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Scouting the Matchup: Brady licking his chops

Injuries to key Steelers personnel on both sides of the ball has the Patriots looking forward to their trip to Pittsburgh.


The Patriots relied heavily on running back LeGarrette Blount during Tom Brady's four-game suspension, and Blount delivered a pair of 100-yard rushing performances. Blount's role has been reduced now that Brady is back on the field, however. It might be wise for the Patriots to challenge the Steelers on the ground, anyway, since Pittsburgh's run defense was a catastrophe last week in Miami thanks to several injuries among the front seven. Pittsburgh figures to tighten things up after allowing Jay Ajayi to rush for 204 yards and Blount's production has been rather pedestrian over the last three weeks. Look for Brady to keep it in the air and therefore Pittsburgh's run defense to get the edge. Advantage: STEELERS


The Steelers have an exceptional one-two punch in the backfield with running backs Le'Veon Bell and backup DeAngelo Williams. Bell was suspended for the season's first three games but has been impressive since returning. He's gained 263 yards on 48 carries (5.5 ypc) in the three games he's played. He led the NFL with 144 yards rushing in a Week 4 victory against Kansas City. Williams has run for 275 yards and three TDs. The Patriots have been a tough team to run on for most of the season and currently rank ninth in the league in that department. Three of New England's six opponents failed to reach 100 yards on the ground, but the Patriots allowed 134 yards rushing in their only loss, a 16-0 setback against Buffalo. The Steelers working with backup Landry Jones figure to keep it on the ground, and Bell and Williams are talented, but with little else to worry about the Patriots will them under wraps. Advantage: PATRIOTS


Moving the ball through the air is what the New England offense does best, and the Patriots will be facing a Steelers team that, at least statistically, is one of the league's worst against the pass. Pittsburgh has allowed 1,762 yards passing in its six games (30th), and injuries in the secondary don't figure to make that performance improve. Pittsburgh's pass rush seemed to be improving after recording one sack in their first three games when the Steelers had seven sacks in their next two. But they didn't have a sack in Sunday's loss to Miami and continue to rank near the bottom in that category. One thing working in New England's favor: The Steelers are expected to be without defensive end Cameron Heyward, who leads the team with three sacks.  Advantage: PATRIOTS


The Steelers have one of the league's top quarterbacks in Ben Roethlisberger and one of the best wide receivers in Antonio Brown. Wide receiver Sammie Coates gives the Steelers another reliable option in the passing game. But Roethlisberger is out after undergoing knee surgery and Jones is in. That changes the entire complexion of the game even though containing Brown will still be a big challenge for the New England secondary, which had a hard time with Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald in the opener (10 catches for 82 yards and two touchdowns) and struggled in the second half against Ryan Tannehill and the Dolphins. This figured to be the biggest test yet for the secondary but Jones simply doesn't have the ability to take advantage the same way Roethlisberger would.  Advantage: PATRIOTS


Although New England's special-teams play has been inconsistent, more often than not the Patriots have the edge in this area. There is some concern about kicker Stephen Gostkowski, who has missed as many field-goal attempts this year as he did all of last season (three) plus an extra point, but Gostkowski remains a weapon on kickoffs. Pittsburgh ran into some good luck last season, when Chris Boswell joined the team in mid-September and converted 36 of 39 field-goal attempts, including all seven in the playoffs. Boswell, who has been solid this season, was the third kicker the Steelers used after a season-ending injury to Shaun Suisham. Brown is always a threat on punt returns and has returned four punts for touchdowns during his career.  Advantage: PATRIOTS


The game location may have more significance this week than in a typical NFL game. Not only do the Steelers not have to travel to Gillette Stadium, where the Patriots have an NFL-best 112-21 record since the stadium opened in 2002, Pittsburgh will benefit from a significant home-field advantage of its own. Pittsburgh has a 56-19 regular-season record at Heinz Field (.747) since Mike Tomlin was hired as team's head coach in 2007. Only the Patriots (66-9) and the Packers (58-15-1) have been better at home during that span. The Steelers are 3-0 at home so far this season. Their victories came against the Bengals (24-16), Chiefs (43-14) and Jets (31-13). Advantage: STEELERS

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