Saturday, November 2, 2013

Gameday: New England Patriots

The House of Brady
Radio: WDVE and other affiliates

What To Watch For

1. The Season-Defining Game

The Steelers have faced the Patriots 9 times during Tom Brady's career. Each of those 9 games, for better or worse, have defined the Steelers season. In 2001 and 2004 those games were AFC Championship games that propelled the Patriots to two Super Bowl victories. In October 2004, with rookie quarterback Ben Roethlisberger under center and the Patriots riding a 21-game winning streak, the Steelers knocked off the Patriots on Halloween night in the infamous "21 and done" game. There was the 2007 game where safety Anthony Smith guaranteed a Steelers victory then got torched by Tom Brady. There was the 2011 game that was the peak of the Steelers season, where they held Brady under 200 yards passing and Ben lit up the Patriots defense for 365 yards and the game was clinched on a safety after Keisel strip-sacked Brady on the final drive. One way or another, our games against New England have been the measuring stick for our seasons. With the loss in Oakland last week, the Steelers are essentially out of any playoff discussion, but a win over New England, especially in New England would be a defining moment in an otherwise vomit-inducing season.

2. Defending Rob Gronkowski

Since his return to the lineup two weeks ago, Brady has targeted Gronk 23 times. Given the inconsistency of the rest of the Patriots receivers, Brady has been forcing the ball to Gronk as much as he can. Last time these two teams met, the Steelers used cornerback Cortez Allen exclusively against Gronkowski and Allen basically shut him down. Given the Patriots lack of skill on the outside, defending Gronk will be the key to a successful defensive effort. Brady's receivers have been plagued by drops so badly this year that fantasy football players colloquially refer to them as Aaron Dropson and Kembrell Dropkins.

3. Starting Slow

The Steelers have gotten off to horrendously slow starts this season. In their 7 games they have scored only 2 touchdowns and kicked 5 field goals in their 27 first quarter drives. That's a mere 25% of their first quarter drives that have resulted in points on the board. Almost half (13 of 27) have resulted in punts and they have gone 3-and-out 10 times. Only once have the Steelers started a first quarter drive in opponents territory. The good news is that this is not a typical Patriots team that boasts a dominant offense. In fact, the Patriots first quarter numbers are only marginally better than the Steelers'. New England has scored on 30% of their first quarter drives, but the difference is that they have found the end zone 5 times and kicked 3 field goals. They have punted on over half of their first quarter drives but only gone 3-and-out 7 times in 26 drives. Both teams have started slow this year, but unlike New England, the Steelers are not built to come from two scores down and win a game. The offense will have to help the defense by putting points on the board early.

4. Two Turnovers

This is simple. In each of the Steelers 5 losses, they have committed 2 or more turnovers. In their two wins, they have committed less than 2 turnovers (none against the Jets, 1 against Baltimore). The barometer seems to be set. Even against Oakland when the defense created 3 turnovers, the offense could not overcome two of their own. If the Steelers give the ball up to Brady and the Patriots 2 or more times, they will lose.

5. A Banged Up Bunch

Aside from the players on IR, the Steelers are actually relatively healthy heading into this game. They were massacred on the offensive line last week and ended the game with Adams-Beachum-Velasco-Wallace-Gilbert after DeCastro, Foster and Whimper all suffered injuries. Of those three, only DeCastro will be out this week with an ankle injury. Marcus Wheaton remains out recovering from his broken finger and Curtis Brown is out after being excused from practice all week for non-injury reasons. On the other side, the Patriots lost two anchors of their defense - LB Jerrod Mayo and NT Vince Wilfork - for the season. They will also be without DT Tommy Kelly. This banged up defensive front has been the primary cause of the Patriots ranking 31st in the league in run defense. Their top two corners (Aqib Talib and Kyle Arrington) are both banged up but should play.

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