Patriots-Steelers: 3 things to watch

Andre Carter Ben Roethlisberger
Andre Carter closes in on Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in a 2011 game. Credit: Getty Images

It could be worse, Patriots fans.

New England’s offense hasn’t been stellar, and Tom Brady doesn’t look like himself. But despite that, the Patriots are 6-2 heading into Sunday’s game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
And if you want to watch a team that really has lost its way in a short time, take a look at those very same Steelers, who limp into Foxboro with a 2-5 record.

When it comes to bad offenses, Pittsburgh is up there (or down there). The Steelers haven’t scored 20-plus points in five of their seven games this season.

But they could very easily be 5-2, as three of their losses were by seven points or less, so it’s important for the Pats to bring their best game on Sunday. Here are three things to watch for.

Still a tough defense
As if passing yards weren’t hard enough to come by for the Patriots, the Steelers won’t make things any easier. Coming into Sunday, they rank second in the NFL in passing yards allowed at 181.0 per game. Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark are still patrolling the field at the safety position, and make up a pretty lethal 1-2 punch there. Polamalu is a player that pretty much has free reign over the entire field. One second he’ll be deep, the next he’ll be blitzing. Brady must always be aware of where he is on the field.

“He’s a very instinctive player,” Bill Belichick said of Polamalu. “You can say that he’s guessing, taking chances, but I’d say he’s right most of the time; most of the time he makes the right decision … He has a great nose for the ball.”

Third down deficiencies
The Patriots are fifth in the NFL in third-down attempts (115). They’re tied for 21st in 3rd-down conversions (37). That gives them a percentage of 32.2 percent, which ranks 29th in the NFL. Breaking news: This is a concern. Last year, the Patriots led the league in third-down conversion percentage at 48.7 percent. It’s no wonder the team struggles to put up points – they don’t go on long enough drives. “It’s almost like we’re a good Canadian football team,” Brady said. “But at the NFL, we’re just not doing anything on third down to stay on the field.”

Into the Bye week

The reality is that if the Pats win on Sunday, they’ll go into their bye week at 7-2. They own an NFL-best 35-13 record in November since 2001, and if history is any indication, should get better as the season goes along. “Here’s where teams, you go one direction or the other,” Brady said. “The good ones have something to show for it in January and the bad ones are watching in January.”


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