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Steelers must turn it up a notch

December 6, 2007
The Altoona Mirror
Now that the New England Patriots appear to be beatable, a renewed hope has engulfed western Pennsylvania.

Yes, the Steelers may just be that team to knock off the unbeaten, hated, arrogant, (fill in your own adjective), Patriots.

Before you get too caught up, though, in figuring out where the Patriots are most vulnerable, here’s a sobering thought to consider: If the Steelers play like they have the last three games, they won’t stand a chance.

The Steelers need to do a much better job in all areas, but three stand out in particular — running the football, starting strongly and avoiding turnovers.

n Running the football: Willie Parker and the Steelers’ run game has done a somewhat commendable job considering the field conditions the last few weeks, but they’ve faced some of the worst run defenses in the NFL.

The Patriots, statistically, have the sixth best rushing defense in the league, and the Steelers will need to have success in this area to keep the ball out of the hands of Tom Brady, Randy Moss and company.

Parker needs to match the success Willis McGahee had Monday night against the Patriots. It would also help if Parker is able to break off his first 40-plus run of the season.

n Starting strongly: The Steelers beat the Bengals, 24-10, Sunday, but the first quarter was a nightmare. The defense allowed the Bengals to march down the field and get seven points, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was off-target the entire quarter, and the team was penalized five times.

Against the Bengals at home, those early problems were not a huge concern. But playing in New England would be a different story. The Patriots have shown to be the type of team that will put games away early if the opponent is not up to par.

They’ll attack a team deep early, like they did in the AFC Championship Game three years ago and like the Jets did to the Steelers three weeks ago.

n Avoiding turnovers: The Steelers committed four turnovers last week and won. If they have four turnovers this Sunday, you can almost guarantee they’ll lose by more than 10 points.

The Patriots are as good as any team in the NFL at taking advantage of teams’ miscues.

This is not to suggest the Steelers don’t have a chance at winning on Sunday — they are getting the Patriots at probably the best time. It will also help if Santonio Holmes, Marvel Smith and Troy Polamalu are back in the starting lineup.

Their focus, though, should be more on improving their own game because the Patriots, no matter how many of their weaknesses have been exposed the last few weeks, aren’t going to beat themselves.

NFL Week No. 14

Game of the week: Pittsburgh at New England, 4:15 p.m. Sunday (CBS).

Upset special: Miami (+7) at Buffalo.

Fantasy tip: These games look good for fantasy owners: Browns-Jets, Cowboys-Lions and Raiders-Packers.

Buck Frank can be reached at 946-7461 or

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