Patriots Face Familiar Foe in Pittsburgh

Rematches aren't always what they're cracked up to be. That was true for the first two weeks where the Patriots outmanned an Oakland team in a redo of the snow game sans snow, and again last week in a rematch with the Panthers at Carolina sans Super Bowl. This week may continue that trend as the Steelers and the Patriots are ready to go at it again in their first encounter since the AFC Championship game. It may be more reminiscent of their Halloween game than their playoff encounter.

PHOTO: Pittsburgh Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger stiff arms New England Patriots LB Mike Vrabel, Oct 31, 2004 (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Patriots Face Familiar Foe in Pittsburgh
By Staff

The Patriots have problems to correct and will try to fix those areas this week in one of the most hostile environments in the NFL. Through two weeks, the Patriots have been unable to run the ball, have had problems with penalties and have been simply awful on special teams. They also are facing a slate of games that would make even a two-time defending champion shake in its boots.

So it is this week they travel to Pittsburgh to take on another team motivated by the revenge factor. Last week it was Carolina looking to measure itself against the Patriots and to avenge its Super Bowl XXXVIII loss.

The Steelers have plenty of motivation to beat the Patriots. New England has ended Pittsburgh's Super Bowl hopes twice in the last four years by knocking off the Steelers at Heinz Field in the AFC Championship Game. This has become one of the hottest non-division rivalries in the league.

Familiarity, however, does not breed contempt in this case. The Patriots understand that Pittsburgh is a team that more or less does what it does every week and simply does it well. It's more of a Vince Lombardi approach to execution rather than a Bill Belichick approach, which is to change schemes from week to week to best match up with a particular opponent.

"I can go back to my scouting reports from Cleveland from 1992 and it's the same diagrams," Belichick said. "It's about stopping their execution."

That's quite obviously much easier said than done. Bill Cowher's Steelers have been incredibly successful over the years doing what they do. They will run the ball when ahead, tied or trailing. They will then throw it down the field to make big plays. It's a formula that Cowher has used to compile a 132-77-1 record over 13-plus seasons.

Part of that formula is a difficult-to-handle blitz scheme that stresses the protection by making it difficult to identify the rushers, while the coverage plays a zone behind the rush. The Patriots have played Pittsburgh four times in the last three seasons with solid results except for last year's 34-20 regular-season loss at Heinz Field that wasn't as close as the score might indicate.

"The first thing we need to do is stay competitive," Belichick said, noting that the Steelers have been running out the clock in each of the last two games after outscoring Tennessee and Houston by a 61-14 count. "We know what that's like. We were down 21-3 in the first quarter last year (against the Steelers)."

But the Patriots also have had success against Pittsburgh. They won the 2001 AFC Championship Game at Heinz Field, easily handled the Steelers in the 2002 season opener and then won last year's AFC title game at Heinz as well.

"We're familiar with the way they rush," quarterback Tom Brady said. "They're similar to a division opponent because we've played them so much. It's a little bit like last week in that they're physical and they're aggressive."

New England has to handle the Steelers well-known brand of football better than it handled Carolina's physical play last week to avoid a two-game losing streak that would be considered a swoon in a town unaccustomed to seeing its team lose consecutive games.

SERIES HISTORY: 22nd meeting. Steelers lead 13-8, but New England has won four of last five, including two AFC Championship wins.

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