PITTSBURGH — Mike Tomlin has one fervent wish for Sunday’s game.
“A shootout is not the type of game we’re looking for under the present circumstances for us,” the Pittsburgh Steelers head coach said.
Indeed, the Steelers (4-2) would likely benefit from a defensive battle when they host the New England Patriots (5-1) at Heinz Field. Backup quarterback Landry Jones will make the third start of his four-year career and first this season after Ben Roethlisberger underwent arthroscopic knee surgery Monday.
The Steelers defense is 12tg in the NFL in points allowed (20.5 per game) and eighth in total yardage allowed (371.8), but is coming off a poor performance last Sunday in a 30-15 loss to the Miami Dolphins.
Though the Dolphins entered the game with a 1-4 record, they rolled up 474 yards and Jay Ajayi became the first player to rush for 200 yards against the Steelers since 2000. The second-year running back finished with a career-high 204 yards.
“We’re not going to seek comfort and find ways to downplay the game and what actually happened,” Steelers linebacker Jarvis Jones said. “They pounded the ball, did their misdirection stuff here and there and made plays. We didn’t tackle well. They ran the ball downhill and we didn’t stop it.”
Now the Steelers need to find a way to stop a potent Patriots’ offense that is sixth in the league in total yardage (387.2) and 13th in scoring offense (24.8).
New England has also scored a combined 68 points in two games, wins over the Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati Bengals, since quarterback Tom Brady returned from a four-game suspension imposed by the NFL.
The Steelers know it would be a lot to ask of Jones to lead their high-powered offense to five touchdowns to match the Brady-led Patriots’ scoring average. Thus, they feel their best chance to win is by finding a way to throw Brady and rest the Patriots’ offense out of rhythm
“It’s very hard to get pressure on Tom, he’s getting the ball out in less than three seconds,” Jones said. “What we can do is disrupt the pass that’s coming out, re-route receivers and get guys off their spot. Most importantly, we can’t let him sit back there and have a clean pocket the whole game.”
The Steelers, though, are next-to-last in the NFL with just 1.3 sacks a game.
“It’s not about getting (to Brady) to sack him, it’s about pressuring him to sack him,” Steelers defensive end Stephon Tuitt said. “He’s got a rhythm. He gets the ball and gets it out quick. He knows exactly where he wants to put the ball from the snap. The goal is to pressure him and make him hold onto the ball to sack him.”
The Steelers will also have their hands full with the Patriots tight end combination of Rob Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett. They have a combined 39 receptions for 644 yards and five touchdowns this season.
Gronkowski, who played high school football at Woodland Hills in the Pittsburgh suburbs, has long been a matchup problem for the Steelers. The four-time Pro Bowler had three touchdowns against them in the Patriots’ season-opening win last year and has 26 receptions for 403 yards and seven scores in four career games.
“It’s definitely a very unique challenge because most of the time you’ll be able to identify most two tight end sets with one guy is strictly the blocker and one guy the receiving tight end,” Steelers linebacker Arthur Moats said. “But with both of those guys, their receiving capabilities are definitely elite to say the least.”