Steelers Vs. Patriots: Five Key Storylines Ahead Of Week 15 Game

The 11-2 Pittsburgh Steelers will play the 10-3 New England Patriots at Heinz Field Sunday afternoon in a well-awaited for Week 15 conference matchup in what will likely decide the No. 1 seed in the AFC. Ahead of that game kicking off, there are several key storylines worth pointing out.

Below are what I consider to be the top five storylines for both teams ahead of the Sunday game that will kick off at 4:25 p.m. EST in Pittsburgh.

Patriots bleed own blood while Gronkless in Miami – Even without suspended tight end Rob Gronkowski the Patriots were expected to easily handle the Miami Dolphins on the road this past Monday night. That didn’t happen, however, as quarterback Tom Brady and the Patriots wound up losing to the Dolphins 27-20. Dolphins quarterback Jay Cutler threw three touchdowns against the Patriots on his way to completing passes to eight different players. One of those players was running back Kenyan Drake, who led Miami in receiving yardage Monday night with 79 yards on five receptions. Drake also rushed for 114 yards against the Patriots. As for the Patriots offense, Brady and company failed to convert even one of their 11 third down opportunities Monday night against the Dolphins defense and that was a sight to see. Brady was also intercepted twice by Dolphins cornerback Xavier Howard Monday night and Miami turned both of those turnovers into points. The Dolphins registered two sacks of Brady in that game and were credited with six total quarterback hits. It marked just the third time this season that the Patriots have lost.

Killer B’s are buzzing – Over the course of their last four games the Steelers Killer B’s, Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, Le’Veon Bell and Chris Boswell, have all been on top of their induvial games. Roethlisberger has seemingly connected at will with Brown down the field and in key moments over the course of the last month while Bell has also been a key contributor in the passing game in between his many rushing attempts. In the Steelers last four games their offense has amassed 1,783 gross yards with Brown and Bell combining to register 1,220 (68.4%) of them. Additionally, Roethlisberger threw for 1,446 yards in those four games and that includes his 506-yard passing performance this past Sunday night against the Baltimore Ravens. If that’s not enough, Boswell made all 12 of his field goal attempts in the Steelers last four games and three of those were high-pressure, last-minute kicks to win games.

Inside redistribution possible – The Steelers didn’t have injured inside linebacker Ryan Shazier this past weekend against the Ravens and it was very noticeable. The Ravens offense moved the football very easily both on the ground and through the air against the Steelers defense Sunday night with Sean Spence and Arthur Moats playing most the snaps at inside linebacker in place of the injured Shazier. This past Tuesday, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin indicated during his weekly press conference that we could see a redistribution of snaps at Shazier’s position Sunday against the Patriots. Does that mean we’ll see L.J. Fort play more, or will Tomlin let Tyler Matakevich play the lion’s share of snaps this weekend now that he’s seemingly over the shoulder injury that prevented him playing against the Ravens?

Butler ready to man up? – Steelers defensive coordinator Keith Butler played quite a bit of zone coverage against the Patriots offense last season and Brady easily carved it up in addition to the limited usage of man coverage. In short, the Steelers defense had no answers for Brady last year and especially during the AFC Championship game. In what ultimately could be the first of two meetings between the Steelers and Patriots this coming Sunday, Butler will be expected to call on his defense to play more man coverage whether it be straight man, or matchup zone (pattern matching). Unlike in last year’s AFC Championship game, the Patriots will have Gronkowski on the field Sunday against the Steelers and he’s his team’s top receiver entering this contest. Brady, as you would expect, looks for Gronkowski on third downs quite extensively. If Butler’s unit can’t successfully play quite a bit of man coverage on Sunday, then Brady will likely have his way with the Pittsburgh defense once again.

Joe a go, or no? – Steelers cornerback Joe Haden was back on the practice field this week for the first time since suffering a fractured fibula during the team’s Week 10 game. Haden was listed as a limited practice participant all three days this week and that reportedly included him getting a share of first-team reps. Even so, Haden ended the week listed as questionable on the Steelers Friday injury report and even he now considers himself a game time decision for Sunday against the Patriots. The Steelers defense could really use Haden back on the field for their Sunday game against the Patriots and now we sit and wait to see if that ultimately happens. At worst, Haden should be back for the Steelers Week 16 road game against the Houston Texans but that might be one week too late when it comes to Pittsburgh hoping to get home field advantage throughout the playoffs.

  • Matt Manzo

    Our DBs is a storyline I’m excited to see play out. Burns, Sutton and Davis could have a great game or a really bad game. We’re gonna need them to show up!

  • Steve

    Even is Hayden is back, he will not be 100%. Forget Sensa, he couldn’t cover my grandmother in the grave 10 years, so Sutton may get the start and bring Haden in for a breather. We need to get to Brady up the gut from Heyward and Hargrave. Tuitt has had an off year and I expect them to run right at him and Dupree.

  • I’d suggest one other key point for discussion…the potential impact of this game’s importance to the Pats regarding their offensive and defensive game plans. I say this because I’ve often had the strong suspicion that Belichek somehow has his team EXTRA prepared [in addition to electronic spying and reading defensive signals] in the playoffs to disrupt opposing offenses while attacking their defensive weaknesses…whereas [unless driven by necessity] he keeps these cards up his sleeve during the regular season. The fact that a loss tomorrow would drop them to a #3 seed–forcing them to play a wildcard game then win two on the road–just might nudge him into showing his best cards re how to stop AB AND Bell without anyone else doing major damage.

  • 2winz

    Im not sure Tuitt is having an off year, Im not saying its every game, but I have noticed him get double teamed so that could be a reason why his stats are off. I think that tells you the respect teams have for a player when he gets double teamed.

  • Jaybird

    Cam gets double teamed all the time , he still puts up the stats.

  • Steve

    Have seen Heyward getting double teamed many times and still make the sack/Tackle – NO EXCUSES. Tuitt is not up to snuff after signing a Large contract.

  • Steve

    Have seen AB having 4 people on him and he still catches the ball and picks up a large chunk of yardage. BS walks and players talk.

  • 2winz

    true, but its hard to say what the problem is for Tuitt because I dont have film to watch. It’s nice to have Cam for this game, thats for sure

  • 2winz

    or Kobe with 3 people defending him and he still makes the game winning shot xD

  • Steve

    Well stop making excuses for poor play by the Millionaire. Make him play like one and not wimp out.

  • Steve

    Were talking Football here – Hoops SUCKS.

  • 2winz

    its great to have Cam thats for sure! Idk though, I think on one snap I noticed Tuitt being slow to get of after ball was snapped, again maybe thats not every play but who knows, maybe its that or maybe Cam is just that great!

  • Steve

    Franco Harris used to get up slow after every play. Teams have been running right at Tuitt and he gets blown out many times. If the man can’t play get him out.

  • RJMcReady

    Cam Heyward is a madman, our best defensive player.

  • RJMcReady

    If we get pressure, the secondary has a chance to look like superstars.

  • dany

    The way Tuitt kept the dline moving forward after Cam’s injury last year is still fresh on everyone’s head, the nfl is about what have you done for me lately but that was less than 15 games ago. Now he’s suffered an injury himself that could have been a season ender and he hasn’t been close to 100% since. I’d give him a break, if next year it continues I’d start doubting him

  • Jaybird

    Every great nfl player gets double teamed, they still produce. That’s what makes them greedy. I’m not bashing Tuitt , I think he has a TON of talent. But for what ever reason he dominates two games, then disappears for three, then dominates a game, then gets hurt and misses two. But when he’s on he lives in the backfield. We’re going to need that Tuitt tomorrow. The beastly Tuitt.
    GO STEELERS.

  • Jaybird

    No argument from me on that one.

  • Steve

    What injury?

  • FanInExile

    Left bicep early in the season.

  • Steeler Nation!

    Yeah there’s the potential rematch and showing all your cards thing. There’s also the fact that the Pats have not had road playoff success in awhile. They haven’t had too much, but they’ve struggled when on the road. They definitely are a different animal at home in the playoffs.

  • Shane Mitchell

    Tuitt is ridiculously over rated and it was a mistake to resign him, the guy is getting out played by Alualu and LT Walton this season.

  • Shane Mitchell

    Yep, he is damn good, Tuitt? not so much, LT Walton’s stats are on par with Tuitt this season.

  • 2winz

    its not an excuse, its just obvious Tuitt has been trying to give offensive lineman a chance so that he can challenge himself to get better. it makes sense if you dont think about it. Tuitt is a sure fire hall of famer, something neither of us can say about ourselves. he is going to get 6 sacks against Brady guaranteed!

  • Steve

    Are you a relative of Tuitt? The guy has never even made the Pro Bowl.

  • Steve

    Actually LT should take Tuitts job if he continues his ways.

  • Jaybird

    LT Walton- ouch!

  • 2winz

    As a matter of fact… I checked the ancestor website and we are both related to Edgar Allen Poe :0 jk I didnt really do that, im being sarcastic in this and my last post