By Erik Frenz (Twitter: @ErikFrenz)
Cold, Hard Football Facts Patriots beat writer
3-9 vs. 9-1
Bill Belichick's Patriots are 9-1 off a bye and are currently on an eight-game winning streak. The NFL as a whole, however, has been notably bad off of byes this season, with a record of 3-9.
Whether it's an anomaly or a product of the lockout, it's a little more than a trend right now. It looks like Belichick may be battling the bye week more than he ever has in the past.
Pittsburgh's 80.98 Defensive Passer Rating vs. Tom Brady's 104.81 Passer Rating
Despite ranking first against the pass, the Steelers defense hasn't been as stifling as advertised. They rank 13th in Defensive Passer Rating, and their inability to collect interceptions has really hurt them in this number. As has been the case in year's past, the Steelers rely on their front seven to generate pressure and sacks, and they are currently tied for eighth in sacks with 17 of them. Still, their Defensive Passer Rating has come against some below-average quarterbacks -- names like Blaine Gabbert, Kerry Collins/Curtins Painter and Kevin Kolb dot the list.
Tom Brady hasn't been as dominant as he was in 2010, but his 104.8 passer rating ranks second in the league behind only the otherworldly start of Aaron Rodgers. Brady has historically dominated Pittsburgh's crew, too, with a 104.1 passer rating against them in his career. That's his seventh-best passer rating against any team in the NFL since he stepped in for Drew Bledsoe.
Look for Rob Gronkowski to be a big factor in this game. Not only is he one of the biggest matchup problems for Pittsburgh's defense as evidenced last year (five receptions, 72 yards, three touchdowns) but Gronkowski has been one of Brady's most efficient targets
with a passer rating of 138.2 on throws in his direction.
New England's 7.9 net yards allowed per pass attempt vs. Ben Roethlisberger's 7.1 net yards per pass attempt
What do you know -- another defensive stat that the Patriots rank last in. With 7.9 YPA allowed, the Patriots have been a sieve against the pass and have allowed an especially high number of pass plays over 20 yards.
That could be a big factor this week up against Mike Wallace, a guy not exactly known as a possession receiver. Wallace is the very definition of a speed demon and a track star, with over 20 yards per reception.
Of course, the primary source of that explosive nature is Roethlisberger's ability to escape a collapsing pocket and save a broken play. New England was able to put a stop to that last year by wrapping him up and bringing him down five times.The 1.2 yard disparity between his YPA and net YPA is indicative of how big of a difference a sack is from an escape when it comes to Roethlisberger.
Pittsburgh's 4.9 defensive net YPA vs. Tom Brady's 8.5 net YPA
The Defensive Passer Rating may not be what we expect from the Steelers, but their defensive YPA is once again the best in the league, but the Potentate of Pigskin even pointed out
on Local Spin
that Pittsburgh's defensive YPA is on par with that of the great Steel Curtain era defenses.
As mentioned earlier, though, Pittsburgh's defensive passing numbers will be put to the test across the board against one of the league's most efficient and most deadly quarterbacks this season. Tom Brady almost always has his way with Pittsburgh's pass defense, and he is by far the best quarterback they will have faced up to this point.
Wes Welker is one of the biggest contributors to that, with 15.4 YPR and could be a matchup problem for the Steelers on Sunday once again.
17.77 yards per point scored vs. 18.83 yards per point allowed
The Patriots don't rely on their bend-don't-break defense to win them games, they just rely on them not to lose games. Of course, that may change if we continue to see defensive performances like the ones the Patriots have put together in their past two games, but regardless, they have ridden that philosophy to the fourth overall ranking in Bendability.
As efficient as the Patriots have been at forcing their opponents to drive a long distance to score points, the Steelers have been inefficient in that regard and rank 25th in Scoreability. This is largely a product of so many sacks against them (20) and so many turnovers (12) through seven games, but the way the Patriots are playing on offense, the Steelers can't afford to pile up a lot of empty yardage. They have to turn it into points if they want to turn it into a win.
New England's 91.98 Defensive Passer Rating vs. Roethlisberger's 95.32 Passer Rating
Much is made of the matchup between the Steelers defense and the Patriots offense, but New England's defense against Roethlisberger and Pittsburgh's offense could be the battle that will have a bigger impact on the outcome of the war.
We all know the Patriots rank dead last in pass defense, but their Defensive Passer Rating also ranks very low at 25th in the league. Opposing quarterbacks could complete a pass from the comfort of their La-Z-Boy while fully reclined.
When they do get pressure, they can't afford to fall asleep at the wheel. They need to make sure they bring down Roethlisberger every time they get a hand on him. They were able to do this last year, sacking him five times while forcing a pick, and though Roethlisberger ended the day with a gaudy 97.9 passer rating, most of his numbers came in garbage time in the fourth quarter with the game well out of reach.