The Steelers finally come back home after a 3 game road trip that saw them go 2-1. The New England Patriots are finding ways to win and have matched the 6-2 start of the Steelers. With the Ravens Thursday night loss to the Falcons, the Steelers can take a one game lead in the division with a win. Below are what we deem to be 7 keys to the game for the Steelers to beat the Patriots in week 10 on Sunday Night Football.
Great Scott? – Jonathan Scott will start at left tackle with Max Starks now out for the season with a neck injury. Scott will likely see a ton of outside linebacker Rob Ninkovich and defensive end Mike Wright, if he suits up. Neither Ninkovich or Wright have been world beaters this year, but with Ramon Foster also likely to start in place of Chris Kemoeatu at left guard, the Patriots surely will look to test the left side of the line. Scott was signed as a free agent this past offseason and came over with new offensive line coach Sean Kugler from Buffalo. Scott has played both tackle spots this year for the Steelers as well as a little guard. Tape has shown he is slow at the snap and his footwork getting to the edge is not the best. If he struggles, the Steelers will be forced to keep a tight end or running back in to help chip or block on passing downs.
Danny Noonan – Just because running back Kevin Faulk is out for the year does not mean the Patriots have not found someone to fill that same role. Little Danny Woodhead is very slippery out of the backfield and very tough for a little guy. He is averaging nearly 11 yards per catch out of the Pats backfield and teams are learning to try to get the ball out on screens against the Steelers defense. The Steelers rely on speed and great tackling to limit both running back and wide receiver screens to a minimum gain. I would not be surprised to see Woodhead get 10 touches on Sunday night both running and receiving in the hopes he can break 1 or 2 for a big gainer. This might be the main assignment for inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons when Woodhead is in the game. Regardless who is assigned to him, he must be wrapped up quickly and held below his averages.
Average Play William Gay – Thank God Randy Moss is gone as he could likely school nickel cornerback William Gay the way Terrell Owens did Monday night in Cincinnati. Do not get me wrong, Gay has played very well at times and will likely see a combination of Wes Welker, Deion Branch and Brandon Tate lined up in the slot. Rookie tight end Aaron Hernandez might also line up in the slot and plays like a wide receiver as well. He is very dangerous. The underneath routes will be busy and Gay needs to make sure he gets good inside position and trust the safeties will be their to help him over the top.
Wang Chung & Safety Dance – Free Safety Patrick Chung could be active Sunday night as he looks to return from a knee injury. Regardless, the Patriots safeties are beatable and if given time Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger might be able to move them around with his eyes and his pump fake in order to get a homerun or two to the speedy Mike Wallace.
Heinz Redzone – No more excuses now as the Steelers redzone touchdown efficiency is 40.9 %. That ranks them 27th in the NFL. They have let teams hang around most of the year by settling for field goals when inside the 20. The Patriots and quarterback Tom Brady will beat you if they are allowed to stay in games because you are only putting 3 points a drive on the score board.
Bigger Manny Role? – Rookie Emmanuel Sanders has seen his role increase over the last few weeks. He has even seen some snaps as the 3rd receiver in place of Antwaan Randle El a few times. I think he can make a big difference in this game against the lackluster Patriots secondary. If the Steelers run the ball well early, Sanders might get a chance to run across the middle with some good play action. Watch his stat line closely.
Vollmerized – Steelers left outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley is now a few games removed from the hamstring strain and should be dominating the young Sebastian Vollmer\’s of the NFL. Woodley needs to use his speed, strength and leverage to either beat right tackle Vollmer around the edge or push him back into the face of Brady on passing downs. It is a win if the pressure is enough to force the Patriots to assign a tight end or running back to help with Woodley. Brady can not be made to feel comfortable in the pocket where he is the most dangerous. He must be flushed and forced to make his decisions on the run or in the grasp.
Steelers Patriots Game Prediction – The Patriots are not that good defensively as years past. They are relying on their offense to bail them out and the loss of Moss is bigger than most think. Welker is playing good, but not is nearly the threat he was prior to his injury late last season. The Steelers should be deadly once again against the run and should be able to run on the Patriots front 7. I think you will see a Steelers offense this week with much better rhythm as Roethlisberger has really settled in now with his receivers. I expect the Steelers to cover with a late defensive touchdown and move to 7-2 on the season.
Final Score: Steelers 27 Patriots 17