Halfway through the 2010 season, the Steelers are sitting in a position that they know quite well. Eight games in and they are at 6-2, atop the AFC North along with the Ravens. Familiar territory, considering they have been 6-2 each of the last four seasons. The question is, how will they handle the final 8 games this season. Their Super Bowl season a few years ago, they finished up a strong 6-2., for a final record of 12-4. However, we all know how they finished up last season, which included a 5 game losing streak and a seat on the couch for the playoffs with a record of 9-7. This season’s second half run starts with a home game against the 6-2 Patriots.
The Pats come into Pittsburgh tied for the best record in the league, no surprise there, but this isn’t your typical high powered New England team. After dumping Randy Moss, the Pats have turned into a short passing, run after the catch type of team. That means Pittsburgh LBs are going to have their hands full trying to stop the ‘Diminutive Duo” of Wes Welker and Danny Woodhead. With these two, short 5 yard passes can turn into 15 yard gains in a hurry. Farrior and Timmons are going to have to be on their game to shut that element down. With Moss gone, they don’t really have a true deep threat. The ageless Deon Branch has great hands, but I don’t think he’ll strike fear in Ike Taylor or Troy Polomalu. Tom Brady is still Tom Brady, however, and love him or hate him he’s a player. He looked out of sorts last week and not on the same page with his receivers in their embarrassing loss to the Browns, so look for him to come out even more focused to try and redeem themselves. If the Pats are going to stay in the game, it’ll be up to Brady because there are no running backs on their roster that should do any damage against this historically great Steeler run defense. They’ve held their first eight opponents under 75 yards rushing per game, and I think that streak will continue this weekend.
It is the other side of the ball that I have concerns about. The Pats secondary is very porous, so Ben should be able to pick them apart easily. Mike Wallace is quickly becoming a star, and should be able to get behind the defense for at least a few deep shots down the field. That is, if Ben has enough time to throw. The offensive line has been besieged by injuries this season. Willie Colon has been out, now Max Starks is also lost for the season. Kemoeatu has banged up knees and ankles from last week’s game and hasn’t practiced all week. Still not sure if he’ll play at all against the Pats. Pouncey left last week’s game with an injury, but returned is still feeling banged up. It got so bad in the Bengal game last week that Heath Miller was going to start lining up at Tackle. Legursky, Scott, Adams, whomever they have healthy enough to play on Sunday are going to have to step up and give Ben time to throw. As Coach Tomlin says, injuries are a part of the game, the next guy in line has to step up and perform. This will be a good test of that principle with possibly three new starters on the O-line.
Anytime the Steelers and Patriots face off it is a battle of Super Bowl caliber teams, and this season is no different. With both sitting at 6-2, this is a big game for possible home field advantage down the line in the playoffs. The Pats seem to always have Pittsburgh number (or should I say game film…), but I think that changes on Sunday. Although I don’t care for Brady and Bilichek, you have to respect them and the fact that they’ll come ready to battle on Sunday night. If the Steelers were completely healthy, I think they’d handle the Pats easily this year. However, with the O-line injuries mounting, I think this will be closer contest than any of us Black and Gold fanatics would hope to see.
I think the strength of the Pittsburgh defense though will more than compensate for the losses on the O-line. After a dominating defensive performance, and some key special teams plays from emerging star Emmanuel Sanders in the return game, I think the Steelers will pull away late in this game.
It’ll be tight, but I like the Steelers to move to 7-2 with a 24-13 win.