Teams of Decade Again

The Steelers and the Patriots meet again tonight with -- surprise, surprise -- AFC supremacy on the line.

PITTSBURGH – The New England Patriots and Pittsburgh Steelers won five of the 10 Super Bowls in the last decade, but in this decade they're both rebuilding a bit.

The Patriots sport the 29th-ranked defense and the Steelers possess the 28th-ranked offense.

Unusual statistics for those teams, particularly in conjunction with this stat: The Patriots and Steelers are 6-2 and vying for AFC mid-season supremacy tonight at Heinz Field.

"They might give up yardage, but they take the ball away a lot," said Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians. "We can't turn the ball over and give it to Tom Brady."

Tom Brady. He's the guy who put Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau on the hot seat this week. LeBeau likes to play off coverage in the secondary because few quarterbacks are patient and precise enough to find success. Brady's been an exception, so the Steelers can't like this matchup.

"With that matchup," LeBeau said, "I think any defensive coordinator – if he's being honest on the week that he was playing Brady – would say it's not a good matchup.

"But we think it's going to be good on good. If we execute our defense, it'll be difficult for them to slowly go down the field on us. I think that's true of any offense – if we execute the system."

Brady's 5-1 record against the Steelers includes two wins in AFC Championship games. He's completed 143 of 212 passes (67.5 percent) for 1,825 yards (12.8 per completion) with 11 touchdowns and 3 interceptions for a 105.6 passer rating.

The Patriots average 28.7 points per game against the Steelers with Brady at quarterback. The Patriots' lowest output was 20 points in their loss to the Steelers during the 2004 regular season.

"We had a real good game and we made some real, real key turnovers," LeBeau said of that game. "I remember Chris Hoke dropped down in fire zone and hit the wide receiver and we got a fumble. Deshea [Townsend] got a pick for a touchdown. It was one of those games that went our way."

The Steelers also pounded the Patriots' defense with a powerful running game in the 2004 win. Duce Staley rushed for 125 yards and Jerome Bettis added 65 yards.

Both are gone, of course, as are Marvel Smith, Alan Faneca and Jeff Hartings. They've been replaced by a finesse running game that's been hurt further by the recent losses of left tackle Max Starks and left guard Chris Kemoeatu.

However, the Steelers' hit-and-miss running game could hit tonight against a Patriots defense that's a shell of its former Tedy Bruschi-Mike Vrabel-Rodney Harrison-Richard Seymour self.

In their places are new leaders Jerod Mayo, Rob Ninkovich, Brandon Meriweather and Vince Wilfork, who are mentoring rookie starters ILB Brandon Spikes, OLB Jermaine Cunningham and CB Devin McCourty.

If the rebuilding units for each team prove to be a wash, the game will once again would come down to the old school: Brady vs. LeBeau's defense.

It's not one that's been kind to the Steelers in the past, but the Steelers think they're prepared this time.

"We've got some stuff to combat it -- if we execute right," said Steelers defensive captain James Farrior. "That's going to be the thing for us, we have to execute."


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