Steelers Head To New England Looking To End Patriots' Unbeaten Run
Steelers Fever Exclusive Editorial
|Sunday, December 09, 2007
By Eddie Griffin
Steelers Fever Columnist
After a 24-10 victory over Cincinnati on Sunday night, the Steelers face their toughest test of the season when they face the unbeaten New England Patriots on Sunday afternoon at Gillette Stadium.
Against Cincinnati, Pittsburgh didn't play their most efficient game, turning the ball over four times, but a solid night from Ben Roethlisberger (184 yards, 2 TD) and a defense that shut down Carson Palmer and the Bengals offense helped the Steelers move to 9-3.
To beat the undefeated Patriots on Sunday afternoon will require a much more mistake-free day, as New England has capitalized on late mistakes by the opposition in comeback victories in three of their last four games, including their latest victory, a 27-24 triumph over Pittsburgh's division rival, Baltimore, in which the Ravens had the game in their grasp, but let it get away in the final couple of minutes.
Will the Steelers go one step further than the Ravens and deal the Patriots their first loss of the season? Or will Pittsburgh just be another footnote in New England's pursuit of history?
Looking at the Patriots
The biggest part of New England's success this year has been their offense. Brady has 41 touchdown passes, and is on pace to break Peyton Manning's record of 49. 17 of those touchdown passes have been caught by Randy Moss, who has returned to his dominant self and then some in his first year in New England.
The Patriots are on pace to break the NFL record for points in a season, already with 469 through a dozen games (39.1 points per game).
The rushing game hasn't been a strong point recently (138 yards total in the last two games), and neither has the defense, as both Philadelphia and Baltimore have moved the ball well on the Pats in the last two weeks (391 and 376 yards).
Keys to Success
Where to start, where to start?
First of all, and this one is the easiest one -- don't get lost in the hoopla and the fact that the Patriots are 12-0. Yes, they're unbeaten. Yes, they're a great team. Yes, Tom Brady may just be the best quarterback in the current era. But, they are beatable, as Indy, Philly, and Baltimore have shown in the last month.
But, the difference between the Patriots being 12-0 and 9-3 is the fact that none of those teams were able to close the deal, and that is what Pittsburgh has to do, if they have a lead in the second half.
To make that possible, there are a few things that need to be done.
1) Get pressure on Brady. When he has the chance to sling it, that's when he's Superman. But, when you get pressure on him, he can be quite human. Dallas did a good job of pressuring him (though he ended up burning them in the end), and in the last two weeks, Philly and Baltimore have as well, with the Ravens doing it with the fullest effect, holding him to 18 of 38 passing, sacking him three times, and picking him off once.
2) Stop the run. The Patriots haven't been the greatest running team as of late, and that's not good news when you're playing the no. 2 run defense in the league. If Pittsburgh does stop the run, that makes Brady have to throw it on nearly every down (as if he isn't already), and more importantly, eliminates another way that New England can beat them. That could backfire, but that's where great pass defense comes in.
3) Speaking of pass defense, along with getting in Brady's face, there is the matter of keeping the Patriots' stable of talented receivers from getting too open. If Wes Welker gets open, he can turn a five-yard pass into a 45-yarder in an instant, and if Moss gets open, well, it doesn't bode too well for the opponent 95.7% of the time.
I could continue to toss around the Steelers' defensive rankings (no. 1 pass defense, no. 1 scoring defense, no. 1 overall defense), but results, not numbers, are what matters, and if the results keep happening as they have (for most of the season), then it's good news on D.
Of course, part of the defense's success is because of the offense, which has done a good job of keeping the load off of the defense.
4) On offense, Big Ben and Willie Parker don't need to produce 450 yards of total offense (it'd be nice, but it's not necessary), but the key is making the most of their opportunities, moving the ball well, and playing like a well-oiled machine. The more they keep the ball out of Brady's hands, the better.
The offensive line needs to be a rock. Baltimore ran for 166 yards against the Patriots, and that's a number certainly doable and beatable by the Steelers. New England also didn't record any sacks, and Kyle Boller was 15 of 23 with only one interception, so, besides opening up holes for Mr. Parker, the O-line also needs to give Big Ben time to be the efficient QB he usually is (which means keeping any passes out of the reach of Asante Samuel).
5) Last, but certainly not least -- DON'T MAKE MISTAKES! That's what cost Baltimore in the end -- mindless penalties, unnecessary timeouts. It also hurt Philadelphia and Indianapolis as well. If you got 'em in your grasp, don't let 'em off the hook. That means no silly turnovers, no dumb penalties, and no letting one bad play or bad call affect what happens on the next down or drive.
What We'll See
The Patriots are favored by double digits. That's no surprise, and a Steelers victory wouldn't be one either.
The blueprint for beating the Patriots is there. It's the same as beating any other team, but while you have a little margin for error against some teams, that doesn't exist against New England, if you care about winning.
Coach Tomlin should have his players with the necessary mindset, as judged by this lovely quote that the Patriots may or may not use as bulletin board material -- "The Patriots are a very good football team, to say the least. But this isn't Appalachian State-Michigan."
Indeed it isn't. The Patriots will no doubt be prepared, as they always are, and will be looking to make a little statement after having a few close calls recently.
But, if the Steelers come to town just as prepared, they'll stay in the game until the end and give themselves a chance to be the team to knock the Patriots off of that lofty pedestal that the media likes to put every unbeaten team on.
If they fall a little short, don't expect a Dennis Green-like "They are who we thought they were! If you want to crown their ....., crown 'em!" moment from Coach Tomlin, provided they play their best and give themselves the fullest chance at the victory, which is something that many teams can't attest to this season.
I won't be as confident as Anthony Smith and guarantee a win (now there's your bulletin board material, if you want it), but the Steelers have more than a fair chance to make his prediction come true.