The Pittsburgh Steelers will play the New England Patriots Sunday at home and they’ll have to do so without the services of starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Below are seven things that I believe the team will need to do to come away with their fifth win of the season.
Run the Bell a lot – If the Steelers are going to beat the Patriots on Sunday, they’ll have to keep quarterback Tom Brady off the field. The best way to do that is by possessing the football on offense and that means a heavy dose of runs by running back Le’Veon Bell. As history has shown us, Bell will likely need more than 135 rushing yards on Sunday if the Steelers want to beat the Patriots. He’ll also likely need to carry the football roughly 25 times in addition to catching 5 or more passes out of the backfield. the Patriots can be run on up the middle and the Steelers offensive line needs to make sure Bell has plenty of small creases to work with. In total, Bell will likely need around 175 total yards from scrimmage on Sunday to secure a Steelers win.
Planned and unplanned deep shots should be taken – Even though he still has a small sample size, Steelers quarterback Landry Jones hasn’t been awful when it comes to his deep passing completion percentage. In fact, Jones has completed 10 of his throws more than 15 yards down the field so far during his career. I should probably note, however, that two of those went to the wrong team. In all seriousness, Jones should be able to pick his deep shots Sunday against the Patriots defense and probably outside the numbers most of the time. The Patriots, by the way, have already given up 51 deep pass completions so far during the season and that’s the second-most in the league. As I have stated a few times this past week, don’t be surprised if Jones goes deep down the right side to either Sammie Coates or Darrius Heyward-Bey with his first pass attempt of the game. The Steelers will likely need at least 5 explosive plays on Sunday to beat the Patriots.
Force Brady mid-range and deep and off his spot – Brady loves the short and easy passes to his wide receivers, running backs and tight ends either coming off rubs or running quick out patterns. If the Steelers defense constantly plays their cornerbacks off on early down and distances as part of their cover-3 shell, Brady will gladly work the short flats. The best way to make Brady miss is to force him to throw the football more than 8 yards past the line of scrimmage. His deep ball accuracy isn’t overly great and especially more than 20 yards down the field. If the Steelers defense doesn’t force Brady to convert at least 6 or more 3rd and longs on Sunday, they’ll likely lose the game and by a lot. We’ve talked about sacks and quarterback pressure all season and the Steelers defense has let us down when it comes to both so far. They must get pressure and sacks on Sunday if they want to have a chance to beat Brady. At the minimum, force him off his spot in the pocket early with a few six-man rushes. Let him know, or at least think, that he’ll have to rush his throws all game.
Be blunt against Blount on 1st down – The Patriots have been very balanced so far on offense when it comes to first down play-calls. When they have run on first downs and used LeGarrette Blount, he’s averaged less than 3.5 carries with over half his carries on that down going for two or less yards. Last week in their loss to the Miami Dolphins, the Steelers defense gave up 8 runs of 10 yards or more and that simply can’t happen Sunday against the Patriots and especially not on early downs. That’s easy money for Brady and the rest of their offense. The defense must force Brady into predictable situations on 2nd and 3rd downs if they want to have any hope of getting him off the field and out of the end zone with some sort of regularity.
Limit the hidden yardage – Brady is going to complete a lot of short passes on Sunday against the Steelers defense and so the linebackers, cornerbacks and safeties all need to wrap up Julian Edleman, Danny Amendola, Rob Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett up quickly when that happens. The defensive tackling has one again been more than spotty at points so far this season and that can’t happen on Sunday. The Steelers defense will likely need to limit the Patriots eligibles to less than 4 yards of average YAC on Sunday and that will be tough to do. Additionally, the defense cannot afford to take silly unforced penalties in this game that result in 15 yards being tacked on to an end of a play. Brady and the Patriots offense must be forced to earn every yard they get Sunday at Heinz Field.
Need a lot of special help – It goes without saying that the Steelers will need to be solid in all three phases Sunday and that of course includes special teams. Punter Jordan Berry had a bit of an off-day last Sunday and he cannot afford to have another one against the Patriots. He’ll need to pin the Patriots offense inside their own 20-yard-line at least a few times on Sunday. Brady must be forced to work on long fields of 70 yards or more most of the game. A stolen possession via a forced fumble on a punt or kickoff could wind up being the difference in this game and especially if the Steelers defense decides to show up this week. This would be a great week for either Antonio Brown, Eli Rogers or Justin Gilbert to take one to the house via a punt or kickoff. At the very least, one of those three players must set the Steelers offense up on a short field or two during the game.
20 or less – Games, of course, come down to what the final score says and as we’ve seen in the past, when Brady losses a contest that he started, the Patriots usually score less than 21 points. It’s a lot to ask of Jones to put up much more than 21 points. The Steelers defense will need at least one turnover in this game and at least two or more sacks.