The Patriot offense has been rolling lately behind Tom Brady. While there is no way to completely shut down that offense, there are ways the Steelers can reel it in a bit and win this AFC matchup.
The bread and butter of the Pittsburgh Steelers since the beginning of time has been running the football. The Steelers win games in the trenches. Establishing the run is huge against any team, especially the Patriots.
By running the ball early and often, it keeps the Patriot offense off the field. The best way to stop a team from scoring is to simply not let them have the ball. New England's rush defense is ranked eighth in the NFL, allowing 101.5 yards per game on the ground. This statistic is a little skewed due to the fact most teams are throwing the ball against the Pats and exploiting their sieve-like pass defense; however, that defensive line is not going to lay down and let the Steelers run all over them all day.
Rashard Mendenhall, Isaac Redman and the rest of the Steeler rushing attack need to be able to get it done on the ground. Moving the chains via the run will keep Tom Brady off the field and make that already weak secondary of the Patriots more susceptible to giving up a big play down the field later in the game.
Tom Brady is hands down the best quarterback in the NFL.
He's averaging over 360 passing yards a game throwing to Wes Welker and a committee of tight ends. Despite not having any real deep threat, Brady is managing to put up All-Pro numbers with remarkable ease.
It is evident that Brady is getting too much time to throw the football. He has only been hit 29 times this season and has only been sacked 11 times. The Steelers need to find a way to disrupt Tom Brady and the flow of that offense.
The Dallas Cowboys were able to get into the backfield and make things uncomfortable for Tom Brady. He had his lowest passer rating of the season and would have lost the game had it not been for a late fourth quarter touchdown drive.
In a game where points are at a premium, finishing red zone drives with touchdowns is not all that important. Unfortunately, this won't be one of those games.
Both of these teams have been putting points on the board the last few weeks. In a high-scoring game (as this one will most likely be), teams can't afford to settle for field goals once they get into the red zone. That doesn't mean the Steelers need to try to convert on fourth down. What the Steelers must do is find a way to get the ball into the end zone once they get inside the 20.
If the Steelers can put six points on the board once they reach the red zone, it will go a long way in helping to pull out a victory on Sunday.
The Steelers have struggled with turnovers all season.
Through seven games, the once vaunted Steelers defense only has three takeaways. If that isn't bad enough, they have turned it over 12 times this season. When playing a team with a high-octane offense, turnovers usually lead to points. The Patriots have forced 11 turnovers this season, which have led to 27 points. Giving the Patriots extra possessions is something the Steelers cannot do.
The good news for the Steelers is that New England is prone to turning the ball over. Patriot opponents have 10 takeaways this season. If Pittsburgh can hold on to the football and force an untimely turnover or two, the Steelers will walk away winners.
If there is one problem the Steelers have, it is becoming overly conservative when getting the lead. This generally causes the Steelers offense to become highly predictable and stagnant late in games.
Steeler fans have seen it too many times. The Steelers get the lead and can't find a way to put the hammer down and shut the door on their opponent. They did it against the Jaguars two weeks ago and nearly lost that game.
If the Steelers get the lead against the Patriots, they have to put them away. We saw it with the Cowboys two weeks ago. The Cowboys held a slim lead against the Patriots late in the game. Instead of trying to put the game away, they elected to go with a conservative offense and punt the ball back to New England, hoping their defense could win the game. That strategy backfired, as Tom Brady led the Patriots down the field for a come-from-behind win.
With Tom Brady, that is something the Steelers cannot do. He is the best in the business when it comes to leading game-winning drives. Coming off a bye week, the Patriots are going to be well rested and capable of mounting a late game drive against a tired and depleted Steelers defense.