There are many contributing factors on how the Pittsburgh Steelers must execute to win against the ever popular New England Patriots. I’ve limited it to five:
- Containing Rob Gronkowski’s Impact. It seems that Sean Davis will be tasked with covering the best tight end in the NFL on Sunday. Gronkowski is a very effective weapon who has an enormous catch radius and is a serious threat after the catch. This will be the match-up to watch, especially since Gronkowski is coming off a one game suspension. Davis will have to channel and suppress his emotions in this game. Gronkowski will be talking trash and trying to get in Davis’ head, egging on unsportsmanlike penalties from Davis.
- Covering Patriots Running Backs Out of the Backfield. New England has been employing the two-headed monster of Rex Burkhead and Dion Lewis lately who are effective runners and are also both weapons out of the backfield. The Patriots are very good at suppressing pressure through screen passes and wheel routes. The Steelers traditionally aren’t very good at defending running backs out of the backfield. Without Ryan Shazier, Vince Williams and Sean Spence/Arthur Moats will have to demonstrate some lateral agility and their ability to get to the edge to cover the running backs. This concerns me.
- Being Efficient in the Red Zone. This goes for both the offense and defense. Limiting the Patriots to field goals in the red zone cannot be stressed enough. Flip it around and contributing only 3 points to the score board in the red zone too often will have the Steelers on the outside looking in.
- Limit Missed Tackles. An obvious key, but this must be stressed for a few reasons. Referencing back to the “Covering Patriots running backs out of the backfield” key: both Burkhead and Lewis are slippery backs who force a great deal of missed tackles.The Patriots are going to spread the Steelers out and force the defense to play man to man. Missed tackles will lead to chunk plays in this situation and it cannot occur time and time again. Artie Burns, Cam Sutton and Coty Sensabaugh will have their hands full as these three aren’t very good one on one tacklers.
- Dominate the Time of Possession. This is another obvious key, but for good reason. It’s all about keeping Tom Brady off of the field. Ben Roethlisberger should be running the no-huddle and dictating the offense and its pace. Brady is the Steelers’ kryptonite, who must be restricted in the amount of opportunities to triumph the Steelers’ recent suffering defense. What about that defense? The Steelers’ defense looked gassed down the stretch during the heart-wrenching comeback against the Baltimore Ravens. This made the unit less effective and Brady will notice & take advantage, thus exposing this unit’s weakness. Keeping Brady off the field also keeps the Steelers’ defense off the field.
– Brandin Cooks vs. Artie Burns – a matchup to watch for, as Burns has been exposed as a penalty-magnet of late, and Cooks has the ability to stretch the field vertically, also exposing Burns’ tendency to get “burned” (pardon the pun).
– Special Teams needs to be special – Chris Boswell has been fantastic, he needs to be flawless if and when he is called upon. Jordan Berry is known for being inconsistent, he needs to keep the Patriots field position at a minimum. There cannot be any more kick return mishaps.
– Game plan on both side of the ball must be executed with pinpoint accuracy to limit mistakes – Todd Haley, don’t be predictable. The Patriots’ defense is much better than they look on paper. They cannot be underestimated. Get the tight ends involved, mix up the personnel, and expose their weaknesses.
Keith Butler, Brady gets the ball out faster than any quarterback in football. While pressuring Brady is important, it will have to come from the Steelers’ defensive line unit. Interior pressure is how you directly affect Brady’s game. Be prepared to be spread out, adjust accordingly with personnel and play calling.
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