New England Patriots (5-1) at Pittsburgh Steelers (5-2)
Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET
VENUE: Heinz Field
SURFACE: Natural Grass
TV: CBS, Jim Nantz, Phil Simms
PREDICTION: Patriots 34-24
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Patriots won, 39-26, in
Pittsburgh on Nov. 14 last season with QB Tom Brady throwing for 350
yards and three touchdowns.
Streaking: New England has 30-plus points in 13 of its past 14 games.
Truth in numbers: The Steelers are ranked No. 3 in overall defense, but
are allowing 4.5 yards per carry. Brady is 6-1 in his career against
Pittsburgh with 14 touchdown passes. He should get RB Kevin Faulk back
and if the Patriots can run the ball effectively and incorporate their
backs into passing game, the Steelers don't match up well downfield. TE
Rob Gronkowski had three touchdowns in last year's meeting, and WR Wes Welker won't be shadowed by CB Ike Taylor, who isn't comfortable in the
The Steelers are confident they can move the ball through the air on
the Patriots, who allow a league-high 322.2 passing yards per game -
33.3 more than anyone else. New England has just 10 sacks, making it
difficult to fully exploit Pittsburgh's offensive line issues. But the
Steelers might also look to control the clock more through shorter
passes to help keep their own defense fresh.
FAST FACTS: The Patriots won, 39-26, in Pittsburgh
on Nov. 14 last season with QB Tom Brady throwing for 350 yards and
Streaking: New England has 30-plus points in 13 of its past 14
games. ... Brady and Bill Belichick are tied with Dan Marino
and Don Shula of Miami for the most wins (116) by a quarterback-head
coach duo. ... The Steelers have a four-game home winning streak. ...
Pittsburgh's defense has a league-low three sacks.
INSIDE THE CAMPS
Several weeks ago, Patriots defensive coordinator
Pepper Johnson made reference to "teaching old dogs new tricks" when
discussing the maturation process of New England's defense.
Suffice to say, these dogs have learned a thing or
two in recent weeks. The Patriots' performance against Dallas two weeks
ago is proof; New England held a high-powered offense in check, forced
turnovers, and came through with a key three-and-out at the game's most
critical point late in the fourth quarter.
"I think we've gotten better," nose tackle Vince Wilfork said. "That's what you want to do as a team; you want to be
able to each week move forward and be able to do keep doing the
positive stuff and (with) the negative
stuff, if it's something you like and you didn't get a good
look at it, you try to build on that.
"I think everything is moving forward. We're in
the middle of the season and things we do well, we have to continue to
do well. Things we don't do so well but can help us, we need to find a
way to make those things happen for us. We're definitely at a situation
where we're still building. Everything's not perfect but it's moving
along pretty good."
Things figure to get better, too, with Brandon Deaderick and Ron Brace back practicing. The two have missed
significant time due to injuries, but their potential returns add
youth, speed and versatility to the defensive line, which should only
improve the pass rush.
"Only time will tell," Wilfork said. "I don't what
the plan is with them, but only time will tell. If their number is
called, they have to be ready to answer the bell. I just don't know
where we stand with that. That's probably a question better suited for
Bill (Belichick). Whoever Bill puts us out there with, we have
confidence in them. That's how it's going to be. We can't do anything
A lot of new faces have been added to this
defense, and the scheme has switched from 3-4 to 4-3 at various times,
but Wilfork noted that his role hasn't changed much, nor does he expect
too many changes moving forward -- unless that "change" is constant
"We're all coming in and learning new schemes with
the 4-3 and going from (3-4 to 4-3) to whatever we may be going," he
said. "It hasn't changed much. It's just all of us learning something
"These guys have been around for a long time, so
to be able to teach them a scheme that's kind of different, you have to
knock the rust off. I think it was a little different for all of us.
Now I think we're actually getting the hang of it. We're starting to
play better together with one another. We're starting to make the plays
that we need to make on defense. Everything is moving forward."
Hines Ward, who has slipped to No. 4 in yards on
Pittsburgh's otherwise young group of receivers, has a sprained ankle
and may not play Sunday when the New England Patriots come to Heinz
It would be the second game against the Patriots
in two years in which Ward would not be a factor. Last November, Ward
was knocked out of the game in the first quarter with a concussion. He
did not catch a pass, ending the NFL's third-longest streak of catching
a pass in 186 consecutive games.
The Steelers went on to lose that game to New
England 39-26 but believe they are much better suited to remain
productive without Ward on offense this season than they were last.
Although Ward starts, his 258 yards fall behind
those of third-year player Mike Wallace, second-year Antonio Brown's
364 and tight end Heath Miller's 276. Even second-year Emmanuel Sanders, with 173, has as many touchdowns as Ward with two.
"I think this year everybody is better prepared
because we're older and we played more plays than last year," said
Wallace, in his third season. "We're more comfortable, we're smarter
Bruce Arians, Pittsburgh's offensive coordinator,
said Ward's duties likely would be split between Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery, the veteran Jets receiver signed by the Steelers during
"If he's not there, we've got guys who are more
than capable," Arians said.
--LB Dane Fletcher missed practice again with a
thumb injury and could be limited in Sunday's game. Chances are he'll
suit up, but don't expect him to get too much playing time.
--CB Ras-I Dowling missed practice Thursday due to
a hip injury and will likely be a game-time decision Sunday. Dowling is
a key part of the team's nickel package on third down.
--LB Jerod Mayo is still limited in practice and
will likely miss another week before returning to the lineup unless
something drastic changes Friday.
--RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis is limited with a toe
injury, but will likely be available Sunday. Green-Ellis has been
fairly durable over the past two years.
--OL Sebastian Vollmer is also limited due to a
back injury, which has forced him to miss most of the season. Barring
any major improvement, Vollmer will likely have to wait another week
until he plays.
--QB Ben Roethlisberger has a 21-7 record in the
month of October. Roethlisberger is third in the AFC with a 95.3 passer
rating and second with 1,937 yards.
--LB James Farrior went through another limited
practice on Thursday, and if he has trouble going Sunday, Larry Foote
would replace him in the dime defense. In the base 3-4, Stevenson Sylvester would play inside linebacker.
--RB Rashard Mendenhall has gotten fewer carries,
fewer yards, fewer touchdowns and has a lower average per carry. He ran
for 1,273 yards on 324 carries last season for 13 touchdowns and a
3.9-yard average. He has only 351 yards, three touchdowns and a
3.7-yard average on 94 carries this season.
--RB Isaac Redman has nine receptions for 42 yards
and that leads all Steelers running backs, who have caught just 20 of
the team's 149 receptions.
--DE Brett Keisel leads the team with 16
quarterback hurries to go with his two sacks and three pass
deflections. He missed two games with a knee injury.
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