PATRIOTS: Weekend Notes

The game this weekend between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the New England Patriots provides another good look at what many experts predicted to be the two best teams in the AFC. Now that the Patriots have their first loss of the season, speculation about their demise has begun. Get inside for the weekend notes and gameplan.

PATRIOTS: Weekend Notes
By Scout.com Staff

NOTES, QUOTES

--RB Corey Dillon hasn't reached the point of being frustrated after two games in which the Patriots have failed to generate much running production. Dillon has just 99 yards in two games and is averaging only 2.7 yards per carry. It's a far cry from the 1,635 yards he gained last season, his first in New England.

"I can only control the way I play and what I control. I need to get better," Dillon said. "I'm not saying I'm not concerned, but I'm too old to be frustrated. I'm patient. I think we will get better."

Running against Pittsburgh doesn't figure to be any easier than running against the Panthers, but the Patriots have to keep at it. The Steelers held New England to 5 rushing yards in the regular season meeting last year and then did a solid job against Dillon in the AFC Championship Game, other than a 25-yard TD run.

"The running game will be very important," quarterback Tom Brady said. "It's important every week, but Pittsburgh is tough to run against. We will need our best effort."

--Speaking of Brady, he is looking to improve on a shaky performance as well. He completed just 23-of-44 passes last week for 270 yards with a TD and an interception. He also missed some wide-open receivers. "You evaluate and move on. I don't think I'm going to change the way I throw the football."

--Belichick said that the Steelers running game hasn't changed over the years even though they've had different players running the ball. "They all have different styles," Belichick said of Duce Staley, Jerome Bettis and Willie Parker. "But everything else is the same. They run the same plays. Parker is fast. He turns 5-yard runs into 40- or 50-yard runs."

--Cornerback Ellis Hobbs sees most of his action on special teams and understands that the coverage units are struggling. "We just have to keep working at it. We can definitely do it better. It's not just one thing, it's a bunch of little things. We're not getting frustrated. We're just going to work hard it. Those guys get paid too."

BY THE NUMBERS: 7-2 - Tom Brady's touchdown to interception ratio in four career games against the Steelers. The Patriots are 3-1 in those games.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Ben's Ben. He throws a good deep ball. He's hard to tackle. He can run the ball. He's accurate downfield. They make a lot of big plays in the passing game." - Bill Belichick

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

Injuries in the Patriots secondary once again leave the Patriots thin defensively. Both Tyrone Poole and Chad Scott missed last week's loss in Carolina and Randall Gay joined them on the injury report after suffering a lower leg injury in the Panthers game.


Gay and Poole aren't expected to play this week while Scott will need to return to practice at some point this week to have a shot to face his former team. That leaves inexperienced rookie Ellis Hobbs and second-year man Guss Scott, who is essentially a rookie after missing all of last season with an injury, as the nickel and dime backs.
It would not be a shock to see Troy Brown on the defensive side of the ball, although he is currently needed on offense since Andre' Davis and Bethel Johnson have both missed the first two games of the season.

PLAYER/PERSONNEL NOTES

--CB Tyrone Poole remains questionable with a left leg injury. Coach Bill Belichick said Wednesday that Poole is one of the team's most well conditioned athletes and is working hard to return. He is unlikely to play this week.
--CB Chad Scott said this week that he is feeling better, but he remains questionable with a shoulder injury. Scott missed a portion of practice Wednesday, but could end up a game-time decision.
--CB Randall Gay won't play this week because of a lower left leg injury suffered in Carolina. He's on crutches this week.
--G Stephen Neal missed at least a portion of practice because of the back injury he suffered last week. It's not considered serious, but the uncertainty of a back injury leaves his status unknown for the coming weeks.
--WR Bethel Johnson should be available this week if needed. Johnson probably wouldn't contribute much as a receiver this week, but his speed could be used alongside Ellis Hobbs in the kickoff return game.
--LB Tully Banta-Cain's knee injury is improving, although probably not enough to return this week. He is one of the Patriots core special teamers and could help the struggling coverage units.
--WR Andre' Davis will likely miss his third straight game this week in Pittsburgh. Davis remains questionable with a foot injury.
--QB Tom Brady remains on the injury report listed as probably with a right shoulder injury. He did not miss any practice time.

GAME PLAN: The Patriots plan will be simple this week defensively. They will focus their defensive efforts on stopping the run. This game will come down to which team is more physical. The Patriots have to put the game on Ben Roethlisberger and keep him in passing situations where they can try to confuse him with coverage and blitz schemes.

Offensively, Tom Brady needs time to exploit some matchup advantages against the Steelers' secondary. Pass protection will be the most critical aspect of the Patriots' offensive plan. But New England needs to muster some kind of ground game. The Steelers will likely play two deep safeties and defend the run with seven to make things difficult on Brady attacking down the field. The Pats receivers have to break some tackles.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH

Patriots NT Vince Wilfork, the centerpiece of the Patriots' 3-4 front, vs. Steelers C Jeff Hartings. If Hartings handles Wilfork one-on-one all day, it will be game, set and match ... Steelers.

Steelers WR Hines Ward, who is not only Ben Roethlisberger's go-to guy but also one of the best blockers at his position, vs. Patriots CB Asante Samuel, who is quickly becoming his team's best cover man. Samuel needs to play well in run force to prevent big plays in the Steelers running game.

Patriots LT Matt Light, who is off to a slow start to the season, vs. Steelers LB Joey Porter, who has two sacks in two games. Porter is a powerful, aggressive rusher. Light has trouble with Porter-types. If Light doesn't do the job, Porter can ruin the game the same way Mike Rucker did last week when he beat Light and G Logan Mankins for a critical strip sack.

INJURY IMPACT: The Patriots are once again banged up and could be without three cornerbacks this week, leaving rookie Ellis Hobbs in the mix as a nickel back, a position at which he has struggled since the preseason. Beyond that, the Patriots should be OK. Wideouts Andre' Davis and Bethel Johnson might remain sidelined, although Johnson's might not be injury related this week. He remains questionable but the made the trip to Carolina last week. Tackle Brandon Gorin will likely remain out but rookie Nick Kaczur has held his own while rotating in for Matt Light and Tom Ashworth. The biggest loss may be guard Stephen Neal, who left last week's game with a back injury. Russ Hochstein will start at RG, but is not the powerful, athletic run blocker that Neal has become.


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