After an embarrassing loss to the Dolphins in Miami, the Patriots are looking to regroup ahead of their week 15 showdown with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Obviously this is a huge game for both teams with very important playoff seeding implications. The Patriots are still sitting on a magic number of 1 in terms of locking up their 9th consecutive AFC East crown. This game is also critical for New England’s chances at a first round bye in the playoffs and home field advantage throughout.
Game of the Year?
It’s a game that is being touted as “the game of the year” by many NFL analysts, and as most Pats fans have come to expect, the New England coaching staff is heaping praise upon the 10 win Steelers. “They’ve played well on defense, on offense and in the kicking game, made a lot of critical plays,” Coach Belichick told reporters on Friday. “They do a really good job in that area, and that’s translated into a number of wins for them. So, along with all the other things that they do well, that’s pretty impressive, too. You need to play a good, 60-minute, complete football game, all three phases, to be competitive with these guys. They’re good at everything.”
Offensive Coordinator Josh McDaniels offered his thoughts in a conference call on Tuesday. “This is a really good football team – I mean, the best team we’ve played. Statistically, where do you want to start – yards allowed, rushing defense, passing yards allowed, sacks, turnovers, points allowed, third down. This is a team that does everything well, and they’ve got a lot of good players,” said McDaniels. “They’ve got very talented players at all three levels of their defense. Their scheme is difficult. They pressure as much as any team we’ll play all season.”
Defense in the Spotlight
Obviously The Patriots will have their hands full in all three aspects of the game this week, but clearly defensive coordinator Matt Patricia is facing tallest task with the Steelers three-headed monster on offense. Ben Roethelisberger, Le’veon Bell, and Antonio Brown could all make a legit case for league MVP this season. “I mean obviously we have a huge challenge in front of us this week,” Patricia said on Tuesday. “They are a very explosive, very dangerous offense. I mean [they have] skill players across the board. You start with the quarterback and his ability to just make great plays. Again, throw the ball, get the ball downfield, get it to his skill guys. He does a good job of moving the ball around, gets it to his playmakers in critical situations. [Le’Veon] Bell, one of the best backs in the league. [He’s a] very explosive, dangerous guy not only in the run game but in the passing game. I think you saw the other night how hard he runs and how physical he is as a player even though he has a very patient running style.
Last but certainly not least Patricia talked a little bit about the challenges Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown presents. “Antonio Brown is a great player. He’s one of the best wide receivers in the league so obviously he gets a lot of attention which frees up some opportunities for some of those other guys and the quarterback will do a great job of exploiting those situations whether it’s a check down to the back or get the ball to the tight end quickly.”
Help is on the Way
It’s a very important point Patricia is making about Brown. Even if he isnt making plays himself, Brown is drawing tons of attention from opposing defenses, which in turn opens up the field for other playmakers. After the loss to the Dolphins, Patriots fans and coaches alike were quickly reminded of a similar effect created by the presence of tight end Rob Gronkowski. With Gronk off the field, the rushing and passing lanes just are not the same. Fortunately, Gronkowskiwill make his return this week. With a chip on his shoulder, he will look to make up for last weeks suspension.
The Patriots are a 3 point favorite on the road this Sunday. The game features a projected total of 55 points, so the Vegas odds-makers are predicting a shootout. This game will give all fans an early taste of NFL playoff style football. Patriots vs Steelers is certainly going to have the full attention of the football world.
–Sam Puran is a Staff Writer and covers the New England Patriots for Full Press Coverage Sports Media. Follow her on Twitter @S_Pats21