NEPD Staff Writer: Brian Delabarrera
Fresh off the Bye week and the Patriots are back to work, shipping off to Heinz Field to take on the AFC rival Pittsburgh Steelers.
In recent years Tom Brady has made a habit of leaving Pittsburgh with a handful of touchdowns. Last year it was the Gronkowski show and years before it was a double pass with Randy Moss.
The heightened intensity of playing against this Hall-of-Fame Dick LeBeau defense gets Tom Brady to compete at his highest level.
The Patriots will look to include more healthy veterans, silence the terrible towels, and improve to 6-1 this Sunday afternoon against the ironclad defense, led by safety Troy Polamalu.
Recently, fans were notified of the surprise news when CB Leigh Bodden had been released. This comes after seasons plagued with injuries and his general inability to accept his slot corner role.
However, this comes at a week where slot-threat WR Hines Ward won’t play.
It’s guaranteed to be a long battle when Tom Brady takes on the #2 pass defense in the NFL, but history has shown that it’s likely to be high-scoring.
Big Ben has had some incredible performances this season like when he tossed five touchdowns against the Tennessee Titans. He is coming off his statistically-best performance at Arizona where he threw for 3 scores, no INTs, and a 123.8 passer rating. It will be all about pressure for the Patriots in stopping the offensive attack, especially recently thinned at cornerback.
Ras-I Dowling was also placed on IR this weekend which leaves CBs Antwuan Molden and Phillip Adams in their stead. This defense will be the weakest that it has been in recent weeks and the defensive line will have to come up big to relieve some of the pressure and to keep Roethlisberger from connecting with the potent WR Mike Wallace.
Tom Terrific vs. The Black & Yellow Iron Curtain – Brady has been shredding defenses all season long, averaging 350+ yards and 2 TDs, and about 1 INT per game through 6 games. He has distributed the ball with accuracy and proven to still have a relentless hunger to win football games. If he ends up playing against a 3-4 zone defense, he will be able to use the shotgun to inflict his will upon the Pittsburgh defense.
LB James Harrison is also unexpected to play while LB James Farrior has already been ruled out. Hopefully, this will increase the completions down low so he can spread the field and kick into no-huddle.
If Brady can get things going, RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis will be able to do his job and move the chains when he’s needed. Without those guys in the middle, the Steelers defense is currently ranked 12th, allowing 107.1 ypg; almost identical to the Patriots defense (104).
This pass defense (#2) is still as good as ever with CB Ike Taylor and S Ryan Clark playing at high levels to maintain the defensive dominance of Steelers teams past. It won’t be easy to do, but with confidence Brady will be able to get the ball in to the endzone. Chad Ochocino will be better integrated in the offense this week and will have his come-out game.
Mike Wallace vs. “Help Wanted” – Mike Wallace is easily one of the fastest receivers in the entire NFL. His production for the Steelers has now been a vital part of their winning formula. He’s racked in 750 receiving yards and 5 touchdowns this year; this guy comes to play every week.
With the losses of Bodden and Dowling, the New England secondary will be exposed in hostile territory with two inexperienced DBs trying to patch the holes. CB Devin McCourty has been showing many signs of a sophomore slump this year. The Patriots will need McCourty’s size and strength along with the knack he showed for getting the right angles for deflecting passes in 2010.
The adjustment to the secondary puts more responsibility on his shoulders and the shoulders of Pat Chung who will probably take coverage of TE Heath Miller who should see an increased role in the absence of Hines Ward. The Patriots defense can get all the help it can get right now; or are we all in for a big surprise? Can the defense prevent touchdowns enough to give Brady and the offense enough time to get a lead? I don’t think so.
Gronk Hefner vs. Troy Polamalu – Troy Polamalu will be a obstructive force in all phases of the Patriots offensive game-plan, he has an uncanny knowledge of the sport and can sniff plays out like none other. He is determined to keep the Steelers atop the AFC as long as he is putting on pads.
The last time the Pats came to town, a rookie by the name of Rob Gronkowski caused an uproar, piling up three touchdowns from Brady and crushing Pittsburgh. Since then, Gronk has been stopped and made a little bit of media noise as well.
Polamalu simply will not allow Brady to beat him the same way twice. If Brady is going to beat the Steelers, he’s going to need to be deadly accurate. Targeting Aaron Hernandez may be the ticket to opening up Gronk, but S Ryan Clark has been locking down the field as well in 2011. The fact that Troy doesn’t have an interception kind of scares me, Brady cannot turn the ball over.
RB Rashard Mendenhall – Mendenhall has been on and off but has the potential to run up and down the field. He is very hard to stop once he picks up momentum. If the Patriots let him get loose they may not even be able to keep up. If Jerod Mayo can make it back to play after his MCL injury the defense will be in better shape. The addition of DE Brandon Deaderick will also solidify their efforts.
WR Emmanuel Sanders – Sanders possesses explosive speed. He has the chance to take advantage of the Patriots when they are going in man coverage. He will be able to try and out run Adams or Molden at least once or twice. If NT Vince Wilfork can’t help get the rush to the quarterback, this will be an easy touchdown. The Patriots cannot afford this at all.
S Pat Chung- Chung will be responsible for a lot in this game. His play has the ability to make or break the defense. He has single handedly changed games in college at Oregon and in the NFL (Miami, MNF). If he can get inside Big Ben’s head, he may save the Patriots from an barrage of questions in the coming weeks.
Unfortunately, I feel the Patriots come up short on the final drive and the Steelers kneel the ball to end the Heinz Field losing streak to Bill Belichick. But better now than in the Playoffs right?
What do you think?
Do you think the Patriots short-term blow to the defense will play out to benefit the organization the long run?
35 – 28 Steelers