The Patriots barely escaped a loss to another mediocre team last night for the second straight week, buoying the hopes that New England will let one of these late game deficits get the better of them.
Are the Steelers up to the task, even if it means likely without Santonio Holmes, Troy Polamalu and Marvel Smith starting or in top form? The answer, of course, is yes, with a lot of clauses. The first and most important would be not repeating the turnover-laden performance put in by the offense Sunday against the Bengals. The critical late turnover allowed the Pats to elude the upset from the Eagles and the Ravens. Four turnovers could make the game a laugher.
From there, it's the usual rundown of emphasis on pass protection and eliminating big plays on special teams. The Steelers secondary did an excellent job containing the Bengals' big three of Chad Johnson, T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Chris Henry last week and will most definitely need a reprise against Randy Moss, Donte Stallworth and Wes Welker.
In my opinion, Welker may be the most important threat to eliminate. With a lot of attention bound to be paid to Moss and Stallworth, Welker presents the quick slant routes that have hurt Pittsburgh all year, especially against the Broncos. The Steelers had a lot of trouble containing the then-unknown Welker in last year's season opener against the Dolphins. Welker led the Dolphins in receiving with 67 yards and contributed a 47-yard punt return to set up Miami's first score.
Even with the secondary's fine play against Cincinnati, there were throws there that Carson Palmer simply didn't make. The Steelers can't count on Tom Brady being that inaccurate with as little pressure that they applied on Palmer. LeBeau's "Amoeba defense" gives the quarterback a lot of confusing looks, but the Eagles and Ravens have clearly demonstrated that the key to stifling the Patriots attack is to hit Brady often.