Week 15. Steelers vs. Patriots. Home-field advantage in the AFC playoffs on the line. The NFL scheduling committee did a heck of a job with this one. This is a game that football fans everywhere have had circled since the schedule was released in April. Not only is it a matchup against the AFC’s two best teams and a rematch of last year’s AFC Championship game, but also serves as a possible preview of this year’s AFC Title game. There are many keys the Steelers need to hit if they want to beat the Patriots this weekend.
Steelers Keys To Victory Against The Patriots
It can be argued that the Steelers have only played two complete games this year: September 17th against the Vikings and November 16th against the Titans, both of which were in Pittsburgh.
The Steelers are going to need a repeat performance of those two matchups against their arch nemesis, Tom Brady if they want to pull out a win and clinch home-field in the playoffs. A lot needs to be done to beat the Patriots this Sunday and here are some of the keys to a Steelers Victory this weekend.
Killer B’s Must Be at Their Best
Big Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell must be in sync and ready to go on Sunday afternoon. Roethlisberger is 3-7 in his career against the Pats including the playoffs. However, he has not been the reason why the Steelers have struggled against the Patriots. He has averaged 282 passing yards per game in those ten matchups and thrown for 17 TDs to just 6 INTs. A repeat performance from Big Ben is crucial to the Steelers success.
Brown has averaged just under 91 receiving yards a game and caught 3 TDs against Bill Belichick and company. Bell, on the other hand, is the Killer B that must step up his game on Sunday as he has only averaged 102.6 all-purpose yards against the Pats. Most players may be satisfied with this kind of production, but not Bell, who has averaged 130 total yards per game since coming into the league.
All three of these guys have to bring their best come Sunday. Thier mere presence will lead to the Patriots defense focusing on them and not on other guys who have the potential to break out.
Utilize JuJu Smith-Schuster and Martavis Bryant
Belichick and the Patriots have never played against these two speedsters. The Pats have a very good secondary, but Malcolm Butler will be glued to Brown and it is possible that he is double covered which should open the door for Smith-Schuster and Bryant. Belichick and defensive coordinator, Matt Patricia are going to have their hand’s full preparing for the Killer B’s which could cause the Steelers numbers 2 and 3 receivers to find holes in the defense. The key for the Steelers is to exploit these holes and use the speed of these two young playmakers.
Don’t Let Rob Gronkowski Beat You
Brady has been a thorn in the side of Steelers fans for years, but how about Gronkowski? He has played the Steelers five times and has accounted for 30 Rec, 496 yards and 8 TDs in those games.
The only game that Gronk has lost to the Steelers was on October 30th of 2011. The Steelers won by 8 points and it was the only time Gronkowski did not score a touchdown in a matchup vs. Pittsburgh. Playing without Ryan Shazier is going to be extremely difficult for the Steelers when it comes to stopping Gronkowski, but they need to get creative or else the big tight end will be the difference maker for the Pats.
Did anyone see what happened when the Dolphins blitzed Brady? He looked lost and confused. Brady is at his best when he is able to sit in the pocket and pick apart opposing defenses. Miami only sacked Brady twice, but the ‘Phins hit him six times and the constant pressure caused him to get rid of the ball quick and only complete 56% of his passes.
Brady was flustered and the Patriots failed to convert a single third down attempt. This is another testament to Rob Gronkowski’s impact. If the Steelers can find a way to slow Gronk down and pressure Brady, the Patriots will have a much tougher time moving the ball.
Limit the Penalties
Do not give Tom Brady more chances than necessary to pick apart the weakness that is the Steelers secondary. Artie Burns has been flagged four times this year for defensive pass interference and the Steelers have been penalized 15 times for unnecessary roughness, the most in the NFL.
When going up against arguably the best quarterback of all time, you cannot afford to give him second chances. The Steelers need to limit the penalties and keep Brady off of the field as much as possible.
Play for 50 and Stop the Run
The Steelers defense has been noticeably different against the run since Shazier was lost for the season in week 13. No one on the defense can replace his instincts and quickness.
The Pats only amassed for 25 rushing yards against the Dolphins in week 14. Brady has torched the Steelers when the Patriots establish a running game and are able to use play action. The Steelers defense needs to keep Shazier in the back of their minds and eliminate any kind of running game. Forcing the Patriots into a one-dimensional offense is pivotal if the men of Steel want to pull this one out.