Patriots - Steelers: Game Plans & Matchups

News notes, match-ups, game plans and strategies for the Steelers (5-2) match-up vs the Patriots (5-1).

PATRIOTS

   The Patriots haven't made any transactions since the bye week, but they're hoping to have a couple of injured players back in the lineup for Sunday's game against Pittsburgh.

   RB Kevin Faulk and OL Sebastian Vollmer are working toward a possible Sunday return. Faulk spent the first six weeks of the season on the physically unable to perform list due to a knee injury while Vollmer has missed five games due to a back injury.

   The backups have done a nice job on the offensive line, most notably rookie Nate Solder, and rookie running back Stevan Ridley has made a noticeable impact in the running game. The return of two veterans would essentially add to New England's depth.

   Vollmer would slide back into his role at right tackle while Faulk would continue in his role as a jack-of-all-trades running back, both catching passes and handling the ball in the backfield. The jury is out on whether one or both will be back this week, but their imminent returns will certainly help the cause.

NOTES
   --TE Rob Gronkowski has 15 touchdown catches in 22 career NFL games. His 15 touchdowns since 2010 are the most in the NFL by a tight end.
   --WR Wes Welker has 51 receptions through six weeks and is on pace for 136, which would be second to Marvin Harrison's single-season record of 143, set in 2002.
   --QB Tom Brady has a current streak of 22 consecutive games with at least one touchdown pass, a Patriots team record. Brady has 116 wins as a starter and needs one more win to tie Joe Montana (117) for 7th all-time.
   --LB Jerod Mayo participated in a limited portion of practice Wednesday as he continues to recover from a knee injury. Mayo will likely be a game-time decision Sunday.
   --RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis is battling a toe injury that limited his participation in Wednesday's practice, but he should be ready to go for Sunday's game.

INJURY IMPACT

   --LB Dane Fletcher is still not practicing, most likely due to the thumb injury he sustained several weeks ago. No word yet on his availability for Sunday, but he'll probably be a game-time decision.
   --DL Albert Haynesworth is limited in practice this week due to a back injury. The injury has slowed him all season, but he should be available for backup duty Sunday.
   --OL Nate Solder will likely get another start at right tackle Sunday with Sebastian Vollmer still practicing on a limited basis due to his nagging back injury.
   --CB Ras-I Dowling is battling a hip injury, though he should be available for Sunday's game despite his limited participation in Wednesday's practice.
   --CB Leigh Bodden is still battling a nagging thumb injury, which has limited his practice participation, though all signs indicate he'll be ready for Sunday's game.

   GAME PLAN: Year in, year out, the Steelers remain one of the league's best defensive teams, and 2011 is no different. Pittsburgh is currently ranked No. 1 in the league in fewest yards allowed and third in pass defense. The only hole, albeit a small one, is the run defense, which is currently ranked No. 12.
   This is actually an intriguing matchup because the Patriots will counter with one of the league's most high-powered offenses. The running game figures to be a major factor; if the Patriots can do what they've been doing in recent weeks, they'll have a chance to execute some play-action passing, too.
   What also makes this is intriguing is the fact both teams tend to do what they do regardless of what the opponent throws at them. The Steelers won't change their defensive approach, nor will the Patriots scale back offensively. The outcome will hinge on which team can essentially impose its will.

   MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Patriots S Patrick Chung vs. Pittsburgh TE Heath Miller -- Chung is the man responsible for holding down the fort over the middle. Miller hasn't had a great year, but since the Steelers have been more healthy up front, he's been absolved of his blocking duties, which means he's now more active in the passing game. He caught a touchdown last week and might be looked upon again this week to make an impact.
   Steelers RB Rashard Mendenhall vs. Patriots LB Brandon Spikes -- Jerod Mayo may or may not return to the lineup Sunday. If not, Spikes will be called upon to be help stop the run. Mendenhall is not only a threat in the running game, but he can also catches passes out of the backfield, which means Spikes needs to be able to recognize and react at a moment's notice.
   Patriots CB Devin McCourty vs. Steelers WR Mike Wallace -- McCourty has had his share of struggles this year while Wallace has been a big-play threat in Pittsburgh's offense. This combination could lead to a big day for Ben Roethlisberger if the Patriots can slow down Wallace. McCourty needs to have his best game of the year.

STEELERS

   The Steelers re-signed LB Mortty Ivy to their practice squad. He takes the place of DE Corbin Bryant, an undrafted rookie who was signed to their 53-man roster Saturday to take the place of DE Aaron Smith, who was placed on injured reserve with a neck injury.

NOTES
   --NT Casey Hampton practiced and said he would play for the first time after missing three games with a shoulder injury. "That's the plan. If I can go, I'm going to go," he said.
   --QB Ben Roethlisberger, who has 1,937 yards passing this season, is on pace for 4,427 yards, which would break his own team record of 4,328 set in 2009.
   --WR Mike Wallace averages 104.3 yards receiving per game, putting him on pace for 1,669 yards, which would set a franchise record. He's back over 20 yards per catch after leading the AFC at 21.0 last season.
   --DE Brett Keisel leads the Steelers with 16 quarterback hurries even though he missed two games with a knee injury. Keisel also has two sacks, one off his career high for a season.
   --KR/PR Antonio Brown is second in the AFC with an average of 29.4 yards on kickoff returns and third with an average of 12.8 yards on punt returns.

INJURY IMPACT
   --WR Hines Ward (ankle) did not practice Wednesday, but he believes he will play Sunday.
   --LB James Harrison (eye) will miss his fourth straight game. Lawrence Timmons again will move to Harrison's outside linebacker spot, and Larry Foote will play for Timmons inside.
   --NT Chris Hoke (stinger) will miss his second straight game. Steve McLendon will back up Casey Hampton.
   --LB Jason Worilds (quad) will miss his fourth straight game.

   GAME PLAN: The Steelers think they can throw on the Patriots, but they also want to control the clock to keep the ball away from Tom Brady as much as they can. Look for some quick, shorter passes from Ben Roethlisberger. On defense, Pittsburgh has tried blitzing Brady, and it just hasn't worked. Coverage is more likely to be on the agenda than the blitzes, although defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau will pick his spot with those.

   MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Patriots WR Wes Welker vs. Steelers CB William Gay -- The league leader in receptions goes against a starting cornerback who moves inside in the nickel and dime defenses.
   Steelers C Maurkice Pouncey vs. Patriots NT Vince Wilfork -- Pro Bowler vs. Pro Bowler.
   Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski vs. Steelers defenders Troy Polamalu, Lawrence Timmons and James Farrior -- One of that trio will cover try to cover New England's tight end, something Pittsburgh could not do last year when Gronkowski caught two touchdown passes and five passes overall for 72 yards.

Reports courtesy of the Sports Xchange, combined with updates from the staff at PatriotsInsider.com

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\r\n\r\n","mobileBody":"    The Patriots haven't made any transactions since the bye week, but they're hoping to have a couple of injured players back in the lineup for Sunday's game against Pittsburgh.    RB Kevin Faulk and OL Sebastian Vollmer are working toward a possible Sunday return. Faulk spent the first six weeks of the season on the physically unable to perform list due to a knee injury while Vollmer has missed five games due to a back injury.    The backups have done a nice job on the offensive line, most notably rookie Nate Solder, and rookie running back Stevan Ridley has made a noticeable impact in the running game. The return of two veterans would essentially add to New England's depth.    Vollmer would slide back into his role at right tackle while Faulk would continue in his role as a jack-of-all-trades running back, both catching passes and handling the ball in the backfield. The jury is out on whether one or both will be back this week, but their imminent returns will certainly help the cause.    --TE Rob Gronkowski has 15 touchdown catches in 22 career NFL games. His 15 touchdowns since 2010 are the most in the NFL by a tight end.    --WR Wes Welker has 51 receptions through six weeks and is on pace for 136, which would be second to Marvin Harrison's single-season record of 143, set in 2002.    --QB Tom Brady has a current streak of 22 consecutive games with at least one touchdown pass, a Patriots team record. Brady has 116 wins as a starter and needs one more win to tie Joe Montana (117) for 7th all-time.    --LB Jerod Mayo participated in a limited portion of practice Wednesday as he continues to recover from a knee injury. Mayo will likely be a game-time decision Sunday.    --RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis is battling a toe injury that limited his participation in Wednesday's practice, but he should be ready to go for Sunday's game.    --LB Dane Fletcher is still not practicing, most likely due to the thumb injury he sustained several weeks ago. No word yet on his availability for Sunday, but he'll probably be a game-time decision.    --DL Albert Haynesworth is limited in practice this week due to a back injury. The injury has slowed him all season, but he should be available for backup duty Sunday.    --OL Nate Solder will likely get another start at right tackle Sunday with Sebastian Vollmer still practicing on a limited basis due to his nagging back injury.    --CB Ras-I Dowling is battling a hip injury, though he should be available for Sunday's game despite his limited participation in Wednesday's practice.    --CB Leigh Bodden is still battling a nagging thumb injury, which has limited his practice participation, though all signs indicate he'll be ready for Sunday's game.    Year in, year out, the Steelers remain one of the league's best defensive teams, and 2011 is no different. Pittsburgh is currently ranked No. 1 in the league in fewest yards allowed and third in pass defense. The only hole, albeit a small one, is the run defense, which is currently ranked No. 12.    This is actually an intriguing matchup because the Patriots will counter with one of the league's most high-powered offenses. The running game figures to be a major factor; if the Patriots can do what they've been doing in recent weeks, they'll have a chance to execute some play-action passing, too.    What also makes this is intriguing is the fact both teams tend to do what they do regardless of what the opponent throws at them. The Steelers won't change their defensive approach, nor will the Patriots scale back offensively. The outcome will hinge on which team can essentially impose its will.    Patriots S Patrick Chung vs. Pittsburgh TE Heath Miller -- Chung is the man responsible for holding down the fort over the middle. Miller hasn't had a great year, but since the Steelers have been more healthy up front, he's been absolved of his blocking duties, which means he's now more active in the passing game. He caught a touchdown last week and might be looked upon again this week to make an impact.    Steelers RB Rashard Mendenhall vs. Patriots LB Brandon Spikes -- Jerod Mayo may or may not return to the lineup Sunday. If not, Spikes will be called upon to be help stop the run. Mendenhall is not only a threat in the running game, but he can also catches passes out of the backfield, which means Spikes needs to be able to recognize and react at a moment's notice.    Patriots CB Devin McCourty vs. Steelers WR Mike Wallace -- McCourty has had his share of struggles this year while Wallace has been a big-play threat in Pittsburgh's offense. This combination could lead to a big day for Ben Roethlisberger if the Patriots can slow down Wallace. McCourty needs to have his best game of the year.    The Steelers re-signed LB Mortty Ivy to their practice squad. He takes the place of DE Corbin Bryant, an undrafted rookie who was signed to their 53-man roster Saturday to take the place of DE Aaron Smith, who was placed on injured reserve with a neck injury.    --NT Casey Hampton practiced and said he would play for the first time after missing three games with a shoulder injury. \"That's the plan. If I can go, I'm going to go,\" he said.    --QB Ben Roethlisberger, who has 1,937 yards passing this season, is on pace for 4,427 yards, which would break his own team record of 4,328 set in 2009.    --WR Mike Wallace averages 104.3 yards receiving per game, putting him on pace for 1,669 yards, which would set a franchise record. He's back over 20 yards per catch after leading the AFC at 21.0 last season.    --DE Brett Keisel leads the Steelers with 16 quarterback hurries even though he missed two games with a knee injury. Keisel also has two sacks, one off his career high for a season.    --KR/PR Antonio Brown is second in the AFC with an average of 29.4 yards on kickoff returns and third with an average of 12.8 yards on punt returns.    --WR Hines Ward (ankle) did not practice Wednesday, but he believes he will play Sunday.    --LB James Harrison (eye) will miss his fourth straight game. Lawrence Timmons again will move to Harrison's outside linebacker spot, and Larry Foote will play for Timmons inside.    --NT Chris Hoke (stinger) will miss his second straight game. Steve McLendon will back up Casey Hampton.    --LB Jason Worilds (quad) will miss his fourth straight game. The Steelers think they can throw on the Patriots, but they also want to control the clock to keep the ball away from Tom Brady as much as they can. Look for some quick, shorter passes from Ben Roethlisberger. On defense, Pittsburgh has tried blitzing Brady, and it just hasn't worked. Coverage is more likely to be on the agenda than the blitzes, although defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau will pick his spot with those. Patriots WR Wes Welker vs. Steelers CB William Gay -- The league leader in receptions goes against a starting cornerback who moves inside in the nickel and dime defenses.    Steelers C Maurkice Pouncey vs. Patriots NT Vince Wilfork -- Pro Bowler vs. Pro Bowler.    Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski vs. Steelers defenders Troy Polamalu, Lawrence Timmons and James Farrior -- One of that trio will cover try to cover New England's tight end, something Pittsburgh could not do last year when Gronkowski caught two touchdown passes and five passes overall for 72 yards. 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