In a normal season, this would be one of the biggest games throughout all the schedule. However, in 2013, it’s an opportunity for the New England Patriots to fix their offensive problems while dominating their division, and for the Pittsburgh Steelers to try and ruin it for a rival they’re not too fond of.
At 2-5 and coming off a loss to the Oakland Raiders, might finally have a shot at getting their troubled rushing attack back on track. The Patriots haven’t been able to do much since losing Jerod Mayo and Vince Wilfork to stop the ground game of opponents: over 130 yards in each of their last four games, falling to 31st in the NFL in run defense.
However, the Steelers average only 68.7 yards on the ground (30th in the NFL), not getting too much of a boost by the return of Le’Veon Bell, coming back from an injury that kept him out from the first few games this season.
One thing the Steelers are looking forward to is trying to stop Tom Brady, who is struggling this season with his consistency and delivery. He has thrown 16 touchdown passes and only three interceptions over the last eight games against the Steelers, as the Patriots won six of those games, including both of those in the preseason.
However, Sebastian Vollmer isn’t going to be playing, which means Brady, sacked 23 times this season already through the Pats’ 6-2 start, is going to more vulnerable than usual. The Steelers do well against the pass, but it partially has to do with teams heading into the final quarters with big leads against them this season.
Brady has struggled regardless of the pressure he’s seen, especially when trying to find a way to work the slot, where he used to have Aaron Hernandez and Wes Welker. He has completed only 58.9% of his passes to slot receivers this season, averaging only 5.5 yards per attempt while throwing four interceptions to one touchdown.
For the Steelers, establishing a lead and especially a ground game early is vital. Ben Roethilsberger has been put in too many situations of being forced to bring the team back from behind, leading to 7 interceptions this season, including two in the loss to the Raiders.
Prediction – The Patriots are really hard to beat in Gillette, but at some point, all the injuries and bad offense has to catch up with team in more than the occasional way. The Steelers might not be one of the best teams in the AFC, but they do have the tools to make the Patriots struggle early, and possibly do enough of a wrecking job early on to prevent Brady from physically being able to mount a comeback.