In the afternoon game Sunday, the Pittsburgh Steelers will travel to Gillette Stadium to play the New England Patriots. The Steelers are fighting to get to .500 at 2-5 and the Patriots are having a rather humdrum season that has some wondering if the Patriots’ time of dominance may be in decline.
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For Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, the year has been fraught with one frustration after another. First one of his favorite targets, Rob Gronkowski was out for weeks after back and forearm surgeries. Another favorite target, Aaron Hernandez is charged with murder. To top it off, Brady’s other favorite target, Wes Welker, ended up in Denver breaking records with Peyton Manning.
So Brady was left with a very young (read: rookies) receiving core that lacked the synchronistic beauty of his missing veterans. Being the quarterback he is Brady kept his young offense on the winning side of the column until a fateful, rainy day in Ohio. The Cincinnati Bengals defense put a hurting on The Patriots young offensive line. Brady was harassed, chased, sacked and intercepted by the Bengals and the Patriots were held to two field goals, no touchdowns, and Brady had only 197 passing yards across four quarters.
The Patriots have a talented rusher in Stevan Ridley. He has 92 carries for 399 yards and four touchdowns. He has not been utilized much, however and Pittsburgh’s defense is not as hard as it used to be. The Steel Curtain is more a Shower Curtain these days, so Ridley has a chance to take advantage of this and add to his stats.
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On the other side the Steelers are ranked a ghastly 30th in rushing, but rookie Le’Veon Bell may be what they need. He missed the first three games with a foot injury and has not hit his stride yet with only 64 carries for 208 yards and three touchdowns. He is averaging only 3.3 yards per carry and that is the best the Steelers are doing on rushing at this point. Bell needs to find his groove and literally run with it. The rushing game is instrumental in taking pressure off of Ben Roethlisberger, and pressure needs to be taken off Roethlisberger.
The Patriots have forced a turnover in 35 straight games so far, standing second behind the Kansas City Chiefs in takeaways. The Steelers cannot seem to keep the ball, but they aren’t doing much better in taking it away. They are ranked 29th in turnover ratio at -9, while the Pats are tied for 5th at +7. If Pittsburgh can get their defense going and pressure Brady the way the Dolphins and Bengals did, they may be able to take the ball away. Then it becomes a matter of scoring, and that’s where the passing and running games need to be beefed up.
The Patriots are a historically high-scoring team, so the Steelers will need to take advantage of every possession to get some kind of points on the board. Brady’s ability to come back is as famous as Big Ben’s however, so it will be a shootout between the two if they can stay on their feet.
Brady has been sacked 23 times this season, 16 of those in the last four games. Roethlisberger is having a similar problem, but the Steelers have only managed 10 sacks all year. They have the 2nd ranked pass defense of the league but they are not getting much in the way of pressure on the opposing quarterback. Pressure on Brady equals Brady rushed equals Brady mistakes –the Bengals worked that out and so did the Dolphins. The Steelers need to take note and implement this strategy.
The Patriots have to trust and use Ridley. They need to push hard at the Steelers’ O-line. Each team needs to do better at converting on 3rd down and keep their offense on the field. The Steelers have to get the lead early and fight to keep it. Looking at the rivalry between these two teams and all the weapons and flaws, we have to give this to the Patriots.
By Brandi Tasby