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Steelers looking to spring big upset without QB Roethlisberger

A history lesson, tape review, prediction, complete breakdown and much more in this Patriots-Steelers game day preview.

MEMORABLE SERIES MOMENT

Steelers 25, Patriots 17

Oct. 30, 2011 at Heinz Field

The last time the Patriots played at Heinz Field the Steelers' secondary, quarterback and best pass-rusher were all healthy. And the Steelers controlled the ball with Ben Roethlisberger throwing to nine different receivers and Rashard Mendenhall rushing for 70 yards on 13 carries. The Steelers came out with drives of 11 and 16 plays to go up 10-7, and a fourth drive was a 10-play touchdown drive for a 17-10 halftime lead. Field goal drives of 14 and 11 plays opened the second half with a 23-10 lead before Tom Brady cut the lead to 23-17 with 2:40 left. Brady got the ball back with 19 seconds left but a sack and forced fumble out of the end zone ended the game. The Steelers had a whopping 39:22 time of possession and LaMarr Woodley sacked Brady twice, while Will Gay, Ike Taylor, Ryan Clark, Troy Polamalu, Bryant McFadden and young Cortez Allen combined to keep Rob Gronkowski out of the end zone.

TALE OF THE TAPE

"It's amazing the laundry list of defenses the Patriots will throw at you. I've seen the 3-4 base, a 4-3, a 4-2, 3-3 stack, Bear, over, under, way over, a stack over. I mean they have every sort of variety of defense, even what looks like a 5-man Bear front with all five standing up. Then they have guys like Chris Long, Jabaal Sheard and Rob Ninkovich who go from stand-up outside linebacker to a hand-in-the-dirt defensive end, even stack linebacker. It's going to be very, very difficult for the offensive line. Maurkice Pouncey has to direct traffic and make sure everybody's on the same page, otherwise they will be turning people loose." -- Steelers Radio analyst Craig Wolfley.

TOP QUESTION

Can the Steelers run the ball and control the clock?

Considering the Steelers are being criticized for Le'Veon Bell carrying only 10 times in a tight game last week, and knowing that Landry Jones will need Bell's help today, every fan at Heinz Field will want handoffs early and often. But look for the Steelers to try to get Jones synced up with Antonio Brown -- and look for the Patriots to play it that way. They won't want Jones getting any kind of confidence, because that's what would open the door for Bell, who should see the ball 30 to 40 times by game's end if the Steelers are going to have any kind of success.

THREE QUESTIONS: With SS ROB GOLDEN

Q: Do the Patriots lull you to sleep on the back end with the short passing game?

RG: "They're different. Each guy does different things. Their tight ends are down-the-field stretch-you guys and then their receivers are quick, intermediary-route runners. At the end of the day it's about what we do and if we're on our details we should be good."

Q: Considering you'll spend the day tackling a 250-pound back in LeGarrette Blount and a 265-pound tight end in Rob Gronkowski, are you bringing your big-boy pads?

RB: "Man, there are big boy pads every week playing in the NFL. These guys are working year-around. Everybody's strong. Everybody runs hard. You just have to execute."

Q: There were problems with communication on defense when you played them in the opener last year. Are you looking forward to playing them in the middle of the season this time?

RG: "Definitely. During the opener we did have some miscommunications. That's in the past. We're not looking back at that now. We have a lot ahead of us right now and we're looking to go out there and get this win."

GAME BREAKDOWN

What to look for from the Steelers at 4:25 today at Heinz Field:

ON OFFENSE:

Landry Jones had a good week of practice, showing good touch on the short and intermediate stuff and enough arm strength with the deep ball. He should be able to move the chains against a Patriots defense that ranks 12th in yards but second in scoring. That's the classic definition of bend but don't break, so Jones will need finishers. Le'Veon Bell is certainly one. Antonio Brown is another, but Brown could use some help on the other side. He'll again be without Markus Wheaton, while Sammie Coates is playing with a broken index finger. One or more of the younger receivers and tight ends will need to emerge in this game.

ON DEFENSE:

The weak link on the Patriots offensive line is rookie left guard Joe Thuney. He would normally line up across from Cam Hewyard, who will of course miss another game with a hamstring injury. Ricardo Mathews played poorly last week, so much could depend on rookie Javon Hargrave to take advantage of Thuney. That would help contain LeGarrette Blount, but who's going to pressure Tom Brady? And who's going to cover Rob Gronkowski? On draft day, after the Steelers took safety Sean Davis in the second round, DBs Coach Carnell Lake said, "Offenses are spreading you out to create mismatches. They will put a player like (Rob) Gronkowski out wide and force you to matchup with either a linebacker or a safety on Gronkowski. Well you have to have a guy that has the size and can cover. He provides that coverage for us. That’s one of the exciting parts of Sean Davis that we like." But Davis is on the bench, backing up safeties Mike Mitchell and Rob Golden.

PREDICTION

Revenge, let us count the ways. Tom Brady, who once said he dislikes Heinz Field, lost his last time here. And LeGarrette Blount pretty much quit on the Steelers two years ago, was cut, and has been derided ever since. And Bill Belichick was pretty much called a cheater (imagine that) by Mike Tomlin last year in Foxboro when the headsets once again went out intermittently. The Patriots view the Steelers as a rival for AFC supremacy but the beat-up Steelers aren't quite up for the pent-up vengeance that's likely headed their way. Patriots, 41-20.

BY THE NUMBERS

0: Interceptions by Steelers defensive backfield. They are the only secondary in the NFL without one.

1: Sacks by the Steelers starting outside linebackers/defensive ends, although Anthony Chickillo was only moved into the starting lineup last week.

5: Consecutive games Tom Brady has played against the Steelers with a passer rating over 100. He's thrown 17 touchdown passes without an interception in those games.

11: Number of catches by Patriots WR Julian Edelman in last year's game. Edelman is questionable with a foot injury.

119: Yards rushing for the Steelers in the first half last week, the first time this season over they were over 100 yards in an opening half.

128: Total yards rushing for the Steelers last week.

140.3: Landry Jones' career passer rating at Heinz Field (22 attempts).

DOWNLOADS

* Sean Davis was moved out of the slot and back to his natural safety position last week, where he's on the second team and won't be covering Rob Gronkowski, per the draft-day plan. Said defensive coordinator Keith Butler: "You would like to think we could put him on Gronk and say, 'OK, we got it.' We think highly of him and we think he’s going to be a good player. Sometimes you go through rookie growing pains and sometimes you just have to keep your head down and keep going and eventually things get better."

* That means the other rookie defensive back, Artie Burns, is again playing first team. Burns said he first saw Tom Brady when he was 12 years old, back when Brady's "hair was super long." Does Burns imagine the future Hall of Famer will come looking for him? "Definitely," Burns said. "I'm looking forward to it. I want to get him a couple times."

* As Landry Jones looks for his second win as a starting quarterback, Brady is looking for his 197th. That would move him to within two of Brett Favre and three of Peyton Manning at the top of the all-time wins list (regular season and post-season). Ben Roethlisberger has 128.

* Jones has thrown passes in six career games and has hooked up with Brown only 13 times for 239 yards. That's an average of 2 connections for 40 yards per game. But let's dig below the surface. In the only full game Jones played, he and Brown hooked up six times for 124 yards. And in the other five games, Jones played only 12 combined series. Since the average number of series in those five games was 12.6, that comes to one full game for Jones, and the seven passes to Brown for 115 yards makes more sense. If we look at the numbers as two full games, the average Jones-to-Brown pass connections per game is 6.5 receptions for 120 yards.

PARTING SHOT

"It goes back to my Pittsburgh days. I felt a certain way, after some things came out, way back when I was in Pittsburgh, some AFC championships I lost to them, couple times. Come to figure out a few months later why we lost. So, yeah, I have a natural hate for them. Period. And that's just gonna be with me forever." --  Joey Porter, to Boston media, as member of the Miami Dolphins in 2009.


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