The Steelers are visiting Foxboro for the first time in almost five years on Sunday. All is right in the football world once again.
There are always fireworks when the Steelers and Patriots get together, and this year shouldn’t be any different. Neither team is boasting its typical prowess this season, with the typically-potent Patriots’ offense bordering somewhere between mediocre and bad, and the usually efficient Steelers boasting the league’s fourth-worst turnover margin.
At 2-5, the Steelers aren’t exactly the cream of the crop in the NFL today, but they are better than their record might indicate. With playmakers like Ben Roethlisberger, Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark still creeping around, counting Pittsburgh out of any game would be foolish.
The Patriots have a handful of their own issues, including a few more bites from the injury bug, and can expect the Steelers to challenge them even more on Sunday, There’s lots to look out for in this one, so let’s jump in and see what some of the keys are in this week’s Patriots Three and Out.
1. Get Danny involved — Tom Brady‘s accuracy issues still haven’t been resolved, but getting Danny Amendola more involved in the offense might be one viable solution.
It’s difficult to blame Brady for not giving Amendola more looks, considering he’s missed as many games as he’s played in this season, but he needs to be reestablished as a primary piece to the puzzle. Amendola has been a factor when he’s given the opportunity, taking 14 of his 19 catches for first downs. He hasn’t been quite the same since returning from his groin injury, but giving him a few more looks should help resolve that problem.
Rob Gronkowski has gotten most of the attention over the last two weeks, and rightfully so given the mismatch he creates, but finding an even medium between Gronkowski, Amendola, and even working Julian Edelman in the mix, could be the key to returning Brady to his past self.
2. Don’t let Big Ben get comfortable — The Steelers’ biggest problem so far this season has been their offensive line. Ben Roethlisberger has had the equivalent to a revolving door across the board, so it’s no surprise that he’s been sacked 26 times (fourth most) in just seven games this season.
The Patriots, on the flip side, have the 10th most sacks in the NFL this season, managing 24 through eight weeks. Chandler Jones, Rob Ninkovich and the rest of the Patriots’ defense need to create consistent pressure and keep Roethlisberger inside the pocket.
Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders, who the Patriots coveted during the offseason, have proven to be very dangerous deep threats and extremely difficult to tackle after the catch. If Roethlisberger has any time to let their routes develop — such as when he finds time by sliding outside the pocket — the Patriots could fall victim to some big plays.
3. Pressure is on Sopoaga — The Patriots traded for Isaac Sopoaga in hopes of shoring up their run defense up front. Now, with Tommy Kelly going on injured reserve, Sopoaga’s quick immersion into the Patriots’ defense will be even more important.
The Patriots are very thin up front, with two rookies in Chris Jones and Joe Vellano, a second-year undrafted in Marcus Forston and now Sopoaga as the only depth on the interior. Currently boasting the 31st-ranked run defense, Sopoaga will need to plug holes up the middle, but he’ll also have to take on extra blockers in order to create pass-rushing opportunities for Jones and Vellano. It will need to be a quick transition for Sopoaga or else the Patriots could be in deep trouble against Big Ben and Co.