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Pregame stretch:
Steelers vs. Patriots

October 31, 2013 - Ray Eckenrode

Sunday, 4:25 p.m. EST, CBS

Announcers: Jim Nantz and Phil Simms
Annoyance factor: Hellish. What more can be said? Looking for a silver lining? It’s highly unlikely we’ll have to listen to this pair again until the Dec. 22 game (Merry Christmas!) with the Packers.
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Weather – or not?: Partly cloudy, 0 percent chance of showers, low 50s. Ironically, almost identical conditions to those encountered in Oakland a week earlier.
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Referee: Walt Coleman
Competence factor: Confusing. This is Walt Coleman, the cow man from Arkansas, not Walt Anderson, the dentist from Texas. They’re both decent officials, Coleman is closing on 20 years as a white hat. Coleman and his crew are third in the league this year with 124.6 yard per game in penalties. They lead the league in illegal formation penalties, so keep an eye on how the tackles and wideouts line up on Sunday.
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The line: New England -7
Smarts say: Finally, an accurate line! The Patriots public following offsets Pittsburgh’s public bets here. That same dynamic means the line is likely to hold fairly steady all week. By the way, the Pats are 8-3 against the spread vs. the Steelers in the two teams’ last 11 games. The over/under of 44 is the highest Steelers O/U of the year and means something like Patriots 26-18 (10 field goals total!). Five of seven Steelers games this season have come in under the O/U line.
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Key matchup: Tom Brady vs. Tom Brady
Because: Tom Brady had 116 yards passing last week, that’s 1-1-6 … and the Patriots rallied to win comfortably over the Dolphins. In two games this year, the Patriots have scored six and 13 points, respectively. That’s a whole game, not a quarter. No, this is not the offense the NFL has come to know and fear (23rd in passing, 18th overall) … and most of that is because of an ongoing issue with Brady’s accuracy and the ability of his receivers to get on the same page with him. There have been rumors of a hand injury that might be bothering Brady, but he denies it (of course). Assuming Brady does not fake a handoff on the first play and streak 93 yards for a score, the Pats are not going to be able to run the ball on Pittsburgh the way they did on Miami. That means New England will need to see a reasonable facsimile of 2010 Tom Brady to win this game at the comfort level being predicted. The Steelers don’t rush the passer and don’t get turnovers so it’s all on Brady.

Quick hits:
+ Taking the pulse of Steelers fan on Twitter last week, it was obvious many were under the delusion that Pittsburgh’s loss to the Raiders was a “one field goal” game and that had Shaun Suisham made either of the chip shots he missed, it would have gone to overtime, and had he made both, it would have been a happy and joyous Sunday evening in western Pennsylvania. That’s crazy talk. The field goals were in the second and third quarter, for cripes sakes. Had he made one or both of them, the Raiders would have employed an entirely different second half strategy than “three dives, punt, laugh as the Steelers futilely try to score.” The only way you have a “one field goal” game is if that field goal, missed or made, occurs in the final four minutes. But fans are fans and that kind of emotional nonsense is expected. But when Mike Tomlin walks into his Tuesday press conference and declares his team was in a “one field goal” game? That’s concerning to us here at the 15 Minutes Blog, it really is. We have always held to the philosophy that NFL coaches have forgotten more about football than any of the geniuses with blogs, newspaper columns or in the stands. But Tomlin continues to do things that really give us moments for pause about that.
+ Steelers fans who have watched LaMarr Woodley play this year and who watched him make 0.0 tackles last week might be surprised to know that Pro Football Focus ranks him second in the league among 3-4 linebackers in “pass-rushing productivity” with 17 hurries, five hits and five sacks.
+ We mentioned last week that rookie Jarvis Jones seemed to be getting more invisible by the quarter, and, sure enough, after a one-tackle, zero impact effort in Oakland, Jones was demoted and Not Sean Lee (aka Jason Worilds) will return to the starting lineup where history tells us he will provide a couple tackles, a couple pressures and a meaningless sack here and there. Now, for the million-dollar question: Why? Why would waste time in an already lost season finding out more about a player you already know isn’t good enough? Why wouldn’t you let your young players get more snaps in a season where the outcome of the games no longer matters that much? Another personnel puzzler.
+ Speaking of personnel: Matt McBriar ladies and gentlemen! The former Aussie football vet and NFL journeyman is now the man the Steelers will look to for short, low kicks on his own side of the field and booming touchbacks on the opponents’ side. We kid, we kid. Hopefully. In all seriousness, Zoltan Mesko was worth the gamble at the price and severing ties after it was clear Mesko was a shadow of his former self makes sense. We’d say that McBriar can’t possibly be worse than Pittsburgh’s last two punters but we’re not sure that’s true yet. He was unemployed for nearly a year for a reason. Stay tuned to this channel for more in-depth punter analysis in the coming weeks.
+ We had this discussion with Cory Giger on his radio show this week and we’ll recap briefly here: How much difference does it make if the Steelers pick 15th vs. 8th in the draft next year? The real answer is: “Who knows? The NFL Draft is a crapshoot.” But, in general, if you’re looking for a player to fill the left tackle spot – one of the three most valuable positions in football right now, along with franchise quarterback and pass rusher – you have very little chance of doing it at #15 and a decent chance of doing it at #8. Hazarding a guess, we’d figure 7-9 will get Pittsburgh in the 13-15 range in the draft while 4-12 would results in the 6-8 range.

The pick: According to the stats, these two teams both have mediocre offenses (Pats 18th, Steelers 23rd) and Pittsburgh has a much better defense (Steelers 4th, Pats 19th). And since defense wins, the Steelers are the pick here, right? Right? But in a case of stats “damn lying” again, it’s hard to believe New England’s offense is as bad as it ranks and we know Pittsburgh’s defense is not as good as that number would indicate. As noted above, if you’re picking the Steelers to win here, you are picking against Tom Brady, so ... Patriots 24-13.
Last week: We unfortunately got back on track by correctly predicting history would repeat itself in Oakland. That leaves us at 3-4 straight up and 4-3 versus the spread.

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