Pre-Game Meal: Steelers vs Patriots

Patriots fans all around the nation will be dreaming of scenes like this one all afternoon... 8 P.M. here we come...

NEPD Staff Writer – B. Delabarrera

It’s been a couple of years since Tom Brady and the Patriots (6-2) have squared off against their AFC counterparts of the North: The 6-time World Champion Pittsburgh Steelers (6-2). Whether it’s the Playoffs or the regular season, games between theses two rarely disappoint.

The 2008 match doesn’t really count due to the fact that Matt Cassel was behind center and the offense was, in a sense, reinventing itself. In 2007, you may remember a pleasant Randy Moss toss-back to Tom Brady for a Jabar Gaffney TD pass.

This season the Steelers will possess the home-field advantage and it will be up to New England to keep the Heinz Field faithful at bay and keep Rashard Mendenhall in their sights.

Since 2003, Patriots’ head coach Bill Belichick is 18-1 in games following a loss, and after the team’s dismantling at the hands of the Cleveland Browns last Sunday afternoon, history says that Belichick will be adding to the left-hand side of that record tomorrow.

The Marquee Match-up - Tom “The Golden Boy” Brady vs. Troy “my-hair-belongs-to-Procter-and-Gamble” Polamalu is easily one of the most exciting match-ups that any football fan will witness on Sunday, as long as both play at their highest levels.

With 44 total tackles and 2 interceptions this season, Pittsburgh safety Troy Polamalu looks a little more human this season next to his incomparable level of play in seasons past. His presence and ability to alter plays on the field, however, is still something that should never be underestimated; Tom Brady is one dude who knows that very well.

Speaking of mediocre football, Tom Brady ranks 14th on NFL.com top-passers list. I’m not going to sit here at pull out more stats to prove this wrong because it isn’t wrong: Brady hasn’t been exactly himself this season, but one thing surely remains unchanged… If your team is in need of a quarterback to WIN a game, no matter how ugly, Tom Brady is the guy you’d want to call upon.

Brady is 5-1 against the Steelers in his career, which has me wondering why so many people have picked against him this week. This is obviously a quarterback who knows how to play against elite defenses. Errm… last week excluded.

Yes, the offense has its issues, but with Deion Branch’s hamstring healing up nicely and hopefully some more secure receptions from the rookies (and sophomores), I fully expect Belichick and Brady to come out with their guns waving. Does the phrase “any given Sunday” mean nothing anymore? I’ll give the Steelers defense an INT, but they will also give up at least 2 touchdowns through the air.

Rashard Mendenhall vs. Patriots’ Defensive Line – This 3rd-year back out of Illinois is finally getting more comfortable with his role in the Pissburgh offense, and his numbers this season support it. Mendenhall is averaging almost 1 touchdown for every 100 yards he racks up… he has 702 yards this season, by the way.

Even more importantly, the only 2 games that #34 didn’t find the end zone were at the hands of Miami and Tennessee where he was held under 70 yards for the only times this year. Once he crosses that 70-yard-threshold, the touchdown will soon follow. The Patriots’ 21st-ranked rushing defense has been allowing 117 rushing yards per game with a grand total of 7 TDs on the ground.

It will be up to defensive veterans like Vince Wilfork and Mike Wright to lead the charge against Pittsburgh’s offensive line and all-star running back. If players like Jermaine Cunningham and Brandon Deaderick can also increase their tackling, espeically before chunky gains of 4-6 yards, the Steelers will be forced to put the ball in Big Ben’s hands.

Big Ben vs. The Back Four – Devin McCourty and his CB buddies know a thing or two about prolific passing; they see it daily at practice.

Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger hasn’t been anywhere near prolific so far this season either. His first two starts after serving his four-game suspension were pretty normal, considering what we’ve come to expect from the former Super Bowl champ. Since then, however, his last two games have been somewhat disappointing.

In his first two starts, Ben notched 5 TDs with only 1 INT. Unfortunately for him, in his most recent two starts, Ben was only able to muster up 1 TD to 2 more interceptions. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that he will play poorly, but heavy pressure and good coverage early in the game with be vital to throwing off Ben’s rhythm. With experienced receivers like Hines Ward, Antwaan Randle El and TE Heath Miller, the room for error is marginal.

Throw in the high-octane, sideline-burning 2nd-year WR Mike Wallace (11 receptions for 20+ yards this season already!) and New England’s secondary may be in for some trouble. Safety help over the top should address Wallace for the most part, but it would probably be best to not take this kid lightly.

This one should end up being as interesting as we all are hoping it will; certain if you believe that most of these primetime games end up being close ones. In order for the Patriots to win they will need to be clicking on all cylinders and operating at a level of unity that we really haven’t seen so far this season. I don’t really see this happening without a huge Pittsburgh fluke… as much as it pains me to admit, that kind of thing doesn’t happen at Heinz Field too often…

28-27 Steelers

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