Sunday, November 3, 2013

Four Point Stance: Steelers at Patriots


The New England Patriots have been plagued with injuries and inconsistent offensive play this season, yet the Pittsburgh Steelers would certainly sign up for that if the teams could flip records.

Pittsburgh is off to its worst start in nearly half a century, sitting at 2-5 and at the very bottom of the AFC North. The Patriots, on the other hand, are in a familiar position at 6-2 and atop the AFC East. The records, however, can be thrown away when these perennial AFC contenders do battle.

Bill Belichick & Co. look to set a good mood for the upcoming bye week, while the Steelers are in a must-win situation less than halfway through the season.

When the Patriots have the ball:
The Steelers have made opposing offenses work for their yardage this season, having given up the fewest passing plays of 20 yards or more. Pittsburgh has struggled to muster turnovers so far but is holding opposing teams to fewer than 22 points a game and the second-fewest yards per passing play in the NFL. New England will need to play a bit of old school football with its big running backs to soften up the Steelers' defense. If the Patriots get a big passing play, it will likely be on play-action.

When the Steelers have the ball:
Pittsburgh simply isn't scoring points this season, and that's why it sits at 2-5. The Steelers' offensive line hasn't been able to protect quarterback Ben Roethlisberger nor give any kind of push to spark the rushing attack. The Patriots are depleted up the middle of the field to injury, so if Pittsburgh can't capitalize now, it's just not in the cards. The Steelers are converting on just 40 percent of their red zone trips this year and have scored touchdowns only 33 percent of the time over their last three games.

Chandler Jones. The Patriots defensive lineman leads his team in sacks and quarterback hits, and he'll have ample opportunity to up his stat totals against Pittsburgh's leaky offensive front. Jones' ability to wreak havoc in the Steelers' offensive backfield should severely hinder Roethlisberger from making enough plays to keep pace.

The Steelers are 15-11 all-time against the Patriots and have won two of the the last three. They did, however, go through a 1-6 run against New England prior to that, twice losing to the Patriots in the AFC Championship game. Pittsburgh won the teams' last meeting, a 25-17 decision in 2011.

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