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Five things you have to know about the Steelers

10.30.13 at 8:45 am ET
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The Patriots host the struggling Steelers on Sunday afternoon. Here are five things you have to know about the Steelers, who are last in the AFC North at 2-5.

1. They do a really good job when it comes to stopping the pass. The Steelers have always been one of the best in the league when it comes to the defensive side of the ball, and for the most part, this year is no exception. Pittsburgh is fourth overall when it comes to total average yards allowed per game (302.9) and second when it comes to pass defense (the Steelers allow an average of 181 yards per game, trailing only the Texans, who are at 146). Outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley is the team’s most feared pass rusher, as he leads the way with five sacks and continues to do an excellent job when it comes to generating pressure. The Steelers’ Achilles’ heel defensively is their inability to stop the run. Opposing teams average 121.9 rushing yards per game against them, 27th in the league — five of the seven teams they’ve faced have rushed for more than 100 yards.

2. They struggle to run the ball consistently. The Steelers have always had a parade of really impressive backs over the years, but this season, they simply cannot move the ball on the ground. None of their regular backs (Le’Veon Bell, Felix Jones or Jonathan Dwyer) average more than 3.6 yards per carry, and as a team, they have 147 carries for 481 yards and three rushing touchdowns. As a team, they average 68.7 rushing yards per game, and Bell is the closest thing they have to feature back, as he has 208 rushing yards on 64 carries this season. They do have one impressive performance on their resume, a 141-yard rushing performance against the Ravens. But that’s been about it. Their numbers, combined with New England’s struggles when it comes to stopping the run — the Patriots are 31st in the league at 130.8 rushing yards allowed per game — should make for an interesting afternoon for the running backs.

3. Antonio Brown is their primary offensive option. The 5-foot-10, 186-pound receiver — the cousin of Patriots rookie receiver Kenbrell Thompkins — leads the Steelers with 56 catches (on 73 targets) for 630 yards and two touchdowns. He doesn’t possess great straight-line speed and doesn’t physically overwhelm opposing defensive backs, but he’s a smart and dependable route runner who is usually the first option for quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. An impressive 32 of his catches have gone for first downs, and he leads the team with 212 yards after the catch. If Aqib Talib is healthy enough to play, Brown will likely be his responsibility.

4. They’re not great when it comes to protecting the football. The Steelers are minus-9 when it comes to turnover ratio, 14th in the AFC. Pittsburgh has 14 turnovers through their first seven games, including seven picks and seven fumbles. Combine that with the fact that the Patriots are on a streak of 35 straight games where they’ve forced a turnover, and that means opportunities could be there for New England when it comes to potentially coming away with takeaways.

5. They’re approaching must-win territory. The Steelers lost four straight to open the season, and while they were able to rebound briefly with wins over the Jets and Ravens, they suffered their most deflating loss of the season last weekend in Oakland against the Raiders. In that one, they nearly pulled off a late comeback, but still ended up coming away with a three-point loss. At 2-5, this is a team that needs to start stringing together wins if it wants to have a chance at being part of the postseason picture down the road.

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