Curran's Hard Truths Preview: Patriots try to turn the page in Pittsburgh
The Steelers are reeling after three losses in a row with their playoff hopes damaged. The Patriots are coming off a nightmare finish in Miami. Who bounces back better?
WHEN THE PATRIOTS RUN
The Steelers are coming off consecutive games where they were stout against the run, allowing 55 on 25 carries against the Raiders and 85 on 22 against the Chargers. They are big across the front with Cam Heyward, Javon Hargrave and Stephon Tuitt all tough to deal with in the Steelers’ 3-4. Inside linebackers Vince Williams and Jon Bostic (a short-time Patriot at one point) are the Steelers leading tacklers but they also get a lot of run-support from enthusiastic tacklers in the secondary. The Patriots running game has been a bit inconsistent recently. The Steelers don’t afford a great chance to run.
WHEN THE STEELERS RUN
In short, they really don’t. Pittsburgh puts its fate in the hands of Ben Roethlisberger and with James Conner likely out and former Patriot Stevan Ridley expected to get a lion’s share of the carries, it’s not tailor-made for Pittsburgh to change its tendencies. But. Always with the but. The Patriots have gotten gashed the past two games on the ground. It was a big focus this week for the team. The interior defensive line has been poor and the angles and tackling on some longer runs have also been an issue. Expect the Patriots to shore that up though.
WHEN THE PATRIOTS PASS
The Steelers got picked apart by Derek Carr and Philip Rivers the past two weeks. The Steelers get to the quarterback – they’ve had three or more sacks in seven games – but the aggressiveness of their defense annually works against them against Tom Brady. Last week, with the Dolphins playing a fair amount of zone defense, Brady had a field day, especially in the first half. It was after halftime, when Brady seemed hurried without cause that he lost his accuracy. The pressure Miami put on wasn’t intense but Brady rushed a number of throws. There will be throws to be made against the Steelers. If Brady is who he’s usually been, he’ll hit them. If he lets pressure – real or imagined – unnerve him, that’s an issue.
WHEN THE STEELERS PASS
The Patriots have seen dangerous receiver duos before, but it’s the quarterback that makes Juju Smith-Schuster and Antonio Brown more dangerous than, say, Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs. Ben Roethlisberger does plenty of moronic things in the name of “slingin’ it” but that’s what makes this a scary matchup. He’s going to throw haymakers. Smith-Schuster is having an All-Pro season (1,234 yards, 91 catches) while Brown is not far behind (86 catches, 1,063 yards and 12 touchdown receptions). How the Patriots divvy up those responsibilities will be interesting. Brown may get the double-team while Smith-Schuster gets Stephon Gilmore. Gilmore’s not been as dominant in the past few weeks so look for Roethlisberger to attack his matchup.
The big special teams story in this game is Chris Boswell. The Steelers kicker is 3-for-8 from 40-to-49 yards this season, has missed five PATs and slipped last week on an attempt in the final seconds against Oakland. He’s a hazard but the Steelers are sticking with him.
QUESTIONABLE: LB Elandon Roberts (thigh)
OUT: T Marcus Gilbert (knee). DOUBTFUL: RB James Conner (ankle). QUESTIONABLE: WR Ryan Switzer (ankle)
John Parry’s crew gets this game. Parry and Bill Vinovich are my favorite officials. So far this season, 49.62 of his crew’s penalties have been called on the home team. They are 1.5 penalties and 9.45 yards per game under the league average. He hasn’t done a Patriots game since last year against Houston. One interesting stat for each team this season: Pittsburgh’s been the beneficiary of 104 penalties. The Patriots have been the beneficiary of 80. The Steelers are tied (along with Houston) for having drawn the most defensive holding penalties. The Patriots have drawn 23 flags in their past three games, more than a third of their season output.
The Patriots are favored by 3. The total is 52. The Patriots are 8-5 against the spread this season. Pittsburgh is 6-6-1.
It’s expected to be low to mid-40s with a 50 percent chance of rain and low wind. In other words, real good football weather for December.
Patriots 31, Steelers 27