By Patriots Gab Columnist Chris Willson
This Sunday the Patriots will play the Pittsburgh Steelers, a game that a lot of people are calling a battle for the top team in the AFC. Coming off a surprising loss to the Browns, you can bet that the Pats will have a little extra fire in them this week.
Let’s start with a couple key points for the pats offense this week. The biggest thing in this game will be giving Brady pass protection. The Steelers have a great pass rush, and if Logan Mankins and company can give Brady some time, I think their chances of winning greatly go up.
The running game was pretty much nonexistent last week, which lead to a lot of 3rd and longs (and we all know how well the pats 3rd down offense in this year). The pats really need to get something going on the ground this week to open up the passing game. Running on the Steelers is the toughest thing to do in this league right now, however, as they rank 1st in rush defense.
Their pass defense is susceptible (ranking 24th in the league), but in order to get the passing game they will need to first establish a running game. If the Steelers are consistently expecting a run and stacking the box, I think Brady will be able to torch them through the air. Aaron Hernandez, arguably the pats best receiver this year, is coming off a 2TD performance last week and should be targeted often again. I would like to see Branch and Welker get involved as well, as they have had low numbers the past couple of weeks.
Watching Peyton Hillis absolutely torch our defense last week was, well to say the least, painful to watch. The Steelers don’t have a power runner like Hillis, but there’s no doubt that they will again test our linebackers. Our OLB’s had trouble setting the edge last week, so they will need to stay disciplined in order to keep the carries to 3-4 yards.
The Steelers passing game has also shown flashes of brilliance since Big Ben has come back. Rookie Devin McCourty needs to continue his strong play, as he will most likely be lined up with Hines Ward. I expect Arrington to line up opposite Mike Wallace on most plays, with a Safety over the top on every play. Wallace is a legitimate deep threat, and this safety-over-the-top-on-every-play is exactly how they treated Randy Moss.
We will have a new face on Special Teams this week, as Stephen Gostowski was placed on IR. Shayne Graham will be our new kicker. Graham was in Foxboro earlier this year for a workout, in case of an emergency like this, and has looked good ever since. He is familiar with Heinz Field, as he had a long career with the Bengals, who are in the same division as the Steelers.
A couple of finishing notes to monitor leading up to the game.
Patrick Chung has been limited in practice this week, and will be a game time decision come Sunday. Chung injured his knee in the San Diego game, and has been out ever since.
Fred Taylor said his toe is feeling much better, and even practiced this week. He will also be a game time decision.
The game will be on Sunday night, which means Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth will get the call in the booth.