Pats at Steelers: An Unstoppable Force Meets a Steel Curtain

Posted: October 28, 2011 by ndbohlen in NFL, Patriots, Prediction
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Mike and I do our best to defy our bias, computer simulations, and the difficulty of seeing into the future to predict who will come out on top in this Sunday’s grudge match between the New England Patriots and the Pittsburgh Steelers. Which of us will be right? And yes, one of us has to be correct. There is no gray area.

MIKE: This Sunday. 4:15 EST. Patriots at Steelers. Talk about a fucking match-up. The Steelers’ top-ranked defense against the Pats’ top-ranked offense. I obviously want to just launch into a rant about how much I hate both Big Rape Ben and Tommy-Boy. But I suppose I’ll resist for just a bit and see what the numbers show.

Overall, the Pittsburgh defense is ranked 3rd, but 6th for overall yards allowed and 1st for passing yards allowed per game. The most obvious point of entry (besides, well, you know) to analyzing this game is asking if Tom Brady’s arm can launch the ball past whatever wall of defense the Steelers can establish at home. Lo and behold, the team with the highest average passing yards is the New England Patriots.

Even though the Patriots have beaten up on the Steelers in recent history, I think it’s still imaginable that the Pats might be upset at Heinz Field. To win this one, the Pats will have to dust off the “How to Beat the Jets Manual, 2011 Edition.” Mr. I-Have-Four-Names will be called upon to pull apart the Steelers’ rush defense, which has allowed 100+ yards per game. (Yeah, didn’t see that one coming, right? Pittsburgh with a mediocre rush defense.) But will Green-Ellis pull out a game like the “break-out” he had against the Jets? In my opinion, he didn’t actually “break-out.” I think he broke onto the front page of the sports section for a week, but he’s not stepping into the elite circle anytime soon – although I’ll give him credit on yards per carry. I don’t believe that Green-Ellis can win his team another game because he hasn’t made a big play. His longest run was for 16 yards. For the record, there are only 2 other players out of the top 40 rushers who have shorter longest runs: Joseph Addai and Daniel Thomas… they both play for winless (a.k.a. Suck-for-Luck) teams.

I feel like I ought to say at this point it all comes down to whether the Pats defense can hold Ben Roethlisberger to fewer than 200 yards. Even though the Steelers’ O-line has allowed Big Ben to get sacked 20 times (I think HE should complain about the refs not protecting him and calling penalties… because SOMEBODY needs to stop Big Ben from getting his brain rattled until it turns to Jello and he makes a bad life choice…whoops!) Nonetheless, Roethlisberger seems to have the uncanny ability to shake it off and still rack up some impressive offensive numbers.

You know as well as most that I truly despise Roethlisberger. But somehow his numbers this year point to him playing only marginally worse than Tom Brady. Of course, the numbers can lie… in certain respects Cam Newton is playing almost as well as Brady… but uh, Tom Brady has won more than two games in seven tries. Oh, and the Panthers, as a team, pray (almost as hard as Tim Tebow) to play as well as the shadows of Patriots players.

I guess I should mention that the Patriots did not play well against the Cowboys. I don’t care what the analysts said before that game… Tony Romo had no business even thinking he could win that game. Yes, Brady was the definition of clutch in those last two minutes, but I don’t think the Steelers will be as forgiving if the Pats haven’t used the bye-week to tighten up. The question will be about the players’ improvements personally — I have no doubt that Belichek and his coaching crew will put together a well-thought-out game plan. It will be up to the team to execute it well.

The Steelers have the potential to make the Pats play unlike the Pats. That, of course, depends on the Pats not being the Pats. I wrote my thesis on identity, and I seem to remember something about it being difficult to truly lose an identity… I doubt the Pats will lose theirs after a week of R&R to sit with their therapists and understand their feminine side.

Disclaimer: my prediction is based on my love of being correct over my hatred of all things Northeast of the Taconic Parkway. I’m thinking this one will be tight and low-scoring. Kind of like you. Pats win 20-17.

NICK: Sorry to take so long to get my response back to you. Wait, why am I apologizing? Up yours! I hope you had to sit at work all morning and mourn your inability to read Grantland, you twat of a Jets fan! O’Doyle rules!

Before I get into why you are all wrong (well, mostly wrong, you’re certainly right about the Pats #winning), I have to defend dear Tommy-Boy from your vitriol. I shouldn’t have to remind you of the Rise of Tom Brady (damn right I’m using capital letters) – selected in the sixth round of the 2000 draft, Brady took over for an injured Drew Bledsoe in 2001 after two games and led the Patriots to 11 wins and a first-round bye. After the infamous Tuck Rule victory over the Raiders, Brady and the Patriots defeated (yup, you guessed it) the Steelers in the AFC Championship game before overcoming ALL THE ODDS and beating the St. Louis Rams for their (our!) first Super Bowl title.

It is the classic, quintessential American story of an already well-to-do, privileged white male pulling himself up by his bootstraps to make millions of dollars and marry a supermodel. How can you not be inspired by that?

Now that I have that off my chest, let’s delve into some real talk.

I know past performance is hardly a foundation to stake a future prediction on, but Brady has absolutely dominated Pittsburgh. He’s 6-1 against the Steelers (including playoffs), with 14 touchdowns to only three interceptions. Last year, Brady marched into Heinz Field and completed 30 of 43 passes for 350 yards, 3 passing TDs, and one celebratory “Eff you!” spike on a 3-yard keeper for a touchdown. The Pats won 39-26.

Yes, like you said, the Steelers have the 3rd-ranked defense in total yards per game, 1st in passing yards (171.9 per game). I’m not buying it, though. Why? Because so far, they have played Seattle, Indianapolis, Tennessee, Jacksonville, and Arizona. Not to mention Baltimore. I don’t exactly see Tarvaris Jackson, Curtis TAINTer, Kevin Kolb, and Joe Flacco on the Mount Rushmore of fearsome passing attacks in the National Football League. (At least there would be some minority representation, though.)

What’s more, the Steelers have just three takeaways through seven games, the worst figure through seven games in NFL history. (You know I’m quoting the football Bible, Bill Barnwell, so it must be true.) The Patriots only loss and only other close game? Tom Brady had six interceptions (four in the loss against Buffalo, two against the Cowboys). Without forcing Brady into turnovers, opposing teams have as good a chance of winning as you do of getting laid.

Not only do the Patriots have the #1 passing offense to combat the Steelers D, they also have the 10th-ranked rushing attack, led by the Law Firm, BenJarvus Green-Ellis (how great is that nickname?). Sure, he’s not an electric playmaker, but that’s hardly necessary when #12 is under center. All he has to do is keep the defense honest with some hard-nosed running, forcing teams into keeping seven men in the box as opposed to loading up on nickel and dime packages.

I don’t think the Patriots are going to use the recipe they used to beat the Jets earlier this year, though. Pittsburgh doesn’t have a corner like Darrelle Revis who can just shut down the Patriots receivers, if only because they don’t use Troy Polamalu in that capacity. I think they’re going to spread the field and give the Steelers a heavy dose of Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski, and Aaron Hernandez, while Chad Ochocinco’s grill sparkles on the sideline. Since the Steelers do have 20 sacks on the season, good for sixth in the league, they’ll throw out of the shotgun with a running back in the backfield to block and release. A lot of quick throws on outs, hooks, and slants, combined with some draw plays to slow down the LaMarr Woodley-led pass rush.

My worry is not the Steelers defense, but their offense. Like with the Steelers defense, I’m not sold on Big Ben being anywhere close to Tom Brady’s class because he has hardly played any high caliber teams. Sadly, the Patriots defense is hardly high caliber, being last in the league in pass defense. (I want to say even I could get open against the Patriots defense, but we both know I sit around and drink way too much beer for that to be remotely true.) Mike Wallace and his jetpack of pure speed terrify me, though, and I definitely see him sneaking behind the Pats’ secondary for a long touchdown. The Patriots need to keep Big Ben in the pocket so he can’t make one of his trademark completions for a big gain on a broken down play.

(I feel I’m missing an inappropriate joke in there somewhere…I got it! Big Ben needs to keep it in his pocket so he doesn’t make his trademark move on a girl. Boom!)

I would like to think that the bye week gave the Pats some extra preparation and strategy to take down the black and yellow, but the bye week hasn’t been kind to teams this year for some reason. Teams after the bye are 3-9 this season. Now it could be that thus far most of the teams with byes are actually all really bad teams. I’m going to keep the faith that Belichick has some monster game plan in place for the Steelers, as he usually does coming off a bye week and whenever the Patriots are playing a tough rival.

I’m going the opposite direction with my prediction in terms of scoring. Frankly, though I’m surprised you picked the Pats to win – when did you fall in love with coming up with correct answers, Philosophy Boy? More importantly, what kind of Jets fan are you? With the Pats unable to play defense and unable to be stopped on offense, I see an offensive bloodbath (fittingly at Ketchup Stadium). No on-field assault for Big Ben this week, though.

That said, I’m throwing up my own disclaimer: my research (fine, “research”) and my unwavering support for the Pats points to a New England victory, but I’m unbelievably nervous with everyone expecting and predicting a Patriots win (including the both of us). My gut tells me to prepare for a wrenching loss to start a tough three week stretch (@PIT, vs. NYG, @NYJ). Unlike you, Mike, I have principles, and I’m sticking to ‘em.

Final Score: Patriots 34, Steelers 24

MIKE:  Then again, I suppose we could both be wrong. That would certainly suck. I hate being wrong. Siri! Kill IBM AccuScore and make it rue the day it defied our predictions. And remind me to buy flowers for my mom’s birthday.


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