The marquee matchup in the NFL this week is the New England Patriots traveling to take on the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers aim to extend their conference lead to two games with a win over New England. The Patriots will take over the conference lead by virtue of a tie breaker with a win over the Steelers. Both teams have lost their best inside linebackers, which could help turn this into a track meet. The Steelers could dominate this game if their defense can compensate somewhat for the loss of Ryan Shazier. Either way, they must execute these week 15 Pittsburgh Steelers keys to victory to remain the AFC’s top seed.
Week 15 Pittsburgh Steelers Keys To Victory
The Steelers and Patriots have won 15 games apiece in their all-time series, although it hasn’t been close since 2001. The Steelers lead the regular season series 14-11, but have lost eight of the last 10 overall. Three of this series’ most painful losses have come in the AFC Championship game, including last season’s 36-17 defeat.
The Patriots have had the Steelers number for 16 year’s, but Pittsburgh is ready to turn the tables on them. They have the weapons, the mental toughness, and the opportunity to all but wrap up homefield advantage throughout the postseason. Most importantly, they have the best quarterback in the NFL since week eight leading the way, Ben Roethlisberger.
Roethlisberger has thrown for 1,999 yards, 15 touchdowns and just five interceptions since the bye week. He leads the league in passing yards and touchdowns during this stretch, and has four game winning drives. His elite play has helped carry a defense that has been trending down over the last few weeks. The Patriots defense has improved after a rough start, but they haven’t faced a quarterback like Roethlisberger and an offense like the Steelers. The Steelers have the better offense in this game, but it’s the defense that needs to step up. The Patriot dynasty started against the Steelers at Heinz Field in 2001. The Steelers could end it there and make this their statement game of 2017.
Offensive Keys to Victory
The week 15 Pittsburgh Steelers offense is hitting on all cylinders, but still has yet to peak as a unit. Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell, and Antonio Brown lead the league in yardage at their respective positions. Their touchdown percentage in the redzone, sitting at 70% over the last three weeks, is rounding into form. JuJu Smith-Schuster has exceeded expectations, while Chris Boswell is becoming one of the league’s elite kickers. Clearly, the Steelers offense is ready for this showdown, but here is what they must accomplish.
Get Into Bill Belichick’s Head
Bill Belichick is known for eliminating his opponent’s best weapons to dictate the action. He limits how offenses can attack his defense, making them more predictable and easier to shut down. His entire defensive scheme is predicated on this philosophy, and gets into his opponent opponent’s head. This forces opponents into making mistakes, creating short fields for Belichick’s offense to work on. Todd Haley has weapons to neuter Belichick’s philosophy, and when things don’t go his way, it frustrates the evil genius.
Haley’s game plan needs to keep the Patriots defense off balance and on their heels. It needs to dictate the action rather than react to what Belichick wants to force them into doing. Teams that control the ball, and the clock, frustrate Belichick, taking him outside his comfort zone. Martavis Bryant could be the key to everything offensively this Sunday, making it hard to double up on anyone. If Belichick can’t double up on Brown or focus on stopping Bell, his defense is in for a long day.
Control The Line of Scrimmage
Maurkice Pouncey and David DeCastro are the best at what they do. The rest of the line needs to match them blow for blow and control the action this week. The best way to beat Tom Brady and the Patriots is to control the ball and the clock. Keeping Brady off the field starts with the offensive line protecting Roethlisberger and opening holes for Bell. The line needs to fire off the snap, wear down their defensive front, and knock the fight right out of them. That not only protects Roethlisberger, but also the defense that is missing a couple of key components. The greater the time of possession for the Steelers, the less the defense is exposed to Brady and Rob Gronkowski.
Ben Roethlisberger Must Take Advantage of What He Is Given
Roethlisberger has been the best quarterback in the NFL over the last six weeks. He’s taking what the defense has been giving him, leading to the big plays that were missing early on. Roethlisberger needs to continue playing smart and aggressive, but not let the Patriots defense bait him. If he has to dink and dunk it down field, so be it, but with all his weapons, things will open up. The week 15 Pittsburgh Steelers offense has more weapons than the Patriots have seen in a while.
If the Patriots insist on double covering Brown, perhaps Jesse James gets another 10 receptions off those drag routes. The no-huddle offense has worked well for Roethlisberger in the past against these guys. However he chooses to attack the Patriots, Roethlisberger needs to be patient and take what their defense gives him. At some point, opportunities for big plays will present themselves. Whether it’s to Brown, Smith-Schuster or Bryant, Roethlisberger will be ready to strike.
Defensive Keys to Victory
The Steelers and Patriot defenses are trending in different directions heading into Sunday. The week 15 Pittsburgh Steelers defense has struggled with the losses of Joe Haden and Shazier. They have given up 86 more passing yards and 3.7 more points per game, and have struggled in run defense.
There’s a chance that Haden could return for this game, but with Shazier on IR, Keith Butler has to compensate. He has to figure out how to put Sean Spence and L.J. Fort in the best position to be successful. The Steelers need to shut down the run and put the game in Brady’s hands. That may sound crazy, but it is the right strategy and is the path to winning this game. It plays into the week 15 Pittsburgh Steelers defensive keys to victory.
Pressure Brady up the Middle
The Steelers have one of the best defensive lines in the NFL, but have been quiet the last two weeks. Cam Heyward, Javon Hargrave, and Stephon Tuitt must make their presence felt Sunday if the Steelers want to win. While it’s important they plug their gaps in run defense, It’s crucial they get consistent pressure on Brady. It’s no secret Brady doesn’t like getting hit, but he really despises pressure up the middle.
Brady is a rhythm passer more than most, and nothing disrupts and frustrates him more than getting hit head on. He makes a majority of his mistakes when he is frustrated, and if hit often enough, he hears footsteps. Heyward, Hargrave and Tuitt need to pressure him and hit him enough to get in his head. The Kansas City Chiefs did that opening day and ran away with a 42-27 win.
Defense Must Stop the Run
Tackling has been an issue off an on throughout the season, leading to losses against the Chicago Bears and Jacksonville Jaguars. The same issue crept up against the Baltimore Ravens last week, where several missed tackles led to big gains and scores. The week 15 Pittsburgh Steelers can’t afford to miss tackles against the Patriots. Dion Lewis is the type of back who’s given the Steelers problems recently, because of his quickness and ability to cut back on a dime. Butler’s unit needs to be disciplined in their assignments and protect the cutback lanes, minimizing yards after contact.
They need to put the clamps on Mike Gillislee as well, another running back with a good blend of power and speed. The Steelers need to be aware of ‘do it all’ running back James White, a duel threat weapon. Besides averaging four yards per carry, White is also the Patriots second leading receiver with 54 receptions. The Steelers need to wrap up whoever is carrying the ball and shut down the running game. The best way to win this game is to make the Patriots one dimensional, not to mention taking away Brady’s ability to throw off play action.
Last Word on the Week 15 Pittsburgh Steelers
The pieces are falling into place for the Steelers, who have waited almost a year for this game. The week 15 Pittsburgh Steelers are battle tested and galvanized after coming back to win three of their last four games in the final minute. They don’t blink, and they never believe they are out of any game. The Steelers are the more talented team on paper, but they must prove it on the field. They have achieved the first of three preseason goals by winning the AFC North. They now have a chance to accomplish their second goal, clinching home field advantage throughout the playoffs. The Patriots have resided in their heads for 16 years now, and the Steelers are ready to kick them out. Don’t be surprised if the Steelers unload almost two decades of frustration, sending the Patriots back to Foxboro wondering what just happened to them.