You gotta hand it to Bill Belichick. Don’t get me wrong, I can’t stand the MILF-chasing, sneaky videotaping (thankfully, those hobbies don’t overlap) stone face. But you have to appreciate his ability to spin straw into gold. This is actually a rebuilding year for the New England Patriots as they attempt to inject fresh talent in to a team which has only a few remnants remaining from the glory teams of the past decade. And, yet, they don’t seem to miss a beat, winning the AFC East last season and posting a 6-2 record thus far in 2010.
STEELERS DEFENSE vs. PATRIOTS OFFENSE
Coming off knee surgery, Tom Brady took a while to get back into the swing of things last season but rebounded to post one of his usual fantastic stat lines. This year, not even his ridiculous Bieber-hair has interfered with his ability to get the ball where it needs to go. A 14/4 TD-INT ratio puts to rest any worries that Tom Terrific is slowing down. One concern, however, is a sprained foot which kept him out of practice this week. Not that Brady has ever been mistaken for a Slash but the ability to slide around the pocket to buy the extra second or two may be something to look for when he faces the Pittsburgh Steelers hellacious pass rush.
WR Wes Welker, coming off a serious knee injury, remains one of the best slot receivers in the league. Although without Randy Moss stretching the field and keeping the defense from clogging the middle, Welker’s numbers have declined sharply (36, 24, and 25 yards in the past three games). Part of the slack is expected to be picked up by the returning Deon Branch and second year player Brandon Tate. Although the Pats best receiving threats have been rookie TEs Aaron Hernandez and Woodland Hills alum Rob Gronkowski.
Shockingly, the Patriots actually rank higher in rushing offense (15th) than passing (17th). The running back position is a motley crew of misfits. Oft-injured Laurence Maroney has been shipped out of town in favor of a two-headed monster consisting of Benjarvis Green-Ellis and little Danny Woodhead. If you watched HBO’s fantastic Hard Knocks this year, you’ll remember Woody as a Rex Ryan favorite. The 5’8 195 runt has become a New England cult hero because he embodies all the qualities Massholes hold dear (ie: He’s white).
Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if Belichick takes a page from his own book and comes out throwing the ball 35 consecutive times like he did in a memorable Monday Night game many years back. The Browns held them under 70 rushing yards last week while the Steelers remain the top ranked rushing D. On the flip side, our pass defense continues to slide down the standings on a weekly basis. Gay covering Welkah or B-Mac giving one of his patented 8 yard cushions to Branch is the stuff nightmares are made of.
STEELERS OFFENSE vs. PATRIOTS DEFENSE
Remember all that nice stuff I said about Billy boy in my introduction? Well, despite my puke-inducing praise, one fact remains. The current Patriots defense is garbage. GARBAGE.
They’re 29th in total yards allowed, 29th in passing yards per game, and 21st in rushing yards per game. We should’ve seen this coming after the Ravens absolutely humiliated them 33-14 in last year’s playoffs. But the point was more than driven home last week when Browns RB Peyton Hillis gashed them for 184 yards while Colt McCoy directed a steady attack without throwing a single interception. Belichick is reloading the defense but it’s very much still a work in progress.
The fly in the Steelers’ ointment is half the team is in desperate need of Tiger Balm. The offense was decimated by injuries last week. Heath Miller is battling a gimpy knee. Mewelde Moore and Issac Redman were both concussed last week but have been cleared by team doctors. Of course, one bell-ringing hit and Jon Dwyer is a step closer to toting the rock.
Naturally the biggest concern is an offensive line which has been left in shambles. Max Starks has a herniated disk in his neck which requires season ending surgery. The Steelers haven’t said exactly what their plan is for Sunday night but I have to think they’ll either move Flozell Adams back to his original LT position or insert Jonathan Scott who started there for Sean Kugler’s Buffalo Bills. Personally, I’d leave the Hotel on the right side because they’ve been generating great push in the running game.
But wait, there’s more! Chris Kemoeatu has a double whammy knee/ankle sprain which in his own words is “not good.” Meanwhile, Maurkice Pouncey is battling a bruised tibia. Mike Tomlin was hoping both would be good to go but it sounds like only Pouncey is expected to play. If the line can hold it together with scotch tape and Bubble Yum, Ben Roethlisberger and the offense should have plenty of opportunities against a fairly porous defense.
One final note, I don’t usually mention special teams since I like talking about real football players. However, Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski has a bum hip and is done for the year. They’ve brought in former Bungle Shayne Graham to handle FG duties in his absence.
The Steelers were 6-2 at the mid-way point last year and we were saying, “Who cares how you win or how many injuries you have? We’re 6-2!” Then we fell into an epic swoon where we lost five straight games against some of the most pathetic teams in the NFL. I hate to put too much emphasis on one particular game but I feel this is the tipping point for the entire season. Win this game and I’ll feel a whole lot better about our chances going forward. Lose or even have another 4th quarter like the one against the Bengals and the alarm bells will continue to grow louder.
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