Steelers vs. Patriots Preview: Clash Of The Titans


Memo to Anthony Smith: Shut the hell up!! In case you missed it, safety Anthony Smith “guaranteed” a win this Sunday when the Steelers face the Patriots. Predictably, the Patriots reacted to this stupid bit of boasting by, uh, trying to figure out who Anthony Smith is. “I didn’t know who he was until we started preparing for them,” model-diddling quarterback Tom Brady said.

Sports Illustrated’s Peter King also predicted a Steelers upset this weekend. And, best of all, Las Vegas must have read my Five Reasons… post because the game is magically back on the board with the Steelers a meager 12 point underdog. Twelve points? That’s practically a pick ‘em when the game involves the Greatest Team in the History of the Universe (GTITHOTU).

Usually, I break down the Patriots offense vs. the Steelers defense and vice versa but this week I’m going to do something different. If you’re a football fan, I’m sure you’ve seen enough of the GTITHOTU to know what they do and how they do it. Instead, I’m going to look at their past two games, against the Ravens and Iggles, and try to break down exactly why what were supposed to be embarrassing blow-outs turned into heartstopping near upsets.

The Colts, Ravens, and Eagles gave everybody a blueprint of how to play the GTITHOTU on defense. Primarily, you have to roll your safety coverage over the top on Randy Moss and jam him hard so he doesn’t get a free sprint down the field. You also HAVE to blitz Brady. Teams didn’t do this early on for fear their receivers would burn them in man-to-man coverage if they didn’t get the sack. However, sacking Brady isn’t important, making him move around and preventing him from stepping up into the pocket is. Unlike Ben Roethlisberger, Tom Brady might be more virile but he isn’t great at throwing when he’s on the run.

The GTITHOTU has pretty much become a pass first, pass second, and, for good measure, pass third offense. Which is fine except if the defense can prevent the big play and make them grind out a scoring drive of 8-10 short plays instead of 4-6 longer plays, they are more likely to miss a pass and have to punt or settle for a field goal. Plus, the weather is getting rougher, such as the windy night in Baltimore, which also affects the passing game. Dammit, where is Bob Kudzma when you need him? If ever we were in dire need of a dependable weather forecast, now’s the time.

As for the GTITHOTU’s defense, they have not been defending the run very well lately. Part of this is because their linebackers are old and the grind of a long season might be wearing them down. Or this might have been a weakness all along, it was just hidden early in the season by quickly getting 20+ points up on the opposition and forcing them to abandon the run and throw to catch up. Keeping the game within reach is key because it will allow us to stick with the running game. Not that the passing game is off the menu, either. Philly exposed how vulnerable they are to pass patterns to the inside because their corners play outside technique and are not good enough to take away in-patterns. It also doesn’t help that their linebackers are weak in zone pass coverage.

WR Hines Ward will be a major factor in this game as he’s the Steelers best threat over the middle and that is where the passing game is going to be most effective. RB Willie Parker will also have to shake off last week’s disastrous effort and provide a steady ground threat. Most importantly, QB Ben Roethlisberger cannot make ANY mistakes. None. The Ravens would’ve won except for one ill-timed Kyle Boller interception, the Iggles had victory within their sights except for one stupid A.J. Feeley interception. You simply can’t afford turnovers against the GTITHOTU. If you’re inside the red zone, you have to score a touchdown. If you’re in scoring range, you have to come away with at least a field goal. There is no room for error on offense.

On defense, S Troy Polamalu looks to be out again this week. Interestingly, we have a 3-0 record when he’s riding pine. Still, I’d like to have him and his ability to jam receivers, rush the quarterback, and play physical in coverage. In his absence, this game will come down to the Three Amigos (Ike Taylor, Bryant McFadden, and Deshea Townshend) having to play another shut down game like they’ve done pretty much all season. Also, it’ll be imperative for safeties Tyrone Carter and, yes, I’m looking at YOU, Anthony Smith, to step it up. You talked the talk, now back it up so next time we meet they’ll know who you are, no introduction required.