The narrative surrounding the Steelers defense in recent years was that their secondary and overall pass defense was brutal. Statistics bear out that that’s no longer the case as the Steelers have the fourth best pass defense in the NFL this year (averaging 200.8 pass yards per game).
Meanwhile, Tom Brady has been good but just not his usual-MVP self lately. Brady has averaged just 239.3 passing yards per game in the past three weeks and hasn’t gone for over 300 yards since the blowout win over Oakland on Nov. 19.
That said, Brady usually saves his best performances for Mike Tomlin and crew. In a 27-16 regular season win at the Steelers in October 2016, Brady was scary efficient – completing 19-of-26 passes for 222 yards, two touchdowns and zero picks. He finished the game with a sensational 124.2 passer rating.
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In the AFC title game in Foxboro this past January, Brady outdid himself as he completed 32-of-42 for 384 yards, three touchdowns and zero picks. He finished that one with a 127.5 passer rating.
Rob Gronkowski will return Sunday for the Patriots after serving a one-game suspension for his dirty play against the Bills on Dec. 3.
Gronkowski had finally been getting back to “Gronk status” prior to the suspension as he caught five balls for 82 yards and two touchdowns against the Dolphins on Nov. 26 and had nine catches for a season-high 147 yards against Buffalo.
Not only was Gronk absent in the loss to the Dolphins but offensive tackle Marcus Cannon, running back Mike Gillislee, linebacker Kyle Van Noy and defensive end Trey Flowers were inactive. Expect the Pats to have all hands on deck in this ultra-important game on Sunday at Heinz Field.
Big game Bell
A big reason why the Patriots destroyed the Steelers in the AFC Championship Game last January is because they did not have to deal with Pittsburgh running back Le’Veon “The king of hesitation” Bell.
Bell left the AFC title game in Foxboro with a groin injury after carrying the ball just six times for 20 yards.
This season, the Steelers look to be playing possum with Bell. Unlike in years past, the Steelers are limiting Bell’s carries, except in games they absolutely need to have. Coming off a loss to Chicago in Week 3, the Steelers gave Bell the ball a season-high 35 times at Baltimore the next week Bell responded with a 144-yard rushing performance with two touchdowns. Coming off a loss to Jacksonville in early -October, the Steelers gave Bell the ball 32 times against Kansas City and Bell responded with a 179-yard rushing performance.
Bell has not carried the ball more than 26 times in a game in nearly two months. Perhaps Pittsburgh has been saving him up for this Sunday.