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Snap Judgments: Steelers 25, Patriots 17

10.30.11 at 7:25 pm ET
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In a game that was the definition of Not As Close As The Score Would Suggest, the Steelers dominated the Patriots statistically in almost every significant category on Sunday, riding a brilliant effort from Ben Roethlisberger to a 25-17 victory at Heinz Field. The Patriots fall to 5-2 on the season (and into a share of first place with the Bills) with the loss and host the Giants next Sunday at Gillette Stadium.

WHAT WENT WRONG

— The Steelers had a very clear game plan on offense from the start of the game: Throw, throw, throw. Roethlisberger (36-of-50 for 365 yards and two TDs) attacked an inept middle of the Patriots defense, picking on linebackers Gary Guyton, Rob Ninkovich and Brandon Spikes early, connecting with Heath Miller four times for 55 yards on the opening TD drive. That set the tone for the defense, a group that — save for one throw — was shredded by Roethlisberger. Third downs were a killer, as the Steelers converted 10-of-15. Total yards? 448. First downs? 29. The Steelers had five drives of at least 10 plays. Make no mistake, this defense was exposed on Sunday. Just dreadful stuff.

— The combo of James Ihedigbo and Antwaun Molden were to blame on a pair of Pittsburgh scores, failing to communicate on Melwede Moore’s first-quarter TD catch and Antonio Brown’s second-quarter score. Ihedigbo had a rough afternoon, getting beat by Miller on a couple of early catches and falling down on an Emmanuel Sanders 26-yard grab. Molden also had plenty of lowlights, blowing coverage on Brown on a 3rd-and-15 (17 yards) in the third quarter, keeping alive a drive that would eventually end in a Pittsburgh field goal. Could Leigh Bodden really be this bad?

Logan Mankins struggled (again, not having a season up to his standard), picking up a pair of first half-penalites. Both flags halted what appeared to be promising drives — particularly the first penalty (false start), which put the Patriots, in Pittsburgh territory, in a 1st-and-15 hole on their second drive (the drive would end in a punt). Mankins also whiffed on LaMarr Woodley’s first sack of Brady. Other lowlights from the offensive line? Sebastian Vollmer manhandled by Woodley on another sack (as well as being flagged for a false start at the Pittsburgh 3 in the fourth quarter) and Matt Light collecting a false start in the fourth quarter, five yards that cost the Patriots field position in a series that ended with the missed Gostkowksi field goal.

— Nice to see Kevin Faulk back and in the mix, but BenJarvus Green-Ellis (five carries, nine yards) was a non-factor and Danny Woodhead and Stevan Ridley had no carries in a game that saw the Patriots rush for 43 yards.

—  Remember Albert Haynesworth and Chad Ochocinco? Once again, zero impact from either player. It’s almost incomprehensible that Kevin Faulk has contributed more to this team in 2011 than Ochocinco and Haynesworth combined.

— Following an Aaron Hernandez TD that cut the score to 23-17 with 2:35 left, the Patriots (with three timeouts and the two-minute warning left) elected to attempt an onside kick. Stephen Gostkowski couldn’t even advance the ball the required 10 yards, giving the Steelers the ball at the New England 37.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

— Faulk, in his first game since Week 2 of 2010 (ACL injury vs. Jets), looked an awful lot like the Kevin Faulk we have seen over the last decade. He was the lead back throughout the game (was on the field on the opening drive) and was a factor in both scores. Faulk had a superb blitz pick-up of Ryan Mundy on Brady’s TD pass to Deion Branch, and his third-down direct snap rush put the Patriots in position for Gostkowski’s 46-yard field goal. Faulk posted 52 yards of total offense.

Andre Carter had his second two-sack game of the season (and second in three games), also forcing a Roethlisberger fumble. Max Starks was unable to contain Carter, who also had a couple of pressures on Roethlisberger.

— Guyton did have what appeared to be a crucial interception, picking off Roethlisberger and returning it to the Pittsburgh 8 with just under nine minutes left in the second quarter. Two plays later Brady connected with Branch and it was a 10-7 game.

Halftime analysis: Steelers 17, Patriots 10

10.30.11 at 5:42 pm ET
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After two quarters, the Steelers hold a 17-10 lead on the Patriots. Here are a few quick notes:

The Pittsburgh offense has dominated much of the first half as Ben Roethlisberger went 23-for-32 for 231 yards and two touchdowns. The Steelers put together three scoring drive of 10-plus plays each. Pittsburgh went 11 plays on their first series, with four catches for tight end Heath Miller. It was the first time all season that a tight end consistent got the better of New England — opposing tight ends came into the game averaging three catches for 39 yards. The Patriots, who were playing lots of zone in the secondary, appeared to suffer some breakdowns in coverage.

It was more of the same on the second drive, as the Steelers marched down the field at the end of the first quarter on a 16-play drive, but settled for a 33-yard field goal on the first play of the second quarter. Frankly, it looked an awful lot like the way New England had attacked the Steelers in the past — spread it out, lots of short passing, with only an occasional run mixed in to keep the opponent honest.

The Steelers launched another soul-killing drive on their final sequence of the first half, with the touchdown coming on a seven-yard pass play from Roethlisberger to Antonio Brown. On that play (the culmination of a 10-play sequece), it appeared the corner Antwaun Molden dropped into a zone that was being covered by safety James Ihedigbo, freeing up space for Brown to opeate at the goal line to make it 17-7.

The Patriots offense went three-and-out on its first series, and didn’t get the ball back until the start of the second quarter. New England was able to get into Pittsburgh territory on its second drive, but a pair of nice back-to-back pressures by Lamarr Woodley (the second of which ended in a sack) forced the Patriots to punt the ball away again. The Patriots turned things around shortly after that as Roethlisberger delivered a pass right to Patriots linebacker Gary Guyton. New England cashed that in two plays later when Brady found Deion Branch on an out-and-up from two yards out to make it 10-7 with 8:24 left in the first half.

On its final drive of the half, the Patriots put together their first real consistent offensive sequence of the first half when Brady (who went 8-for-13 for 76 yards) engineered a 10-play, 52-yard sequence that took 2:12 and ended with a 46-yard field goal with 39 seconds left in the second quarter to make it 17-10 just before the end of the half.

Read More: halftime analysis,

Live Blog: Patriots, Tom Brady take on Steelers at Heinz Field

10.30.11 at 4:04 pm ET
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Patriots/Steelers live blog

A closer look at the Patriots inactives for Sunday

10.30.11 at 2:57 pm ET
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The Patriots announced Sunday afternoon that the following players will be inactive for New England’s game against the Steelers: running back Shane Vereen, linebacker Dane Fletcher, safety Josh Barrett, quarterback Ryan Mallett, wide receiver Julian Edelman, outside linebacker/defensive end Jermaine Cunningham and offensive lineman Donald Thomas.

When it comes to the inactives, it was a bit of a surprise to see Cunningham and Edelman as healthy scratches. The inactivation of Edelman will likely mean that second-year wide receiver Taylor Price will see more snaps at the wide receiver position. And with Edelman having handled the majority of kick and punt returns this season, look for Stevan Ridley as the kick returner and Wes Welker as the punt returner against the Steelers.

As for the rest of the inactives, Fletcher and Barrett had been fighting through thumb injuries, and were both downgraded Saturday night. Mallett and Vereen have spent most of the season as inactives, while the deactivation of Thomas is a signal that the Patriots feel good about the health of Sebastian Vollmer, who hadn’t dressed for five of the first six games of the season because of a back problem.

As for the guys who are playing, this will be the first start since Week 4 for Jerod Mayo, who injured his knee in the win over the Raiders but hadn’t been seen since. And this week also marks the return of Vollmer, who had been out for an extended stretch. In addition, Kevin Faulk and Brandon Deaderick — who have been on the physically unable to perform list to this point in the season — will dress for the first time in 2011.

Read More: Brandon Deaderick, Dane Fletcher, Donald Thomas, Jermaine Cunningham

Setting the scene: Patriots-Steelers

10.30.11 at 11:03 am ET
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Clear skies and temperatures in the mid-to-upper 40s are expected as two of the four AFC division leaders square off on the natural grass of Heinz Field. There will no doubt be plenty of Halloween costumes in the sellout crowd at the confluence of the Monongahela and Allegheny, just like there was on Oct. 31, 2004, when the Steelers were a nightmare, beating the Patriots 34-20, at Heinz.

The field condition on a grass surface is always of concern to Pats coach Bill Belichick. It was worth noting that after his Friday morning press conference ‘€“ and shortly after donning his Tony La Russa Cardinals jersey ‘€“ he met for several minutes with Don Brocher inside the equipment office of the Patriots locker room.

It would hardly be surprising to discover the subject of Heinz Field came up, as likely did what shoes and cleats would be best suited for the conditions.

Also remember, the field ‘€“ which has a notorious reputation around the NFL for coming apart – hosted a Big East battle between UConn-Pittsburgh on Wednesday night and Western Pennsylvania received an icy, wintry mix from the early onset of the Nor’€™easter that belted New England late Saturday night.

It is not uncommon for Brocher to make sure each player has a choice of two or three spikes. Testing the field early on will be particularly important for the visiting Patriots on this October afternoon.

It remains to be seen whether or not the field conditions impact the Patriots decision to play linebacker Jerod Mayo, who missed the final two games before the bye week with a left knee injury. The injury was initially reported as a strain of the MCL, with Mayo expected to miss several weeks to let it heal.

One wonders if the grass field at Reliant Stadium will pass through Belichick’€™s mind before kickoff since it was on that sketchy field in Jan. 2010 that Wes Welker slipped making a cut and tore his ACL.

In addition to Mayo, Belichick also has decisions to make on running back Kevin Faulk (coming off a 2010 ACL tear) and DL Brandon Deaderick, both of whom have been activated off the PUP list this week.

The field is traditionally covered by a tarp whenever inclement weather hits so the field is expected to be good at the start of the game.

The Patriots will be will be significantly shorthanded in the secondary as Josh Barrett was ruled out Saturday night with a thumb injury. Add to that the decision by the Patriots to place rookie corner Ras-I Dowling on injured reserve Saturday and the release of veteran corner Leigh Bodden on Friday, and the Patriots will have their work cut out trying to stop the aerial attack of Ben Roethlisberger. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Bill Belichick, Dan Marino, Don Brocher, Halloween

What’s a little snow? A lot to Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen

10.29.11 at 4:28 pm ET
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FOXBORO — In New England, a little snow in late October isn’t that big a deal. Heck, The Patriots have even played in a snowy October Nor’easter at Gillette as recently as 2009.

Remember when the Patriots annihilated the Titans, 59-0, on Oct. 18 that year? It started off as driving rain in the morning before turning into heavy, wet, accumulating snow just around kick-off for the 4:15 p.m game.

But when you haven’t seen – let alone played in – snow, then the white stuff can take some getting used to.

When Shane Vereen played his college football at Cal, he had never really seen the snow, even when playing all those times in Pullman, Washington or either Oregon school. The only time he ever had to deal with it was on a trip to go snowboarding.

When he got up Friday morning, he noticed what was on the ground.

It new, very new. It had never happened to me before. The only time I’ve ever been in the snow was when I was snowboarding. So, it was a new experience.

That new experience came with some advice from a veteran of New England football winters – Kevin Faulk.

“‘Drive slow and be careful,’ he said,” Vereen said of the advice from No. 33, who was activated off PUP on Saturday. “That’s basically the main thing I was worried about, too, the whole driving thing.”

Then there was fellow rookie running back Stevan Ridley, who grew up in Mississippi, played at LSU just like Faulk. But it was BenJarvus Green-Ellis, another running back from Mississippi, that provided him shelter and comfort on Thursday night.

‘€œI knew I was in for a long morning,’€ Ridley said. ‘€œI woke up [Friday] morning and had snow all over my car and I made it through, got to practice on time, and I’€™m thinking I’€™m adjusting all right.’€

It was suggested to Ridley that perhaps it’s “nice” that he and others are getting their first taste of snow during the week in practice.

‘€œI don’€™t know about nice, it’€™s still cold to me,’€ said Ridley. ‘€œI know it’€™s nice to y’€™all, but it’€™s cold to me. It’€™s going to be an adjustment.’€œ

For what it’s worth, the only snow expected in Pittsburgh by 4:15 kick-off Sunday will be on the sidelines in the form of snow banks, when the grounds crew clears the field from Saturday’s storm.

Read More: BenJarvus Green Ellis, Cal, Kevin Faulk, LSU

Fantasy Football: Week 8 Starts and Sits

10.29.11 at 9:57 am ET
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Welcome to the Week 8 starts and sits. We’€™ve highlighted some options that we like and some that we don’€™t like for the upcoming week’€™s games. If you need deeper analysis, please feel free to join us at Rotobahn.com and check out our comprehensive lineup rankings. If you want information on late-breaking injury information on game day, follow us on twitter. Just follow the link on our home page.

Quarterbacks

Starts

Eli Manning vs Dolphins

He’€™s a QB1 now and we think you roll with him unless he regresses. Losing Kevin Boss and Steve Smith has not had the negative impact that many expected.  They have been effectively replaced by Jake Ballard and Victor Cruz respectively. This week, Eli should be able to slice up a reeling Dolphins defense in a home start.

Tim Tebow vs Lions

He made us sweat out last week’€™s recommendation, but in the end, he played some inspired football and posted nice fantasy numbers. The emergence of a healthy and active Demaryius Thomas was a very welcome event. That gives Tebow three solid weapons in the passing game and allows Eddie Royal to play out of the slot where he belongs. We like Tebow at home this week as a decent QB1 with nice upside.

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