Steelers Have the Edge

The second stop on a brutal stretch of road games happens this week when the Patriots travel to Pittsburgh to take on the Steelers. Pittsburgh has their offense clicking and have rolled over their first two opponents of the season, while the Patriots continue to experience misfires and injuries which have cast doubt on their ability to return to their usual place atop the standings. PI takes a look at a game in which the Steelers definitely have an edge.

PHOTO: New England Patriots RB Corey Dillon breaks away from Pittsburgh Steelers S Chris Hope, and S Troy Polamalu Jan 23, 2005 (AP Photo/Amy Sancetta)

Steelers Have the Edge
By John MacKenna

The New England Patriots have their work cut out this Sunday when they return to Pittsburgh for the third time in 11 months to take on the Steelers, and the prognosis for a Patriots victory is not good.

The teams clashed twice last year, and neither game was close. The Steelers mauled the Patriots in the regular season matchup on Halloween, winning 34-20 while gaining 221 yards rushing in a dominant performance. Then in the AFC Championship game on Jan. 23, the Patriots won handily by intercepting Steelers' QB Ben Roethlisberger three times and confusing the Pittsburgh defense with bold play calling, including end-arounds and some well-timed downfield passing.

These are two teams that play with plenty of swagger when times are good. In last year's regular season matchup, the Steelers were brimming with confidence. They had won four straight and were coming off a bye week rested and ready. The Patriots, meanwhile, were coming off a tough 13-7 over the Jets in which they had failed to score in the second half. The Steelers took it to the Patriots right away, jumping out to a 21-3 lead first quarter lead with the third touchdown coming on a DeShea Townsend interception and runback.

In the playoff rematch, it was the Patriots who had momentum on their side. They had just stymied the mighty Indianapolis Colts, 20-3, and came to Pittsburgh feeling and acting unstoppable. Meanwhile, the Steelers were lucky to be still playing, having eked out a 20-17 win over the Jets in the Divisional playoff. Roethlisberger had been picked off twice, and the Steelers knew that the Jets deserved the victory more than they did.

As the teams prepare to meet yet again on Sunday, the Steelers again have the momentum advantage, but the edge is even larger than it was going into last year's regular season mismatch.

The Steelers come into the game 2-0, having vanquished the Tennessee Titans and the Houston Texans by a combined margin of 61-14. Roethlisberger is sporting a gaudy completion percentage of 71.9 (23 for 32) and a passer rating of 153.6, with four touchdown and no interceptions.

The Steelers also have to be feeling fabulous about their new weapon in the running game. With regular RBs Duce Staley and Jerome Bettis battling injuries, Head Coach Bill Cowher has turned to second-year man Willie Parker. The 5'10", 209-pound speedster has responded with two exceptional performances. With 272 yards in two games, Parker is on a pace for 2,176 yards.

The Patriots, meanwhile, are reeling as badly as they have in recent memory. They were soundly beaten last Sunday by the Carolina Panthers, 27-17, and their normally reliable offensive headliners appear to be struggling. QB Tom Brady threw an interception and lost a fumble against the Panthers and has been less accurate than usual. Things are much worse with RB Corey Dillon, who gained only 63 yards in Week 1 against the Raiders and only 36 yards against the Panthers.

One usually goes wrong underestimating the Patriots, but they are definitely off their game on offense, and the red-hot Steelers look like the worst possible opponent at the moment.

If they are to win, there are several things the Patriots must accomplish.

First, they need to regain their confidence and start smacking the Steelers around from the opening kickoff. When they have the ball, they need to open some holes for Dillon. It's unlikely Dillon will have a big day, but he needs to run aggressively and average four yards every time he gets the ball. He has had far too many unproductive carries in the first two games.

Second, the Patriots need to get Pittsburgh guessing on defense. If the Steelers get comfortable in their zone blitzing scheme are start sending defensive backs after Brady and getting away with it, they will beat the Patriots. The Steelers have 11 sacks in their first two games, including eight last week against the Texans. Safety Troy Polamalu accounted for three of those.

The Patriots won the AFC Championship last year by knocking the Steelers on their heels with a bold attack featuring end-arounds and some successful long passes. WR Deion Branch figured prominently, and New England needs another big game from him this Sunday.

Just as importantly, the Patriots need to shut down the Steelers' offense, starting with the running game. If they can contain the elusive Parker by forcing him inside and bringing him down with the defensive line, they can force Roethlisberger to try to win the game.

Unfortunately for the Patriots, Roethlisberger may now be capable of picking apart the New England defense. He is playing with tremendous confidence, and there is no talk of a sore thumb as there was last year when he threw three interceptions in the championship game.

Accomplishing these goals will not be easy. On offense, Brady, Dillon and company will be facing basically the same Pittsburgh defense they saw last year. The only change is the return of nose tackle Casey Hampton, a 325-pound Pro Bowler who missed both games against the Patriots last year.

Look for the Patriots to make the Steelers guess. That might mean running the ball up the middle a lot, because the Steelers might be looking for everything but that. New England needs a great game from its offensive line and tight ends.


John MacKenna is a regular contributor to Patriots Insider. You can also find archives of his columns on the Insiders by searching for "John MacKenna" or


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By John MacKenna

The New England Patriots have their work cut out this Sunday when they return to Pittsburgh for the third time in 11 months to take on the Steelers, and the prognosis for a Patriots victory is not good.

The teams clashed twice last year, and neither game was close. The Steelers mauled the Patriots in the regular season matchup on Halloween, winning 34-20 while gaining 221 yards rushing in a dominant performance. Then in the AFC Championship game on Jan. 23, the Patriots won handily by intercepting Steelers' QB Ben Roethlisberger three times and confusing the Pittsburgh defense with bold play calling, including end-arounds and some well-timed downfield passing.

These are two teams that play with plenty of swagger when times are good. In last year's regular season matchup, the Steelers were brimming with confidence. They had won four straight and were coming off a bye week rested and ready. The Patriots, meanwhile, were coming off a tough 13-7 over the Jets in which they had failed to score in the second half. The Steelers took it to the Patriots right away, jumping out to a 21-3 lead first quarter lead with the third touchdown coming on a DeShea Townsend interception and runback.

In the playoff rematch, it was the Patriots who had momentum on their side. They had just stymied the mighty Indianapolis Colts, 20-3, and came to Pittsburgh feeling and acting unstoppable. Meanwhile, the Steelers were lucky to be still playing, having eked out a 20-17 win over the Jets in the Divisional playoff. Roethlisberger had been picked off twice, and the Steelers knew that the Jets deserved the victory more than they did.

As the teams prepare to meet yet again on Sunday, the Steelers again have the momentum advantage, but the edge is even larger than it was going into last year's regular season mismatch.

The Steelers come into the game 2-0, having vanquished the Tennessee Titans and the Houston Texans by a combined margin of 61-14. Roethlisberger is sporting a gaudy completion percentage of 71.9 (23 for 32) and a passer rating of 153.6, with four touchdown and no interceptions.

The Steelers also have to be feeling fabulous about their new weapon in the running game. With regular RBs Duce Staley and Jerome Bettis battling injuries, Head Coach Bill Cowher has turned to second-year man Willie Parker. The 5'10", 209-pound speedster has responded with two exceptional performances. With 272 yards in two games, Parker is on a pace for 2,176 yards.

The Patriots, meanwhile, are reeling as badly as they have in recent memory. They were soundly beaten last Sunday by the Carolina Panthers, 27-17, and their normally reliable offensive headliners appear to be struggling. QB Tom Brady threw an interception and lost a fumble against the Panthers and has been less accurate than usual. Things are much worse with RB Corey Dillon, who gained only 63 yards in Week 1 against the Raiders and only 36 yards against the Panthers.

One usually goes wrong underestimating the Patriots, but they are definitely off their game on offense, and the red-hot Steelers look like the worst possible opponent at the moment.

If they are to win, there are several things the Patriots must accomplish.

First, they need to regain their confidence and start smacking the Steelers around from the opening kickoff. When they have the ball, they need to open some holes for Dillon. It's unlikely Dillon will have a big day, but he needs to run aggressively and average four yards every time he gets the ball. He has had far too many unproductive carries in the first two games.

Second, the Patriots need to get Pittsburgh guessing on defense. If the Steelers get comfortable in their zone blitzing scheme are start sending defensive backs after Brady and getting away with it, they will beat the Patriots. The Steelers have 11 sacks in their first two games, including eight last week against the Texans. Safety Troy Polamalu accounted for three of those.

The Patriots won the AFC Championship last year by knocking the Steelers on their heels with a bold attack featuring end-arounds and some successful long passes. WR Deion Branch figured prominently, and New England needs another big game from him this Sunday.

Just as importantly, the Patriots need to shut down the Steelers' offense, starting with the running game. If they can contain the elusive Parker by forcing him inside and bringing him down with the defensive line, they can force Roethlisberger to try to win the game.

Unfortunately for the Patriots, Roethlisberger may now be capable of picking apart the New England defense. He is playing with tremendous confidence, and there is no talk of a sore thumb as there was last year when he threw three interceptions in the championship game.

Accomplishing these goals will not be easy. On offense, Brady, Dillon and company will be facing basically the same Pittsburgh defense they saw last year. The only change is the return of nose tackle Casey Hampton, a 325-pound Pro Bowler who missed both games against the Patriots last year.

Look for the Patriots to make the Steelers guess. That might mean running the ball up the middle a lot, because the Steelers might be looking for everything but that. New England needs a great game from its offensive line and tight ends.

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