Patriots-Steelers Pregame Thoughts

Wednesday, January 19th, 2005 @ 11:56 pm | Sports

Now, that I’ve said I like the NFL on iTunes deal and talked about the Patriots perhaps making the Super Bowl, I guess I should share my thoughts on the upcoming PatriotsSteelers game (even if I seem to be the only person who likes the deal).

This ended up being longer than I expected, so here’s the Cliff’s Notes version — I think the Pats will win. Of course, I’m a homer and I’ve made the same prediction prior to every Pats game over the last 2 seasons. Granted, I’ve correctly called 32 of the last 36 Pats games using this approach, but that’s beside the point 🙂

Seriously, though, I do think the Pats will win, but I think the game will be close – within a touchdown. Both teams are extremely good (heck, the Steelers are currently 16-1 this season), but the Pats have a few edges.

Injuries

Back on Halloween, the Steelers pounded the Patriots 34-20. Since Bill Belichick took over the Patriots prior to the 2000 season, the Patriots are 15-4 the second time they play a given team during a single season. Two of those loses came during the 2000 season, during which the Pats went 5 and 11.

update: Here’s the stat I actually wanted to quote last night: “Bill Belichick’s Patriots are undefeated the last 13 times they’ve faced a [starting?] quarterback for the second time in a season.”

Back when the Pats and Steelers played last fall, the Patriots were decimated by injuries. Starters Corey Dillon (running back), Deion Branch (wide receiver), Tyrone Poole (cornerback), Patrick Pass (fullback), and Tom Ashworth (right tackle) all missed the game due to injuries. Starting CB Ty Law and left tackle Matt Light both left the game with injuries; neither returned (Law, in fact, ended up missing the remainder of the season).

Two and a half months later, the Patriots are much healthier than they were during week 8. Dillon, Branch, Pass, and Light are all expected to play. Niether of the Tys will be playing, but their replacements have had 10 weeks to gel and they’ve mostly acquitted themselves quite well — Randall Gay has exceeded all expectations and Troy Brown has improved by leaps and bounds as he’s received on-the-job training. Earthwind Moreland has been beaten more often than I’d like to see (to the point where Brown, a wide receiver, has passed him on the depth chart), but during last weeks’ Colts game, Moreland was benched in favor of the recently-acquired Hank Poteat.

Starting defensive end Richard Seymour may not play, as he’s still recovering from an injury suffered near the end of the regular season.

I believe the Steelers were missing one starter during the week 8 match-up, but I not certain. Perhaps one of their starting linebackers?

Ben Roethlisberger and the Patriots’ Coaching Staff

Ben Roethlisberger has definitely had an amazing rookie year. Defense-adjusted Points Above Replacement (DPAR) is a metric developed by the folks at Football Outsiders. For quarterbacks, DPAR “represents the total number of points scored due to plays where this QB passed or carried the ball, compared to a replacement-level QB in the same game situations.” Roethlisberger had the 10th highest DPAR in the NFL. Keep in mind, he didn’t become a starter till week 3 and he sat out week 17.

That said, Roethlisberger clearly struggled last week against the Jets. I can’t really say if his thumb was bothering him or if he was nervous or if the Jets defense was just that good. However, he also suffered against the Jets in Week 14, completing only 9 of 19 passes and throwing 2 interceptions. Looking at the numbers, the Jets defense isn’t that good. I’m going to point towards another Football Outsiders stat, Defense-adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA). Overall, the Jets had the 14th worst DVOA in the NFL. If we look just at pass defense, the Jets fall all the way to 8th worst.

The Patriots defense is much better than the Jets — overall the Pats had the 6th best DVOA in the league. Looking at the just the passing numbers, the Pats fall to 11th overall, but that’s a far cry from the the Jets’ ranking.

I think it’s a safe bet that Bill Belichick and Romeo Crennel (the Pats’ defensive coordinator) have watched film of how the Jets played against Roethlisberger. These are two of the best defensive minds in the game and I believe they’ll come up with a game plan to exploit any weaknesses that find in Roethlisberger’s game. Furthermore, the Patriots have shown time and time again that they have the players on the defensive side of the ball to implement pretty much any game plan the coaches develop.

Kickers

If it’s a close game like I’m expecting, the game could come down to a battle between the kickers. The Steelers escaped last week because Doug Brien blew two opportunities to kick the go-ahead field foal in the final minutes of regulation. The Patriots don’t have Doug Brien kicking field goals, they have Adam Vinatieri, who’s perhaps the best clutch kicker in the game today. Between the 2001 and 2003 playoffs, Vinatieri’s lined up for 4 game winning kicks and made them all.

The Steelers are a good, hard-nosed football team, but I think Patriots are just better, the Halloween Horror notwithstanding. I’m expecting a close game. Then again, either team could decide to do their best impression of the Colts and we could end up with a blowout.

Prediction: Pats 17, Steelers 14

(The numbers I’ve sited either come from my own memories, Football Outsiders, or Pro-Football-Reference.com. The Patriots injury list from the first Steelers game came from Management Secrets of the New England Patriots, by James Lavin)

3 Responses to “Patriots-Steelers Pregame Thoughts”

  1. Eric Blair Says:

    Like I said, I’m a homer. I know more about the Pats than about the Steelers.

    Yes, Light didn’t leave the game till the third quarter, when the game was already decided. Law, however, left during the Steelers third possession of the game, according to the game notebook on Patriots.com. At that point, the Pats were actually leading, 3-0. Two plays later, Burress beat Randall Gay to give the Steelers a 7-3 lead.

    I’m not saying that losing Seymour won’t hurt. However, I think it easier to adapt to losing a player prior to the game the an it is to adjust on the fly.

    You’re right, I did underestimate the Steelers injuries. I believe Bell was the linebacker who I was remembering. I knew Bettis had a decent game, but I forgot he came in because of the Staley injury.

    I do put a lot of faith into Belichick’s game-planning skills. I also put a lot of faith in the player’s ability to execute the game plan. That combination has worked pretty well over the last few years.

    I’ve also seen Dillon’s numbers against the Steelers over the past few years. I don’t believe he’s going to have the same sort of day he had against Indy, but his presence likely means that the Pats will have more than 6 rushing attempts on Sunday. This could keep the Steelers from selling out in pass coverage and should also increase the time of possession.

    I’d be surprised if Moreland even plays. Lately, Asante Samuel and Randall Gay have been the starters, Troy Brown’s been the nickelback, and Poteat came off the bench as the 4th corner/garbage time player. I know Poteat’s certainly not a world-beater, but he inspires slightly more confidence than Earthwind.

    I just took a quick look at the Jets’ scores during the regular season. It actually looks like they have a number of low scoring games with a couple of high scoring affairs. I went to the numbers because I recalled not being too impressed when I watched them play, but I only saw three Jets games all season and one of those was one of the Jets’ worst games.

    I think you might be underestimating the Pats linebackers and safeties. Yes, they had a bad day against Pittsburgh. However, in the two games against the Jets, the Pats held the league’s leading rusher to 103 yards and the Jets rushing attack as a whole to 152 yards.

    If both teams play the way they’re capable of playing, it’ll be close. What kind of fan would I be if I didn’t pick my team in a close game? 🙂

  2. Erik J. Barzeski Says:

    Well, the Dolts played like it. The Pats dropped 8 and 9 men, and the Dolts gave up on their running game (which was working) far too soon.

    It’ll be a good, close game. My coach sucks, and if the Steelers win, it will be in spite of him, not because of him.

  3. Eric Blair Says:

    Damn. I accidentally deleted Erik Barzeski’s original comment while I was cleaning some comment spam. Here’s the text of the original comment:

    Let’s be real. You have arguably a far more impactful injury this time: Seymour. And Light and Law left well after the game was decided. We ran the ball for 221 yards against your vaunted defense, and little of that had to do with the secondary.

    Let’s also not forget the Steeler injuries – Staley pulled his hammy in that game and left. Our starting corner (Scott) was out. Harrison played in place of Haggans. Our all-world nose tackle Casey Hampton has been gone all year. Kendrell Bell was out.

    Pats fans continue to have entirely too much faith in their coach. The players are the ones that get it done, and the “second time” statistic is one of the dumbest ever invented. Ben wasn’t supposed to have won every start this year, either, but that didn’t stop him. The Steelers had no business winning last week (more turnovers, more big plays) yet did so.

    Corey Dillon is not the impact-maker Pats fans think he is – the Steelers have shut down running games far better than his. And shut his down in the past four years, too.

    Moreland is gonna be matched up on one of three people: Randle El, Ward, or Burress. You think that’s a matchup you’re going to win consistently? And good luck with Poteat: the Steelers didn’t like what they saw in him when they had him.

    The Jets played a good game and Ben made some bad throws. The Jets D is better than the Patriots D, though. They’re tougher up the middle and they’re tougher deep. Simple-minded use of stats fails to take into consideration how a defense plays against a certain kind of offense. Here’s another stat that’s far more startling: 221 yards rushing on your Patriots D. Time of Possession is another good one: 42:58 to 17:02.

    Bellicheck may watch the film, and he may make the adjustments, but he simply doesn’t have the personnel the Jets have.

    So, there’s my quick rebuttal. The Patriots won’t be able to stop the Pittsburgh running game, the Steelers D is better, and the Steelers, as a whole, have more big play potential than the Pats.