NEPD Staff Writer: Doug Kyed
For the next three weeks the Patriots have not only got a tough slate, but they’ve also got three teams us fans love to hate. The Pats have got the Steelers this week, the Giants next week and the Jets November 13th.
Leigh Bodden’s release was a bit of a surprise today, but I think that speaks well to Kyle Arrington’s performance so far this year and last year. You’d think it would speak well for Ras-I Dowling’s health, but he’s been out of practice two weeks in a row now. Antwaun Molden and Philip Adams will have to get tested in game duty, so expect to see both of them this week against Pittsburgh.
The Patriots are likely the healthiest they’ve been since week 1 of the preseason, here’s some things I’m looking out for against the Steelers:
Ben Roethlisberger has been under pressure all season and is third in the league with 20 sacks. The Patriots can’t let Roethlisberger get comfortable in the pocket, or else he’ll be able to throw all day to his speedy receivers. The more time Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders have to get open the more trouble the New England defensive backs will have with them.
Roethlisberger has had his worst games of the season when he’s been sacked four and five times (weeks 1 and 4). In week 6, Roethlisberger came away from the first half without getting sacked and threw for 181 yards and a touchdown, in the second half, Roethlisberger was pressured for three sacks and threw for only 19 yards all half.
According to Pro Football Focus, the Steelers offensive line has allowed 78 pressures this season, which is seventh worst in the league. Pittsburgh has allowed the fifth most hurries this season with 54, but have allowed only 9 QB hits, which is probably more due to Roethlisberger’s pocket presence than the offensive line.
FORCE THE STEELERS TO RUN
Obviously this relates to the above point, but the Patriots have been much better against the run this year than they have been against the pass. New England is 8th in yards/game and tied for 16th in average yards/carry. The combination of the defensive line and linebackers have done a really nice job lately of not letting running backs get big chunks of yards at a time. All of the Steelers running backs present a nice matchup for the Patriots, since they’re generally better at stopping the run up the middle.
With Ras-I Dowling likely out (Update: Dowling is now on IR) and Leigh Bodden released today, it might be tough, but I’d like to see the Patriots flood the middle of the field with defensive backs. In that situation, I still feel like the front three/four + one or two linebackers could stop the Steelers run game. The Steelers have been middle of the road in run blocking.
The bye week was timed pretty well to let a bunch of the Patriots ailing players healthy, the key will be to come out of Pittsburgh in one piece. The only players missing at practice today were Dane Fletcher and Ras-I Dowling. It’s really unfortunate that Dowling can’t seem to stay healthy. Dowling and Fletcher are two players that could really help the Patriots in Pittsburgh.
The following players were limited in practice: Josh Barrett, Leigh Bodden, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Albert Haynesworth, Jerod Mayo and Sebastian Vollmer. Obviously Mayo is the most important of those players that we’d like to see playing in Pittsburgh.
GET BRADY GOING EARLY
It’s been well documented this week that Tom Brady seems to excel against the Pittsburgh Steelers, I’d like to see him go off for 400 yards like he was doing early in the season again. The Steelers’ pass defense has been excellent this season, so I think it’s important to get Brady on a roll early. If the Patriots can get in a habit of getting up early using their no huddle and then killing the clock with Green-Ellis and Stevan Ridley late, this team could be unstoppable.
Shockingly, Brady has been on a bit of an interception run recently starting in Buffalo with four interceptions, and then having one against the Jets and two against Dallas. Brady needs to stop forcing throws and his receivers need to stop letting balls clang off their hands.
Brady’s play obviously isn’t a worry to me, but limiting little mistakes can go a long way against teams like the Steelers, Giants and Jets. Force them to make mistakes, don’t make your own.
Aaron Hernandez has made a couple mistakes recently as well, letting a TD slip through is fingers and fumbling a ball away in Dallas. Hernandez is a very talented player and an important cog in the Patriots’ offense, but Belichick hates turnovers and Hernandez can’t start being known as a turnover guy.
LIMIT BIG PLAYS
This is a huge one. The Patriots have improved drastically in allowing big plays since the Buffalo game and that needs to continue against this talented Pittsburgh offense. Mike Wallace seems to go for a 50+ yard play every game and whoever is covering him (most likely Devin McCourty or Dowling) will need help over the top from a safety in limiting him. Wallace is one of the best receivers currently in the game, and he might be the fastest no. 1 guy. The CBs need to do a good job of jamming him at the line, and the safeties will have to do a good job of limiting him in space. The Pats are a little shallow at cornerback with Dowling likely out and Bodden cut, so Antwaun Molden, Philip Adams and the safeties will have to step up.