The Steelers have played much better in recent weeks, and it’s going to be a good test for the Patriots. At minimum, the defending AFC champions will grab New England’s attention as the Patriots return from their bye week.
1. Let’s start it off with the quote of the week from defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth, who discussed why he watched so much football during the bye week (not that it’s a bad thing).
“What else are you going to watch on TV?” he said. “I’m not a soap opera guy. I’m not watching Broadway or anything like that. On Sunday, that’s what you’re going to watch is football. On Monday night, that’s what you’re going to watch is football.”
2. Since it was the bye week, it seemed like a good opportunity to reset things and run through the Patriots’ practice numbers. Through Tuesday, the Patriots have conducted 23 regular-season practices, not including walkthroughs. Eighteen of those practices have been in shorts and shells, and five have been in full pads.
3. Twenty-seven players on the active roster (at the time of that specific practice) have missed at least one full practice during the regular season. That includes players who have since been placed on injured reserve, including defensive lineman Myron Pryor, center Dan Koppen and defensive lineman Mike Wright.
4. Those 27 players have missed a total of 83 practices. Sixteen players have missed at least two sessions, and five players have missed at least five practices. Tackle Sebastian Vollmer (14 absences), Wright (11), tight end Aaron Hernandez (seven), Haynesworth (seven) and linebacker Jerod Mayo (five) have missed the most.
5. Twenty-five players who have been on the active roster since the start of Week 1 have been in attendance for every regular-season practice: defensive end Andre Carter, defensive end Shaun Ellis, defensive lineman Kyle Love, linebacker Gary Guyton, linebacker Rob Ninkovich, linebacker Brandon Spikes, linebacker Tracy White, safety Sergio Brown, safety James Ihedigbo, cornerback Devin McCourty, cornerback Antwaun Molden, offensive lineman Dan Connolly, tackle Nate Solder, right guard Brian Waters, offensive lineman Ryan Wendell, quarterback Brian Hoyer, quarterback Ryan Mallett, wide receiver Deion Branch, wide receiver Chad Ochocinco, wide receiver Matthew Slater, wide receiver Wes Welker, tight end Rob Gronkowski, long snapper Danny Aiken, kicker Stephen Gostkowski and punter Zoltan Mesko.
6. Despite having perfect practice attendance, Guyton, Spikes, Brown, Wendell and Mallett have not suited up for every game, so there are 20 Patriots who have been on the active roster all season and participated in all 23 practices and all six games.
7. The Patriots will be on the lookout for Hines Ward‘s, umm, aggressive blocking tactics. Ninkovich was asked what it’s like playing against Ward.
“I respect him a ton,” Ninkovich said. “He’s been around for so long that anybody who has played 14 years, you kind of look up to those guys because I can remember watching him as a kid. You look up to those guys who have played so long. He’s a great player, and I just have to watch out for him. You’ve got to watch out for those crack blocks.”
8. Patriots defensive lineman Brandon Deaderick was quiet last week while debuting at practice, but he spoke Tuesday, saying, “I’ve got a lot of ground to make up, missed a lot of time, but I’m up for the challenge, so I’m excited.”
9. Haynesworth mentioned that he watched film of Deaderick and Ron Brace — both of whom are trying to return from the PUP list — and the veteran said, “Heck yeah, they can [contribute]. I watched film of them last year, and they really can play. They’re strong, powerful, young guys that can really play the game.”
10. A number of Patriots said they spent a portion of their day off Sunday watching the Steelers play the Cardinals. They started their prep work for the Steelers last week, so I doubt they saw anything eye-popping on the telecast, but it must be different watching them play a game in a chronological process.
11. Steelers safety Troy Polamalu, the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, will be a chore for the Patriots. Running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis is getting ready for the challenge of picking up Polamalu in blitz packages.
“Troy is kind of a spontaneous player,” Green-Ellis said. “He’ll kind of go anywhere, so you’ve got to make sure you’re moving your feet and staying with him when you’re blocking. Just make sure your little technique things are fundamentally sound.”
12. Because the Steelers are so good with their blitz scheme, I wonder if the Patriots try to get running back Kevin Faulk back onto the field this week for that reason alone. Obviously, Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead played just fine in Pittsburgh last year, but it’s something to think about.
13. Green-Ellis said he still keeps up with retired running back Fred Taylor. The two were close during their two years together in New England, and Taylor really took the younger back under his wing. Green-Ellis said Taylor is “doing real well,” and they spoke over the weekend.
14. Green-Ellis said, “When I talk to Fred, we talk a little bit about football, but most of the points have been over the last two years. We just continue to move forward and talk about life and things like that, how he’s adjusting off the field. Other than that, obviously we talked a little bit this week because Fred has a history of playing Pittsburgh, so we just talk, go back and forth and that’s about it.”
15. By now, you’ve probably heard that Haynesworth was a fan of the Patriots before linking up with them over the summer. He said Tuesday he also enjoys keeping tabs on the Lions (and former Tennessee defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz) and the Titans.
16. Since Haynesworth brought up Schwartz and the Lions, I asked him if Detroit defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh reminded him of himself at all. Unfortunately, Haynesworth wouldn’t bite.
“I’m not even going to get into that because I’m not getting yelled at by coach,” he said.
17. Another good nugget from Haynesworth came when I asked him if he gets excited to line up against players like Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey, who is as ferocious as Haynesworth himself. Haynesworth responded by saying he looks forward to going up against “anybody who is in my way.” So, there’s that.
18. The Patriots have won nine of their last 10 games coming off the regular-season bye week, including eight straight. That’s a very telling record when it comes to Belichick getting his team mentally ready with that extra time.
19. For what it’s worth, and maybe it’s the traditionalist in me, but I don’t really like how the Steelers have gotten away from their run-heavy offensive attack in favor of a pass-oriented offense. Yeah, they’ve got some useful downfield weapons, but the identity of the franchise slips away a little bit with that philosophy. They become too reliant on the passing game too often, and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is on pace to shatter his own record for pass attempts in a season.
20. By the way, I still don’t like the Mike Wallace hype. He’s a great downfield threat, sure, but he still doesn’t run other routes and doesn’t really have more than one gear. It’s a tremendous asset to have, especially when his quarterback can throw it to the moon, but don’t call him a complete receiver. He’s far from that.