Is it just me or is Bill Belichick enjoying that a little TOO much?
Ah, our old friends the New England Patriots. So much success between the two teams. So much hate between the two fanbases. There are really only two things which keep the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Patriots from being one of the NFL’s great rivalries. First, they don’t play each other with enough regularity – although we certainly seem to see them an awful lot.
And second, the Patriots always win.
As I’ve discussed when talking about the Browns-Steelers rivalry, it’s hard to keep the hate flowing when the rivalry is so one-sided. The Browns have done a good job of pulling off some unexpected upsets in recent years to reignite some of the passion. When it comes to Pats-Steelers, though, it’s hard to get excited about a rival who’s consistently dished out one-sided whuppins.
From the Spygate AFC Championship Game to the 34-13 beatdown Tom Brady dished out after safety Anthony Smith let his mouth write checks his ass couldn’t cash, it’s been one disappointment after another. On Sunday, the reeling Steelers limp into Foxboro to face the first place Patriots on national TV. At this point, we can only pray they aren’t embarrassed.
STEELERS DEFENSE vs PATRIOTS OFFENSE
Who are these guys?
That’s a question Brady probably asked himself in training camp and I’m asking while looking at the team stat sheet. The Patriots receiving corp is literally a cast of no-names who are being propped up through the talent and will of Tom Terrific. And perhaps the prayers of Giselle and her supermodel friends.
The Pats’ leading receiver is Julian Edelman, a poor man’s Wes Welker. Rookies Kenbrell Thompkins and Aaron Dopson have nearly identical statistics behind him. New England’s big free agent acquisition, former Ram Danny Amendola, has battled injury – the story of his career – returning last week to catch 3 passes for 15 yards.
Anybody still wonder why the Patriots were willing to surrender a third rounder for Emmanuel Sanders?
Speaking of hurt guys, New England’s biggest – figuritively and literally – weapon, tight end Rob Gronkowski, has also recently returned from injury. Gronk is a game-changer. He caught 114 yards worth of passes his first game back although Miami held him to only 2 catches/27 yards last week. Steeler Nation will remember him shredding their lousy secondary the last time these teams met so any discussion of game plan has to begin and end with containing Gronk.
Which is concerning because the Steelers secondary has not been good this season. Troy Polamalu has been resurgent but the other three guys have been less than stellar. Ike Taylor has had some very good games and some very bad ones. Ryan Clark is slow, a lousy tackler, and has just sucked in general. The other CB, be it Cortez Allen or William Gay, have often afforded comfy 10 yard cushions to their man. Doing any of these things against Brady will prove lethal.
That is if Brady even has two win the game. With the upheavel at wide out, the Patriots have quietly become a very good running team. As Mike Tomlin said in his press conference, they split the load among three backs rather than depend on a single workhorse. LaGarrette Blount is the power back while Stevan Ridley gives them some shiftiness. Then there’s Brandon Bolden, who brings big play potential. All three are used and all three can hurt you.
The Steelers defensive line had a terrible game at Oakland. Steve McClendon was repeatedly buried while the ends couldn’t open up the holes necessary for linebacker to make plays. They didn’t really get to Terrelle Pryor either. One area the Patriots have struggled at this season is pass protection. Brady has already been sacked 23 times after going down only 27 times all of last year. Stop the run, knock Tommy around a little, and hope the young receivers fold and maybe, MAYBE, the Steelers have a shot.
STEELERS OFFENSE vs PATRIOTS DEFENSE
If we can’t score more than one touchdown against these guys, we’ll never do it.
The Pats lost their leading tackler, LB Jerrod Mayo, for the season. They also lost veteran stalwart Vince Wolfork. They have some decent players, Brandon Spikes has done a nice job for them and Dont’a Hightower looks like a keeper, but that’s two big losses. Their secondary has morphed into one of the NFL’s best led by Tampa cast-off Aqib Talib. While his four INTs pace what is the fifth ranked pass defense, the loss of the aforementioned vets have contributed to the Pats falling all the way to second to the worst against the run.
If future Hall-of-Famer Le’Veon Bell doesn’t do something this week, the committee may start to question his credentials.
Of course, Bell or any running back’s ability to get yards is gonna depend on the offensive line. Ramon Foster passed his concussion test – obviously it didn’t involve him having to spell “Pass Protection” – and returned to practice. Fellow guard David DeCastro has not. Guy Whimper has practiced most of the week after being carted off what looked like the most serious of injury to our beleaguered linemen. If I had to guess, Whimper will play LG in DeCastro’s place with Kelvin Beachum continuing to start at LT.
Whatever line-up the Steelers use, they have to play better. They’re not opening up holes for the running game and they sure as hell aren’t protecting Ben Roethlisberger. After all those high picks expended in building a line, Ben is on pace to be sacked a record 62 times. Remember the good old days of Chris Kemoeatu, Trai Essex, Willie Colon and only giving up 50 sacks? I’m sure Ben does.
If Ben does get a chance to pass and he’s able to find a big play against the Patriots’ secondary, hopefully one of our receivers can catch the damn ball. Derek Moye and Antonio Brown have each taken turns dropping passes they should’ve caught. It’d also be nice if Sanders maybe could give New England a taste of what they might’ve had. At the least, he should be auditioning for next year.
But before we worry about the draft, free agency and the off-season, we have Sunday’s game against the Pats. Even in the worst of times, the Steelers usually pull out one or two notable wins per season. I guess the victory over Baltimore sorta counts even though the Ravens really suck. It sure would be nice if our big upset occurs at New England’s expense. We certainly owe them one.