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Game Preview: Patriots at Steelers | NFL Week 14

The Patriots travel to face the Pittsburgh Steelers on Thursday, December 7, 2023 at 8:15 PM ET.

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WEEK 14 · Thu 12/07 · 8:15 PM EST

Patriots

New England Patriots

AT

Steelers

Pittsburgh Steelers

Prime / WFXT
98.5 FM The Sports Hub
ACRISURE STADIUM

The New England Patriots will travel to play the Steelers in Pittsburgh for the second straight season. Last year, the Patriots played at Pittsburgh in Week 2 and came away with a 17-14 victory. The Patriots have won the last two meetings between the two clubs. The Patriots prevailed with a 33-3 win at Gillette Stadium on Sept. 8, 2019.

SERIES HISTORY

The Patriots and Steelers will meet for the second straight season and for the second straight year in Pittsburgh when they play this Thursday night. Over the last seven regular season matchups between the two teams, the Patriots are 6-1. The only other Thursday matchup between the teams was on Sept. 10, 2015, when the Patriots won, 28-21, in a Thursday Kickoff Celebration game following the Patriots win in Super Bowl XLIX.

This week's matchup will mark the 35th meeting overall. Pittsburgh leads the regular season series by a 15-14 margin, while New England leads 4-1 in the postseason. The Patriots are 4-1 against Pittsburgh in prime time games with a 1-1 record on Monday Night Football, 2-0 record on Sunday Night Football and a 1-0 record on Thursday Night Football. The Patriots only prime time game at Pittsburgh was a Sunday Night Football Game on Nov. 14, 2010, a 39-26 New England win.

The teams played in the AFC Championship Game during the 2001, '04 and '16 playoffs, with the Patriots winning each time, en route to Super Bowl titles. The teams also met in the 1996 and '97 Divisional Playoffs. The Patriots defeated Pittsburgh, 28-3, at Foxboro Stadium en route to their Super Bowl XXXI appearance. Pittsburgh beat New England the following season, 7-6, at Three Rivers Stadium.

The Patriots are 9-11 in road games against Pittsburgh in the regular season, including a 5-3 record at newly named Acrisure Stadium. The Patriots are 2-0 against Pittsburgh in the postseason on the road with two AFC Championship wins.

The Patriots first regular season home game at Gillette Stadium was the 2002 season-opening 28-21 win on Sept. 9, 2002, against Pittsburgh.

SERIES TRENDS

(INCLUDES POSTSEASON)

Overall Record: 18-16

  • Home Record: 7-4
  • Gillette Stadium: 6-1
  • Foxboro Stadium: 1-3

Road Record: 11-12

  • Heinz/Acrisure Field: 7-3
  • Three Rivers Stadium: 4-9

Bill Belichick vs. Pittsburgh: 16-12 (12-4 with New England)

Mike Tomlin vs. New England: 3-9

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SCOUTING THE MATCHUPS

By Paul Perillo

When the Patriots run - Edge: Steelers

The Steelers defense looks rather ordinary on paper. It's a unit that hasn't excelled at any particular aspect other than the only one that matters: points allowed. That's true of Pittsburgh's run defense as the group ranks 22nd in the league, allowing 121 yards per game on the ground. The number improves only slightly when it comes to yards per carry as the Steelers allow 4.3 yards to rank 21st. However, there are reasons why those numbers could improve. Stalwart nose tackle Cameron Heyward recently returned to the lineup after missing more than two months after undergoing surgery on his injured groin. His return to form, coupled with Rhamondre Stevenson's ankle injury, should allow the Steelers to contain a Patriots rushing attack that has been sporadic most of the season. Stevenson went down in the first quarter of the loss to the Chargers, leaving the running game in the hands of Ezekiel Elliott, who was dealing with a thigh injury of his own. That pair combined for 26 carries for 91 yards, which translates to a paltry 3.5-yard average. Other than a dynamic 39-yard dash on an end around from Tyquan Thornton, the Patriots struggled to run the ball against one of the worst run defenses in football. Things won't get any easier on a short week in Pittsburgh against a defense coming off a subpar performance against the Cardinals.

When the Patriots pass - Edge: Steelers

Whether it's Mac Jones or Bailey Zappe there hasn't been much difference when it comes to the Patriots passing game. While Zappe did a better job of navigating the pocket and trying to extend plays, his passes were often off the mark and the results were exactly the same: no production. Expect Zappe to remain the starter but figuring out who will be involved in the passing game is difficult. Demario Douglas sat out the Chargers loss with a concussion, and getting him back on a short week might be tough. DeVante Parker led the team with four catches for 64 yards but that came on nine targets. Hunter Henry had three grabs but managed only 15 yards. Zappe will need to find some additional options among JuJu Smith-Schuster, Thornton or Jalen Reagor in order to make some plays downfield. The Steelers secondary has not been great, ranking 19th in both yards per game through the air (227.3) and yards per pass (6.6). Veteran Patrick Peterson has lost a step but still competes at one corner along with rookie Joey Porter Jr., Levi Wallace and Chandon Sullivan. Safeties Minkah Fitzpatrick, who recently returned to the lineup after missing a month, Damontae Kazee and Trenton Thompson round out the secondary. Any discussion of the Steelers pass defense has to include their talented pair of edge rushers T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith. That tandem has combined for 20 sacks with Watt once again dominating with 14 of them, although the former Defensive Player of the Year is dealing with an ankle injury suffered in the Cardinals loss. Containing the rush is paramount to any Patriots success through the air.

When the Steelers run - Edge: Patriots

Pittsburgh's offense has been anemic over the course of the entire season. That led to the firing of offensive coordinator Matt Canada following a Week 11 loss to Cleveland. The Steelers responded with their first 400-yard performance on offense in 59 games in a win at Cincinnati the following week, but the group was held to just 10 points Sunday against Arizona. On paper the Steelers have a nice one-two punch at tailback with Najee Harris (661 yards, 4.2-yard average, 4 TDs) and Jaylen Warren (601 yards, 5.9-yard average, 3 TDs) but it hasn't translated into much production. Meanwhile, the Patriots run defense continues to be a brick wall. The Chargers were the latest team to be stymied by the big guys up front as Lawrence Guy, Davon Godchaux, Anfernee Jennings, Christian Barmore, Ja'Whaun Bentley and Jahlani Tavai helped limit the dangerous Austin Ekeler to 18 yards on 14 carries. Pittsburgh will try to run, particularly with starting quarterback Kenny Pickett expected to miss a couple of games with an ankle injury that knocked him out of the Arizona game early. That won't likely be a wise course of action against a Patriots front that ranks fourth in rushing yards allowed (88.7) and first in yards per carry (3.2). Harris and Warren aren't likely to find much space in this one.

When the Steelers pass - Edge: Patriots

Mitchell Trubisky is expected to get the start Thursday night and the last time he faced the Patriots things didn't go too well. Trubisky passed for just 168 yards with a touchdown and an interception in a 17-10 loss in Week 2 last season, and shortly thereafter he lost the starting job to Pickett. The Patriots secondary has enjoyed good results in recent weeks but truth be told the unit has been rather fortunate. The Chargers Justin Herbert passed for 212 yards and failed to put a touchdown on the board, but he was let down by his receivers, who dropped several catchable passes that could have resulted in sizable gains. Jonathan Jones was solid against the dangerous Keenan Allen, and Jalen Mills came up with a couple of nice plays to prevent completions as well, so it wasn't all good fortune. Trubisky will try to use George Pickens and Diontae Johnson, as well as tight end Pat Freiermuth and both backs. When fully healthy that group is capable of making some plays, especially the dynamic Pickens, who leads the team with 44 catches for 748 yards for an impressive 17-yard average. But the production has been too sporadic all season as Canada was too dependent on the horizontal passing game and screens. Look for Trubisky to try to push it downfield more often, but given his erratic nature that could lead to some mistakes and opportunities for the Patriots secondary to make some plays.

Special Teams - Edge: Steelers

It's hard to imagine things going much worse for the Patriots special teams in 2023. The latest blunders came in the rain against the Chargers, when a combination of some shaky punting from Bryce Baringer and poor coverage helped the visitors put points on the board. Baringer's line drive led to a 34-yard return for Derius Davis that led to a field goal, and later Baringer's 26-yard shank out of bounds at the 26 prevented the Patriots from pinning the Chargers deep in their end. The Steelers meanwhile have been solid in the kicking game with Chris Boswell. The veteran kicker missed for just the second time all season in the loss to the Cardinals but has still connected on 22 of 24 field goals and all 16 PATs. Pressley Harvin handles the punting duties and hasn't been great with a 44.7-yard average and a net of 39.7. Anthony McFarland is dangerous returning kicks while Calvin Austin has been steady handling punts. The Patriots return game has been nonexistent since opening day, and Myles Bryant really struggled against the Chargers with a pair of subpar returns on punts where it appeared there were more yards to be had. Overall, it's been a struggle in every aspect of special teams and until that changes it's hard to give the Patriots the edge.

TALE OF THE TAPE

Table inside Article
2023 REGULAR SEASON NEW ENGLAND PITTSBURGH
Record 2-10 7-5
Divisional Standings 4th 3rd
Total Yards Gained 3,485 3,539
Total Offense (Rank) 290.4 (28) 294.9 (25)
Rush Offense 103.7 (22) 115.3 (14)
Pass Offense 186.8 (23) 179.6 (28)
Points Per Game 12.3 (32) 16.0 (28)
Total Touchdowns Scored 16 18
Total Yards Allowed 3,726 4,180
Total Defense (Rank) 310.5 (8) 348.3 (22)
Rush Defense 88.7 (4) 121.0 (22)
Pass Defense 221.8 (16) 227.3 (19)
Points Allowed/Game 21.2 (16) 19.1 (6)
Possession Avg. 28:11 28:42
Sacks Allowed/Yards Lost 30/178 25/188
Sacks Made/Yards 24/153 34/210
Penalties Against/Yards 68/492 69/597
Punts/Avg. 63/47.6 67/44.7
Takeaway/Giveaway Ratio -9 (31) +10 (2T)
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CONNECTIONS

FORMER PATRIOTS

  • DT Montravius Adams, 2021
  • LS Christian Kuntz, 2017
  • LB Elandon Roberts, 2016-19
  • S Eric Rowe, 2016-18

FORMER STEELERS

  • WR JuJu Smith-Schuster, 2017-21
  • OL Coach Adrian Klemm, 2019-21

WHAT TO LOOK FOR THIS WEEK

GAMES COACHED IN NFL HISTORY

  • Bill Belichick has been the head coach in 506 total games to tie George Halas for second all-time. He will coach in his 507th career game this week against Pittsburgh to take over sole possession of second place, behind the 526 total games coached by Don Shula.

DEFENSIVE DOMINANCE

  • The Patriots have allowed just 26 points over the last three games. The fewest points the Patriots have allowed over a four-game stretch was 26 in 2021 – Nov. 7 at Carolina (24-6), Nov. 14 vs. Cleveland (45-7), Nov. 18 at Atlanta (25-0) and Nov. 28 vs. Tennessee (36-13).
  • The Patriots enter this week's game with the eighth-ranked defense in yards allowed. The team has finished in the top 10 in defense 10 times during Bill Belichick's reign as head coach of the Patriots.

PATRIOT TO WATCH - BRYCE BARINGER

  • Rookie P Bryce Baringer has at least one 50-yard punt in all 12 games to tie for the longest single-season streak in team history (at any point of the season). Zoltan Mesko had a 12-game streak in 2011. He can surpass Mesko and set the team mark with at least one 50-yard punt this week at Pittsburgh. Last season, Johnny Hekker (Carolina), Ryan Stonehouse (Tennessee) and Cameron Johnston (Houston) all had at least one 50-yard punt in all 17 games. Johnston also accomplished the feat in 2017.
  • Baringer is tied for first with Ryan Stonehouse of Tennessee with 28 punts inside the 20-yard line. Baringer is on pace to finish the year with 39 punts inside the 20-yard line. The Patriots record for most punts inside the 20-yard line in a season is 36 by Jake Bailey in 2019.

DEMARIO DOUGLAS

  • Rookie WR Demario Douglas has 36 receptions for 410 yards. Douglas needs seven receptions to tie WR Deion Branch for the most receptions by a rookie receiver under Bill Belichick. Branch had 43 receptions for 489 yards as a rookie in 2002.
  • Douglas needs 109 receiving yards to match the 519 receiving yards by WR Aaron Dobson for the most receiving yards by a rookie receiver under Belichick. Dobson had 37 receptions for 519 yards as a rookie in 2013.

PHARAOH BROWN'S YARDS PER RECEPTION

  • TE Pharaoh Brown has seven receptions for 170 yards for the year and is averaging 24.3 yards per reception. He has five receptions in 2023 of at least 20 yards. The highest average in a season for a Patriots player was Stanley Morgan with a 23.4-yard average in 1981 (44 receptions for 1,029 yards). The Patriots have had a player finish with an average of at least 20 yards per reception 11 times. The last Patriots player to accomplish the feat was Shawn Jefferson in 1998 when he had a 22.7-yard average on 34 receptions for 771 yards.

BRENDEN SCHOOLER TIED FOR NFL LEAD IN SPECIAL TEAMS TACKLES

  • DB Brenden Schooler is tied for the NFL lead with 11 special teams tackles and is on pace to finish the year with 16 special teams tackles. The last Patriots player to lead the NFL in special teams tackles was DB Nate Ebner with 19 in 2016. If Schooler reaches 20 special teams tackles, it will be the sixth time in team history that a player has finished the year with at least 20 special teams tackles.

BROADCAST INFORMATION

TELEVISION: This week's game will be broadcast by Prime Video and can be seen locally on WFXT-TV Channel 25. Al Michaels will handle play-by-play duties with Kirk Herbstreit as the color analyst. Kaylee Hartung will work from the sidelines. The game will be produced by Mark Teitelman and directed by Pierre Moossa.

NATIONAL RADIO: Thursday's game will be broadcast to a national audience on Westwood One. Ian Eagle will call the game and Ryan Leaf will be providing analysis.

LOCAL RADIO: 98.5 The Sports Hub is the flagship station for the Patriots Radio Network. A complete listing of the network's 33 stations can be found here. Play-by-play broadcaster Bob Socci will call the action along with former Patriots quarterback Scott Zolak, who will provide color analysis. The games are produced by Marc Cappello.

For information on how to stream the game please check out our how to watch/listen guide.

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