As we’ve done in the past, below are the keys to the Pittsburgh Steelers winning (or losing) today’s game. Three things that need to happen for them to end up on the right side of the score and vice versa in their Week 14 game against the New England Patriots.
My prediction is at the bottom.
THE STEELERS WILL WIN IF…
1. Mitch Trubisky Toes The Line
With a gunslinger mentality, there’s merit in Trubisky’s desire to be aggressive. He wants to put points on the board, he wants to make plays, and it’d be nice for Pittsburgh to win comfortably for once. Or at least semi-comfortably. But he lives by the sword and dies by the sword, and his downfield throws can result in interceptions as easily as they can big plays. The Patriots have a solid defense, and Trubisky has to know when to pick and choose his spots. Pittsburgh doesn’t win when it gives the ball away.
2. Defense Rallies In Screen Game
The Patriots don’t have much of an offensive personality, but if there is one, it’s a heavy dose of the screen game. That’s wide receiver bubble/tunnel and running back middle screen game. Expect a lot of quick passes from QB Bailey Zappe, the Patriots trying to turn short throws into big gains. Pittsburgh has to tackle well and rally well to the ball and be disciplined overall.
3. Special Teams Wins The Day
For the last two weeks, Pittsburgh’s special teams have lost the field position. And against Arizona, they were a mess with poor punts, penalties, and a missed field goal. December is when special teams’ competency really gets revealed. In September, when the weather is great, is one thing. Keeping that success in the final six weeks defines you. The Pats have their own special teams problems, rookie kicker Chad Ryland really struggling, so Pittsburgh has to be the better unit here.
The STEELERS WILL LOSE IF…
1. Patriots Tight Ends Prove Troublesome
If there’s one concern with the Patriots’ offense, it’s their tight ends. They have two talents in Hunter Henry and Mike Gesicki. Their numbers this year are light, though Henry will be their best healthy weapon for this game and Gesicki had success in Miami before Mike McDaniels’ system didn’t mesh well with him.
With Pittsburgh unable to cover Arizona’s Trey McBride last week and more inside linebacker injuries, even if Elandon Roberts plays, I expect Bill Belichick to attack the interior of the field with his tight ends. They could post some solid numbers.
2. Pittsburgh Can’t Run The Ball
For all their warts, the Patriots do one thing well. They stop the run. The NFL’s top-ranked run defense in yards per carry, it also allows the league’s fewest big plays in the run game. The Steelers won’t win this game without being able to establish a ground attack, but they face a much tougher foe than they have during this entire five-game stretch of success. The Patriots have a front seven built around run stuffers, guys like DT Christian Barmore and throwback ILB Ja’Whaun Bentley, and they’ll make life tough. OL Coach Pat Meyer and Interim OC/RBs Coach Eddie Faulkner need a great game plan, especially with a banged-up group of linemen and RB Najee Harris.
3. Fundamental Miscues Continue
Steelers beating Steelers. That’s how they lost to a two-win Cardinals team. It’s how they could lose to a two-win Patriots team. The JV-level mistakes that plagued them Sunday can’t carry over into Thursday, and it’s not like there was a lot of practice time to get it right. Players just have to lock in and, as Mike Tomlin says, do the routine things routinely. There’s no margin for error here.
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