterson) are a more difficult matchup for the Steeler secondary this week. This is a situation the Patriots haven’t had much of thru the years. Their WRs tend to be the smaller quicker ones. But both Gordon and Patterson are big and very athletic. Add Gronk to the mix and they’ll be difficult to stop.

Play a Clean Game: The team can’t afford any turnovers this week. The Steelers offense is explosive and can score quickly and they don’t need to be giving them any short fields, especially on the road. No turnovers and win third downs and the red zone.

I think this one will go down to the wire, but the Patriots go home with a very close win. Brady works his magic in Pittsburgh once again. Patriots 31-27

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.