Friday, October 28, 2011

Patriots-Steelers preview

It's not just Brady

We've been hearing it all week. "Tom Brady owns the Steelers. Tom Brady owns the Steelers." 

Why does Tom Brady own the Steelers? 

The answer is in the following mathematical formula:

Tom Brady = Elite NFL Quarterback

Elite NFL Quarterback = Trouble for Steelers Defense

Therefore: 

Tom Brady = Trouble for Steelers Defense

It's as simple as a = b, b = c. Therefore a = c. 

Or something like that.

Brady isn't the only elite NFL quarterback who makes the Steelers' defense look like a bunch of ham-and-eggers. The Steelers were 0-3 last year against the triumvirate of Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees. 

Brady led the NFL last year with a quarterback rating of 111.0. Rodgers was third at 101.2. I was surprised that Brees was 12th with a 90.9 rating. But I'd still call him elite because he owns a Super Bowl ring.

Brady is second this season with a 104.8 rating. The only other quarterback in the top five who the Steelers have faced this season is the Texans' Matt Schaub, and he's the last quarterback who's beaten the Steelers.

Really, the best quarterback the Steelers can beat is Joe Flacco, and we'll find out next week if they can even beat him anymore.

So here are four things the Steelers must do if they want to have any shot at beating the Patriots Sunday:

Troy Polamalu must stay deep

Brady basically has Polamalu chasing his own hair whenever they're on the same field. In last season's 39-26 Patriots' win at Heinz Field, the Patriots led 17-3 in the third quarter when Brady got Polamalu to bite on a play-action fake, and hit Brandon Tate over the middle for a 45-yard gain, leading to another touchdown and a 23-3 Patriots lead. Game over. In the 2004 AFC championship game at Heinz Field, the Patriots took control of the game when Brady sold Polamalu on an underneath route, and fired a 60-yard touchdown to Deion Branch, giving the Patriots a 10-0 lead in the first quarter. Against Brady, Polamalu is more useful staying back and helping out the cornerbacks.

Get help from special teams

The Steelers have had a two-point conversion scored on them on a fake point-after. They've had both a field goal and a punt blocked. They've allowed an opponent to recover an onside kick and they kept an eventual touchdown drive alive with a roughing-the-kicker penalty on a punt. Shaun Suisham made all three of his field goals in Arizona, but that's not enough to restore my faith in him. He's missed four field goals this season. It's not a good idea to be vulnerable on special teams with the Patriots lurking. That's how the Patriots upset the Steelers in the 2001 AFC championship game. Two of their touchdowns came on a punt return and a blocked field goal  This would be a good week for Antonio Brown to finally break one, because the Steelers are going to need points from more than just their offense.

Win a shootout

A Steelers win would pretty much guarantee an exciting game, because the Steelers can't rely on their defense to stop Brady and the Patriots. This one's on the offense. Every time the Patriots score a touchdown, the Steelers will have to answer with a touchdown. There hasn't been a shootout at Heinz Field since Week 15 in 2009, when the Steelers beat the Packers 37-36. That was before Aaron Rodgers was Aaron Rodgers. The outcome of Sunday's game might depend on who has the ball last. 

Stop Rob Gronkowski 

During the Patriots' bye week, Gronkowski hung out with a porn star. In last year's win over the Steelers, the tight end scored three touchdowns. So maybe the Steelers can't really stop Gronkowski, just hope that instead of catching passes from Brady he catches something from the porn star and can't play.

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