The Pittsburgh Steelers will take on the New England Patriots Sunday at Gillette Stadium and below are seven things to watch for in the game.
That Guy At Right Guard - The Steelers best offensive lineman, David DeCastro, will sit out this game with a right ankle injury suffered last week and he will likely be replaced by Guy Whimper. Whimper, who suffered a hyper-extended left knee last week, did play some right guard during the preseason, however, he didn't look comfortable playing inside the phone booth. The Patriots will likely look to attack Whimper with numerous twist and stunts on passing downs and how he handles them will go a long way in determining how much time quarterback Ben Roethlisberger spends on the ground or trying to avoid pressure.
Dime Time - Last week against the Oakland Raiders, the Steelers spent way too much time in their base defense. This week, in order to properly defend tight end Rob Gronkowski, they will need to use their dime package featuring six defensive backs and no Vince Williams. This means that we can expect to see safety Troy Polamalu in the box as a linebacker quite a bit and hopefully cornerback Cortez Allen spending a good number of snaps covering Gronkowski. Patriots quarterback Tom Brady wants to catch the Steelers in their base defense as often as possible and he will likely run in hurry-up mode against it as much as possible.
Possession is Nine-Tenths Of The Brady Law - The best way to beat the Patriots is to keep Brady on the sidelines. In the 2011 win over the Patriots, the Steelers offense held the ball for 39:22 compared to 20:38 for the Patriots. In that game, the Steelers offense was 10-16 (63%) on third downs while the defense held the Patriots offense to just three third down conversions out of ten opportunities.
Brady 3rd Down & Bunches - Brady is a mere mortal 131-of-240 (54.6%) passing on 3rd downs of 6 or more yards to go this season with 61 first downs (25.4%). Heading into this season, he was 63.5% with a 32.7% conversion rate for his career. The Steelers defense absolutely needs to stay ahead of the chains in this game and believe it or not, they want him to throw a lot in this game.
Catch The Pats Defense Off Guards - The Patriots run defense has not been great this season and they have been very vulnerable to runs that go off guard in any direction. This defense has been bitten by injuries up the middle, so the Steelers offense must attack with running back Le'Veon Bell early and often.
Healthy Dose Of Heath? - The Patriots defense has allowed tight ends to catch 43 passes this year for a total of 441 yards, so this plays right into the Steelers offense attacking them down the middle of the field with tight end Heath Miller. In the 2011 win over the Patriots, Miller was targeted nine times and he caught seven passes for 85 yards. He will need a similar stat line Sunday if the Steelers are going to win this game.
Melbourne Mat To The Rescue? - The Steelers replaced punter Zoltan Mesko with veteran Mat McBriar this past week and the Australian can certainly win a few new fans and help the Steelers win the game by flipping the field a few times. The longer that Brady has to go, the better.