Tag:Ben Roethlisberger
Posted on: November 15, 2011 1:55 pm
Edited on: November 16, 2011 5:47 am
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Roethlisberger has broken thumb, will still play

A broken bone won't keep Big Ben out of the lineup. (Getty Images)

Posted by Ryan Wilson

It's part of the deal: the Steelers let Ben Roethlisberger play his game -- which consists of holding the ball for an eternity, breaking tackles in the backfield, buying time with his feet and finding receivers open downfield -- with the understanding that he'll take a beating and suffer the occasional injury. It's unconventional, but it also works. (As Warren Sapp pointed out last week, when you're facing Ben, it's not the first three seconds of the play that hurt you, it's the last three.) In Roethlisberger's first seven years in the league, Pittsburgh made three Super Bowl appearances, winning twice.

On Tuesday, Big Ben told the media that he broke the thumb on his throwing hand during Sunday's game against the Bengals. He also said that he'll play against the Chiefs in two weeks, when the Steelers return from their bye.

"It will be painful but it takes a lot to keep me out," said Roethlisberger (via the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review), who is wearing a velcro wrap to protect the thumb. "We'll concoct a splint. I'll have a glove on for the rest of the year."

Roethlisberger was sacked five times in Cincinnati, but played well, completing 21 of 33 passes for 245 yards, with a touchdown and an interception.

At various points last season, Big Ben battled a foot injury and a broken nose. Since coming into the league in 2004, he's also dealt with concussions, knee surgeries, previous thumb and foot injuries, not to mention nearly dying during a 2006 motorcycle accident. (You can view the exhaustive list of nicks, bumps, bruises and breaks here.)

Coincidentally, when the Steelers face the Chiefs in Week 11, Kansas City will be without their starter, Matt Cassel, who suffered a hand injury during Sunday's loss to the Broncos.

If it turns out that Roethlisberger can't play, Charlie Batch will get the nod with Dennis Dixon backing him up. The duo led the Steelers to a 3-1 record to begin the 2010 season, while Big Ben served a four-game suspension following a sexual-assault accusation.

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Posted on: November 12, 2011 7:25 pm
Edited on: November 14, 2011 11:04 pm
 

For the gambler in you, Week 10

Posted by Josh Katzowitz

Each Saturday, we’ll take the best -- and most clever -- odds collected by bodog.com for the upcoming week and give our take. This is important stuff, perhaps the most important post you’ll read all week. Because if you can’t lose money while watching a game in which you have absolutely no effect, what’s the point of watching sports at all?

Will Aaron Rodgers break the single season passing record of 5084 yards? (Note: He’s on pace for 5,238 yards) 

Yes 3/1    

Rodgers can’t continue to be this superhuman, can he? He has to slip up at least once or twice this year, right? I’d go with no, but I also wouldn’t feel very confident about that pick.

Will Patrick Peterson break the single season punt return touchdown Record of four? (Note: He currently has three through eight games)

Yes 4/1

We’re halfway through the season, and Peterson can’t figure out why teams continue to punt to him. But you know what? Teams occasionally still punt to Devin Hester -- and he, along with Gale Sayers -- are the two best kick returners of all time. Peterson might not get as many chances, but he’ll get some. And he’s so damn good, I think he could notch two more. I’d go yes, even if it’s a bit of a longshot.

Odds to win the 2011 MVP?      

Aaron Rodgers (GB) QB 1/4

Matt Forte (CHI) RB 7/1

Drew Brees (NO) QB 12/1

Eli Manning (NYG) QB 12/1

Frank Gore (SF) RB 12/1

Tom Brady (NE) QB 12/1

Calvin Johnson (DET) WR 15/1

Ben Roethlisberger (PIT) QB 22/1

LeSean McCoy (PHI) RB 30/1

Adrian Peterson (MIN) RB 30/1

Obviously, Rodgers is the easy call, but at 1/4, you’re going to have to lay a ton of money in order to make any money back. If you want a long shot, I’d go Frank Gore. He’s been one of the most underrated players this season, and after a slow start, he’s rushed for 100-plus yards in each of the past five games. Since the 49ers could well end up with more than 12 wins, doesn’t Gore deserves some consideration?

When will the San Francisco 49ers clinch the NFC West division?
      
Week 11 5/1

Week 12 3/1

Week 13 3/2

Week 14 11/2

Week 15 9/1

Week 16 12/1

Week 17 20/1

In this weak division, I’ll go early. Week 12 sounds good to me.

For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnNFL on Twitter and subscribe to our RSS Feed.
Posted on: November 9, 2011 7:17 pm
 

Film Room: Bengals vs. Steelers preview

Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit



So let’s get this straight: the Steelers, at a respectable 6-3, are in third place of the AFC North? And it’s not the soft-scheduled Browns they’re chasing, but rather, the dysfunctional Bengals?

We’re going to find out over the next two months whether the Bengals are a Cinderella story or a farce. First, let’s establish some expectations by examining what the film has revealed over the past two months.



1. The ginger rookie & Jon Gruden’s brother
There’s a growing movement to anoint Andy Dalton the Offensive Rookie of the Year instead of Cam Newton. That’s a fair. Dalton’s team is 6-2, Newton’s is 2-6. But let’s keep our perspective and remember that Dalton is NOT the physical specimen that Newton is. He doesn’t have Newton’s arm, wheels or athletic improv skills. And he’s not being asked to do the same things as Newton.

That said, Dalton has been much closer to Newton’s athletic level than anyone would have ever guessed. He has shown the arm strength to make just about every throw that first-year offensive coordinator Jay Gruden has asked of him. He’s been poised when operating from a muddied pocket, and he’s very good at releasing the ball on the move.

Gruden has done a phenomenal job playing to Dalton’s strengths. The Bengals have a balanced attack that hinges on play-action and rollouts, two concepts that slice the field for a quarterback and help define his reads (see graphic). Gruden also incorporates a lot of three-and five-step drops – another simplification tactic. As a result, the Bengals offense has not only been nearly mistake-free but also calm and consistent.

A play-action rollout simplifies things for a quarterback by essentially slicing the field in half. In this sample (against a basic two-man coverage), a fake handoff compels the defense to flow left. The only defenders who go right are the ones responsible for the two receivers running their patterns to the right.

Quarterbacking 101 teaches you to never throw across your body or back across the field. Thus, after the quarterback rolls out, he only has to read the right side of the field, which consists of nothing but his two receivers and their defensive matchups. Often, the read is simplified even more by throwing to wherever the free safety is not giving help-coverage. If a play is there, it’s easy for the quarterback to see.

If nothing’s there, the quarterback has plenty of room to throw the ball away or scramble.

2. The “sure thing” receiver & other weapons
Wideout A.J. Green has been exactly what you’d expect a No. 4 overall pick to be in Year One. He’s averaging roughly five catches, 75 yards and a little more than half a touchdown per game. He’s clearly Dalton’s go-to guy, being targeted almost automatically when facing one-on-one coverage. Green has a wide catching radius thanks to uncommon body control and a great vertical leap. He’ll climb to the top echelon of receivers once he polishes his route running (he has a bad tendency to yield ground and inside positioning on downfield patterns).

The receiving weapons around Green have been solid. Jermaine Gresham can cause matchup problems in the flats. Veteran Donald Lee has filled in well in the wake of Gresham’s hamstring injury the past two weeks. Jerome Simpson has shown why the team did not discipline him harshly after police found Costco amounts of marijuana in his home this past September. To be blunt, Simpson’s quickness is too valuable to take off the field. He’s much more reliable than Andre Caldwell.

Surprisingly, the black-and-blue ground game that figured to define Cincy’s offense has been extremely average thus far (the statistics support this, as Cincy ranks 28th with 3.7 yards per carry). Cedric Benson is a methodical, patient runner who needs steady blocking in order to thrive. He has gotten that, but not at the level he did two years ago when he averaged nearly 100 yards per game.

Left tackle Andrew Whitworth, despite a poor outing last week, has played at a Pro Bowl level, and right tackle Andre Smith has flashed astonishing power a few times. But the interior line and ancillary blockers (such as a sixth offensive lineman/fullback/tight end) have been up-and-down.

3. Defensive Overview
The Bengals have a deep, active defensive line that’s extremely potent against the run but just so-so against the pass. Tackles Geno Atkins and Pat Sims both regularly win phone booth matchups in impressive fashion, and Domata Peko almost always punishes teams who try to block him one-on-one. If he’s not penetrating, he’s stalemating in a way that allows teammates to make plays.
 
None of these inside players are dominant pass-rushers, though. And there isn’t much firepower outside. End Michael Johnson uses his athleticism in myriad ways but is not a regular presence in the backfield. Intriguing second-year pro Carlos Dunlap replaces Robert Geathers on passing downs. Dunlap, with his unusual upright style and sinewy explosiveness, is certainly capable of reaching the quarterback, but he’s also capable of disappearing for long stretches.

An impotent pass-rush can put considerable pressure on a secondary. Leon Hall is an elite cover corner who does not command a lot of safety help over the top. Using him in isolated solo coverage is a double-edge sword that has stabbed opponents slightly more than it’s stabbed the Bengals this season. Safeties Reggie Nelson and Chris Crocker are hit-or-miss in coverage but capable of playing in space or the box. They give Mike Zimmer options.

Veteran Nate Clements has done a commendable job replacing Johnathan Joseph. Clements has been especially aggressive in short, underneath coverage. Helping in this facet is the fact that linebackers Thomas Howard and Manny Lawson both move well in the flats. It’s a little surprising that Lawson, who is replaced by Brandon Johnson in nickel (Johnson is the more comfortable of the two between the tackles), hasn’t been asked to put his hand in the dirt on passing downs.

4. Something to consider
This is a sharp, fundamentally sound defense that plays well as a unit in Mike Zimmer’s fairly aggressive scheme. But it’s also a defense that has yet to be tested. Look at the Bengals’ schedule thus far. They opened against Cleveland and Denver, two teams with major problems at wide receiver.

They faced San Francisco in Week 3, a good team but a very, very basic offense. They beat Buffalo in Week 4. Buffalo has a much-improved offense, but they’re not exactly Green Bay. Or even Dallas (never mind what the stats might say). After that it was Jacksonville, Indianapolis and Seattle, three teams with a total of zero proven quarterbacks. Last week the Bengals handled a Tennessee offense that’s respectable but nothing close to dynamic (especially through the air).

You couldn’t ask to face a more banal collection of offenses. This defense is fantastic against the run, but it remains to be seen how it will respond against a rhythmic, up-tempo passing attack.  

5. Matchup with the Steelers
Pittsburgh does have an elite, formidable offense. Cincinnati’s ho-hum pass-rush is not ideal for defending Ben Roethlisberger’s late-in-the-down magic.

The Bengals at least catch a break with wideout Emmanuel Sanders being out (arthroscopic knee surgery). Sanders would have given the Steelers aerial attack third source of speed, which Zimmer’s nickel unit may not be equipped to combat. Instead, it will be either Hines Ward or Jericho Cotchery threatening to catch six-yard slants out of the slot.

On the other side, the only defense comparable to Pittsburgh’s that this Cincy offense has faced is San Francisco’s in Week 3. The Niners were physical in taking away the receivers’ quick routes. The result was eight points and a 1/10 third down success rate for the Bengals. However, Dalton’s game has expanded since then. If need be, it’s possible, though not probable, that he’ll be able to put the team on his back and open things up for the first time this season.

Unless there continues to be slews of the fortuitous field position breaks that this Bengals offense has frequently enjoyed this season, he’ll need to.

So who will win? Check our NFL expert picks for all Week 10 games

Follow @Andy_Benoit on Twitter or contact him at Andy.Benoit-at-NFLTouchdown.com.
Posted on: November 7, 2011 5:20 pm
Edited on: November 7, 2011 5:33 pm
 

Survey says: Vick NFL's most disliked player

Fantasy players might love Vick but the general public does not. (Getty Images)

Posted by Ryan Wilson

It's all about perspective. Looking through the prism of fantasy football, Eagles quarterback Michael Vick is probably one of the NFL's most popular players. In real life, where there are no points for total passing yards, Vick is the league's least liked player, at least according to the latest public surveys from Neilson and E-Poll Market Research, which tracks the public's perception of athletes and celebrities.

Details via Forbes.com:
Vick has clearly made some public reparations over the past two years with his strong play on the field and gentlemanly behavior off of it. But these things have a way of taking time....

Why the continued hostility toward Vick? Nielsen Sports VP Stephen Master chalks it up to the scientific sample that mirrors the entire U.S. population, not just hardcore football fans. Casual fans that know Vick’s name primarily through his dog fighting legal circus naturally tend to focus on the negative. Women, for example, view Vick negatively at a 70% clip, compared to 50% for men.
Turns out, the public has little patience for law-breakers (or perceived law-breakers), in general. Plaxico Burress and Ben Roethlisberger were among the top vote-getters. Also unpopular: whiners and quitters; Vince Young, Carson Palmer and Jay Cutler were disliked for reasons having solely to do with football.

Young because of his rocky relationship with then-Titans head coach Jeff Fisher, Palmer for retiring until the Bengals traded him to the Raiders, and Cutler for the injury he suffered during last season's NFC Championship game. (Apparently, Cutler didn't appear injured enough for some folks.) “There was a feeling Cutler quit on his team,” Master says, “He took a lot of abuse.”

Yes, yes he did.

Other names to make the list: Albert Haynesworth, Chad Ochocinco, Tony Romo, and Jeremy Shockey.

Sorta surprising that nobody from the Ravens made the list, though the irony of Palmer being the Raiders' most disliked player more than makes up for it.

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Posted on: November 4, 2011 1:46 pm
 

Flacco admits offense played 'like crap' recently

Joe Flacco on the type of offense we'll see Sunday against the Steelers: 'A good one.' (US PRESSWIRE)

Posted by Ryan Wilson

Eight weeks ago, the Ravens beat the Steelers like they stole something. Earlier this month, Rice told CBSSports.com that that game won't mean much when the two teams get together this Sunday night because Pittsburgh has a history of getting better as the season progresses.

Turns out, Rice was right; the Steelers have played well the past month, highlighted by last week's win over the Patriots. The Ravens, meanwhile, have struggled, losing to the Jaguars on national television two weeks ago, and beating the Cardinals last Sunday but only after trailing by 21 points.

Ravens-Steelers, Part Deux
Both teams have issues -- the Ravens' passing game is a mess and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron and quarterback Joe Flacco have taken plenty of heat for it. The Steelers' have injuries to key defensive players and that could be a factor Sunday.

Flacco, who completed 58 percent of his passes the last two games with two picks and a touchdown, thinks the Ravens' offense, despite recent history, can play well against the Steelers.

“A good one,” Flacco said Wednesday when asked why type of offense we'll see Sunday. “We are going to go in there with a game plan, one that we can be successful with – things that we do well – and we are going to go execute it to the best of our ability. That’s going to be the key. We have to go in there, and we have to play the way we know how to play. We can’t go out there and make mistakes, not execute things, [and] look like crap like we have for a little bit the last couple of weeks. We have to go in there and just play the football we know how to – which was most of this season and the second half of last gam

No one would dispute the charge that the Ravens' offense has been dung-tastic at various points this season. Either way, Flacco is using the Week 1 matchup as inspiration for this one. “We have to look back at it and see what we did well, and see what we can carry over to this game plan,” he said, according to the Baltimore Sun.

In that game, Flacco had career highs in touchdowns (three) and passer rating (117.6 passer rating), wide receiver Anquan Boldin scored his third touchdown in four meetings with Pittsburgh, and running back Ray Rice ran for 107 yards, only the third 100-yard rushing performance against the Steelers in their previous 58 games.

But it was Baltimore's defense that was the difference in Week 1. They created seven (!) turnovers, gave their offense great field position, and sacked quarterback Ben Roethlisberger four times, three courtesy of Terrell Suggs who announced earlier this week that he owns Big Ben.

“God can have his soul, but his [butt] belongs to me,” said Suggs, who has 15.5 career sacks against Big Ben. “You all know the numbers. There’s nobody that does it better than me."


Joe Flacco and the Baltimore Ravens will travel to Heinz Field to take on Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday night. Who will come out on top? Jason Horowitz and NFL.com's Pat Kirwan preview this upcoming game.

Roethlisberger, when apprised of Suggs' remarks, offered this (via the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette):

I've heard that quote," Big Ben said. "I've got no problem with it. It is what it is ... I know Terrell a little bit. He's actually a good guy. We joke around on the field, so I don't think he meant anything bad by it. I just think he let out a little emotion after finally beating me."

Receiver Antonio Brown, who has quietly emerged as one of the young Steelers playmakers, added this: “We really owe [the Ravens] one this time around,” he said, referring to the Week 1 loss. “You always remember that, seeing those guys celebrate like they won the Super Bowl, seeing those guys get really hyped.”

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Posted on: November 3, 2011 6:31 pm
Edited on: November 4, 2011 9:27 am
 

Pick-Six Podcast: NFL Week 9 Film Room

Posted by Will Brinson & Ryan Wilson

Week 9 of the NFL season is upon us and that means it's time to break down some film with Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit.

(You can read Andy's breakdown of Pittsburgh-Baltimore right here, as well as his breakdown of Tampa Bay-New Orleans right here.)

Andy and Will discuss whether or not the Steelers can be as effective defensively without their top linebackers, who's better between Troy Polamalu and Ed Reed, what the Giants can learn from the Steelers' win last week as they prepare for the Patriots, whether or not we should sell the Saints and buy the Buccaneers, if we're worried about Philip Rivers and the Chargers, and if the Chiefs are playing a trap game this week.

All that, plus much, much more below.

Just hit the play button below to listen (and did we mention that you should subscribe to the podcast via iTunes?). If you can't listen to the podcast below, download it here. And if you'd like to keep working while listening in your browser, pop that puppy out in a new tab here.


For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnNFL on Twitter, subscribe to our NFL newsletter, and while you're at it, add our RSS Feed.
Posted on: November 1, 2011 8:58 pm
Edited on: November 3, 2011 6:25 pm
 

Pick-6 Podcast: Cam or Luck -- Who ya got?

Posted by Will Brinson & Ryan Wilson

Week 8 is officially in the books and we talk about exactly what happened to the Chargers on Monday night in Kansas City. Philip Rivers is forever called a top-5 quarterback, but he certainly hasn't played like it this season.

So, naturally, we debate where Rivers ranks among NFL QBs, and that led us to another discussion: if you had to start a NFL team tomorrow and had just two choices -- Cam Newton or Andrew Luck -- who ya got?

Ask most people and they immediately say Cam. But Brinson posed the question on Twitter and there were a surprising number of votes for Luck. We put the question to ProFootballTalk.com's Michael David Smith during our weekly chat and though he's a big Luck fan, he didn't hesitate to take Newton.

(MDS also discussed the Lions' win over the Broncos, Suh's visit with Goodell, the inevitable Tebow fallout, the Pats loss, and if the Redskins are the worst team in the NFC East.)

Inspired by the Cam-Luck scenario, we took it a step further: If you're starting a team tomorrow and you can have any quarterback currently in the NFL (for the long haul), who are you taking?

Brinson, the biggest Panthers homer you'll ever meet, is smitten with Newton to the point that he'd take Cam after only Aaron Rodgers. Wilson had Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger, Drew Brees, Michael Vick and then Newton. Whether second or fifth, it's a testament to just how well Newton's played the first two months of the season.

At this point, biggest question is whether Cam can sustain that level of play for the rest of the season. Alrighty, talking starts below...

Just hit the play button below to listen (and did we mention that you should subscribe to the podcast via iTunes?). If you can't listen to the podcast below, download it here. And if you'd like to keep working while listening in your browser, pop that puppy out in a new tab here.


For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnNFL on Twitter, subscribe to our NFL newsletter, and while you're at it, add our RSS Feed.
Posted on: October 26, 2011 11:01 am
 

Film Room: Steelers vs. Patriots preview

Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit



The Patriots are known for their offense. The Steelers are known for their defense. But the other side of the ball is just as intriguing. Here are five keys to Pittsburgh’s offense against New England’s defense.


1. Understanding the REAL Steelers
It’s amazing: we still hear so-called experts refer to the Steelers as a black-and-blue, ground-and-pound offense. Usually a phrase like “getting back to their roots” or “playing true Steeler ball” accompanies this embarrassing misnomer. The people who think of today’s Steelers as run-oriented are the same people who stopped renting movies once the video cassette tape disappeared.

They’re the same people who still worry about the cost of a cross-country phone call, or who think that the best way to make a statement is to send a letter to their local newspaper.

The Steelers are a passing team. This isn’t to say that they can’t or won’t run. In fact, their run-pass ratio is about as normal as it gets. Over the last four years, in games that Ben Roethlisberger has played, the Steelers have called a run play 43.1 percent of the time and a pass play 56.9 percent of the time. The league average is 43.6 percent run and 56.4 percent pass. When the Steelers are protecting a lead, they squeeze the air out of the ball. But when they’re trying to establish a lead, they throw.

The Steelers have put the ball in the air 84.4 percent of the time on third down. This suggests either a.) They are not running effectively (hence, they’ve faced a lot of third-and-long situations) or b.) When they need a money play, they trust their pass game more than their run game. They’re lining up like a passing team, too. So far Ben Roethlisberger has attempted 159 passes out of three-or four-receiver formations. He’s attempted just 21 passes out of two-receiver formations.

This season, the Steelers’ decision to transform into more of a downfield offense was a conscious one. In 2010 they drafted a speed-and-quickness wideout in the third round (Emmanuel Sanders) and a power runner in the fifth (Jonathan Dwyer). They did the same in 2009, drafting Mike Wallace in the third round and Frank Summers in the fifth. These moves were made after it was confirmed that ’08 first-round pick Rashard Mendenhall was an everydown back with a slight predilection for finesse over power.

But the main inspiration behind these moves was the guy under center.

2. Ben Roethlisberger
He’s often not described this way, but Roethlisberger is the most physically gifted quarterback in the AFC – if not all of pro football (it’s a whole other discussion, but strong arguments could be made for Aaron Rodgers, Cam Newton or Michael Vick).

Everyone praises Roethlisberger for having the strength to shed would-be sackers before throwing. But what’s more remarkable – and not talked about – is the quality of those throws. Roethlisberger throws off balance and under duress with unparalleled velocity and accuracy.

Very little about his game is fundamentally sound. His footwork is flawed. His balance is poor. His mechanics are okay but often irrelevant given that the majority of his drop-backs turn into sandlot improvs. The reason he’s a sandlot player is because he does not read the field well (if at all) before the snap. For most quarterbacks, this would be a crippling weakness. For Roethlisberger, it’s a strength. He actually prefers to react to a defense rather than dictate the terms.

Roethlisberger might sense a blitz presnap and, like just about any quarterback, make a few tweaks to his protection or receivers’ routes. More often, though, he’d rather just take the snap, actually see the blitz coming and make his own adjustments on the fly.

If any other quarterbacks played this way, they’d look like JaMarcus Russell (a sorry sap who actually did try to play this way). Roethlisberger has the physical talent and uncanny instincts to pull it off.

3. Defending Big Ben & Co.
The brilliance behind Roethlisberger’s unusual style is that it’s hard to gameplan against. It’s not unusual to see a defense strategically defeat the Steelers offense yet still get beat for a big play. Defensive strategies are based on disrupting the quarterback’s fundamentals and progressions. But what do you do when the quarterback does not rely on fundamentals or even progression reads?

But if it were as simple as just playing basic, fundamentally sound defense, every team would do that. Most teams, however, don’t have the resources to contain Pittsburgh’s weapons straight-up. Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown are bourgeoning inside receivers who have the quickness to separate from man-coverage and a great feel for locating the deep voids against zones (a critical attribute given the way Roethlisberger extends plays).

Outside, the lanky, long-striding Mike Wallace is the most lethal downfield threat in the game. These are wideouts who make you think twice about bringing a safety down in the box. Though the Steelers aren’t the run-first team they once were, they’re certainly capable of pounding a seven-man defensive front on the ground.

Thus, the most viable (and common) way to defend Roethlisberger & Co. is to attack their offensive line. You want to force Roethlisberger into sandlot tactics early in the down rather than let him extend the play. That way, his teammates don’t have time to execute their assignments. The limited timing naturally diminishes the threat of Wallace over the top and allows defensive backs to gamble more against Sanders and Brown.

Aiding this cause is the vulnerability of Pittsburgh’s front five. Left tackle Max Starks was out of football less than one month ago. Left guard Chris Kemoeatu has battled a knee injury and was awful in pass protection in his return last week. Right guard Ramon Foster is an undrafted backup (filling in for injured Doug Legursky) and right tackle Marcus Gilbert is an intriguing-but-still-youthful rookie.

4. How Belichick will attack
Belichick’s M.O. is to take away the opposing offense’s top two strengths. This obviously would mean preventing Roethlisberger from extending plays and eliminating Wallace’s deep routes. The Patriots did this last season in their Week 10 victory at Pittsburgh by blitzing like crazy (the Steelers had been struggling at the time with blitz pickups).

However, this season, Patriots linebackers have been poor in blitz execution. Also, the Pats have been more inclined to use a four-man pass-rush out of nickel packages.

We’ve seen Belichick do a 180-degree change in defensive gameplans from one week to the next plenty before, and anything’s possible when he’s coming off a bye. But given the way the Steeler guards struggle in pass protection, don’t be surprised if Albert Haynesworth finally gets significant playing time as a three-technique next to Vince Wilfork.

That’s a combination the Steelers simply wouldn’t be able to block. The Patriots could have their ho-hum ends play containment, which would keep Roethlisberger in the pocket facing pressure right up the middle. He’d still manage some sandlot plays, but he’d also be throwing into seven-man coverages, which could spell turnovers. The Patriots like to compensate for their vulnerable secondary by generating interceptions (last season they ranked 30th in pass yards allowed but first in interceptions).

5. Miscellaneous note
Jerod Mayo, who has been out since injuring his knee in Week 4, is far and away New England’s best linebacker. If he’s available Sunday, the Patriots would have more options for containing Roethlisberger (Mayo reads the field well and has good awareness in coverage). Not surprisingly, Belichick isn’t disclosing Mayo’s status.

So who will win? Check our NFL expert picks for all Week 8 games

Follow @Andy_Benoit on Twitter or contact him at Andy.Benoit-at-NFLTouchdown.com.
 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com