New England Patriots (5-1) @ Pittsburgh Steelers (5-2)
Time: 4:15 P.M. | Where: Heinz Field
Odds: New England -3.5
What’s On the Line: The top spot in the AFC is on the line today. By the end of the day, the Steelers could boast the best conference record at the half way mark.
Steelers – Patriots Top Storylines
Steelers offense combating Patriots pressure, blitz: The Patriots have owned the Steelers since 2001 and there’s no denying that. However, the only thing to really go off of is the 2010 game last November, a 39-26 New England rout that ended closer than it really was.
The Steelers come into this game believing they can match New England in a track meet and odds say they should with Ben Roethlisberger heating up with 9 touchdowns and 1 interception in his last three games and the team boasting a dynamic receiver group that is explosive and can stretch the field.
Last year, Brown and Sanders weren’t playing big roles yet, now they are, and Wallace has emerged as the best big play receiver in the entire NFL. The Steelers will be fine without Hines Ward.
However, The big question mark for the Steelers is whether they can combat the pressure New England is going to bring.
Last year New England blitzed Roethlisberger 23 times and sent five or more rushers 22 times in Roethlisberger’s first 33 throws.
The results were 3 sacks for minus-25 yards in the Steelers first three drives and four sacks through three quarters for minus-35 yards. The Steelers had a total of 3 points at the end of three quarters
Roethlisberger has to get off to quick start: Ben Roethlisberger threw for 387 yards and 3 touchdowns in last years meeting but all of his big numbers came in the fourth quarter where he threw for over 265 yards and 3 scores in the quarter, after Pittsburgh trailed 23-3 after three quarters.
Roethlisberger in the first half went 7-for-21 for 93 yards and was sacked for minus-25 yards.
Roethlisberger by the numbers vs Patriots in first hallf:
1st Drive: 0-for-2 on a 3 plays, 3 yard drive
2nd Drive: 1-for-4, 16 yards on a 6 play, minus-9 yard drive. Roethlisberger was sacked twice for minus-17 yards.
3rd Drive: 2-for-6, 13 yards on a 9 play 22 yard drive. Roethlisberger was sacked once for minus-8 yards.
4th Drive: 2-for-4, 20 yards on a 10 play, 76 yard drive that resuled in a 22 yard Jeff Reed field goal…..Roethlisberger had a key 12 yard run in the drive
5th Drive: 0-for-2, 0 yards on a 3 play, minus-2 yard drive.
6th Drive: 2-for-5, 42 yards on a 6 play, 42 yard drive to end the half.
In the third quarter, Roethlisberger and the Steelers offense weren’t able to get anything going as Tom Brady threw a touchdown pass and ran for one, as the Patriots lead 23-3 at the end of the third quarter.
Brady and New England opened the third quarter with a 10 play, 78 yard scoring drive.
Pittsburgh unable to answer, comes out with a 3 and out on their first drive of the quarter, highlighted by a 10 yard sack on 3rd and 11. Roethlisberger went 2-for-7 in the third quarter for 13 yards.
Today that trend has to change dramatically for Pittsburgh to have a chance and the key will be handling New England’s pressure.
Pittsburgh has to get off to a quick start and answer the Patriots, something they weren’t able to do until the fourth quarter of last years game.
LeBeau Coached Scared in 2010:: The top headline this week leading into Sunday’s showdown between New England and Pittsburgh has been the media proclaiming that Tom Brady owns Dick LeBeau.
Brady who is 6-1 all-time vs Pittsburgh, has thrown 14 touchdowns and one interception in six career wins vs the Steelers. He threw for 350 yards, completing 30 of 43 passes in New England’s 39-26 win last November vs Pittsburgh.
The Steelers coached conservative and scared on defense as LeBeau blitzed Brady just SEVEN times, producing no sacks and no big plays.
Brady started the game 10 of 12 for 102 yards and one touchdown on New England’s first two drives as the Patriots took a 10-0 first quarter lead.
Brady then broke open the game in the third quarter with an opening scoring drive, going 5-for-5, 58 yards, throwing a 9 yard touchdown to Rob Gronkowski, giving New England a 17-3 lead.
On New England’s third drive of the third quarter, Brady drove New England 7 plays, 55 yards in just 3:08, going 3 of 4 for 67 yards on the drive, scoring on a three yard touchdown run up the middle, giving New England a commanding 23-3 lead with 22 seconds remaining in the third quarter…..GAME OVER….
Through three quarters, Brady was 28 of 39 for 319 yards with 2 passing touchdowns and 1 rushing touchdown.
LeBeau stuck to his guns of playing zone with the Steelers usual strategy of not giving up a big play. That defensive scheme has been a mess vs Brady and LeBeau has to bring an aggressive defensive game plan that will take chances.
Will he? That remains to be seen. LeBeau talked on Thursday of how the Steelers strategy is to limit the Patriots ability after the catch. Many believe the Steelers will play zone for much of the day.
Patriots to run the ball: Something to watch again is New England’s rushing attack. They will surely attack the Steelers on the ground to open up the playaction pass.
What was underrated about New England’s game plan last November is that they mixed in several runs through the first three quarters, giving them the play-action option to keep the Steelers on their heels, running play-action over 53% of the time through the first three quarters of last years 39-26 win..