By: Steve Balestrieri
The New England Patriots remain home for Sunday afternoon’s game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Game time is for 4:25 p.m. After the game the Patriots will have their bye week before traveling to Carolina.
The Patriots (6-2) struggled badly early last week before taking over in the second half, scoring 24 unanswered points in beating the Dolphins 27-17.
The Steelers (2-5) lost to the Oakland Raiders last week 21-18. It was a very disappointing loss where after an awful start in September, they had won two in a row and had seemingly turned the corner.
We’ll post a detailed breakdown of the matchups later this week, but here are five first impressions of the Pittsburgh Steelers:
Running Game Still a Concern: When one thinks of the Steelers, the first impression is of the power running game, but after a lot of changes in the backfield, injuries as well as struggles in the play of the offensive line, the running game is still stuck in neutral.
The team drafted Le’Veon Bell from Michigan St. in the 2nd round of the 2013 NFL Draft to be their workhorse and after being banged up for the beginning of the season, he’s starting to come on a bit as of late.
The Steelers are in unfamiliar territory with their running game averaging only 68.7 yards per game on the ground which is 30th in the NFL. But with the deluge of injuries in the center of the defense for New England, and with Bell, the type of runner who gives the Patriots a tough time, expect that number to rise this week.
Creating Turnovers An Issue:Pittsburgh’s defense has had issues creating turnovers in 2013, forcing just five this season. When the offense has been struggling to score points (125) thus far, having the defense give them a short field would be of great benefit.
But they haven’t been able to do much in that department, with the Steelers having been the last team to force a turnover in 2013. With QB Tom Brady having thrown an interception in the last four games, this is an area that the Steelers will look to rectify on Sunday.
Injuries Add To Woes on OL: The Steelers have had issues protecting QB Ben Roethlisberger the past few years. And this season he’s been sacked 27 times and is on pace for 59. Unacceptable numbers for a team that wants to make the playoffs.
The Raiders sacked Roethlisberger five times on Sunday, and to make matters worse, both starting guards, David DeCastro and Ramon Foster were forced to leave the game due to injury.
Those injuries will have to be monitored as the injury reports come out this week as these could affect both the passing and running games.
Pittsburgh’s Weapons Potent Thru The Air: The Steelers lost WR Mike Wallace via free agency this spring but they still have some very good options in the passing game. The Steelers average 253 yards per game passing, ranking 13th in the NFL.
Antonio Brown has become the go-to guy for the Steelers at the wide receiver position in 2013 and he’s putting up some very good numbers. He’s caught 56 passes for 630 yards and 2 touchdowns.
Patriots fans will get to see Emmanuel Sanders on Sunday but in a different uniform than they envisioned in the spring. The Patriots made an offer for the restricted free agent Sanders but Pittsburgh ultimately matched their offer and the speedy Sanders has 31 catches for 396 yards and 2 touchdowns.
And when discussing the Steelers passing game, TE Heath Miller can never be far from the conversation. Miller remains a threat to move the chains and has 20 catches for 225 yards and 1 touchdown on the season.
Mesko Struggling: Former Patriots punter Zoltan Mesko who was cut in training camp, was a late signing for the Steelers who replaced Drew Butler at the end of Pittsburgh’s camp and was supposed to upgrade the special teams.
But Mesko has struggled badly this season with a net average of only 36.7 (29th) and just three punts inside the 20 on the season. He bobbled a snap in Oakland and had a punt partially blocked.
Mesko might be on thin ice in Steel City but maybe punting in familiar environs may cure what ails him. Time will tell.