There was a lot of talk that the losses of Leigh Bodden and Ras-I Dowling left the secondary as the Patriots’ Achilles heel coming into Sunday’s game with the Steelers.
Ben Roethlisberger’s first half left no question about that. Big Ben hit on 23-of-32 passes for 231 yards and two touchdowns to lead the Steelers to a 17-10 lead over the Patriots at Heinz Field. Roethlisberger hit on seven passes on the first Pittsburgh drive, including three third-down conversions to Heath Miller, and hit Mewelde Moore for a touchdown. The Pats couldn’t generate any pass rush on that possession, something they remedied as the half went on. They weren’t able to do much about Roethlisberger completing passes, though.
He hit on six more passes on a drive that ended with a touchdown pass to Antonio Brown. Miller and Mike Wallace have been the biggest culprits with 11 catches between them, but Roethlisberger has found open receivers almost everywhere he’s looked through the first 30 minutes of this matchup.
The only reason the score isn’t more lopsided is because of one throw Roethlisberger would like to have back. He missed Gary Guyton dropping into coverage on a pass over the middle and threw the ball directly to the Patriots linebacker. Guyton returned the ball to the Steelers’ eight-yard line and Tom Brady found Deion Branch for a touchdown two plays later.
That’s about the only offensive highlight for the Pats. The Steelers have shut down Wes Welker — three catches for 19 yards — and LaMarr Woodley has two sacks of Tom Brady. That gives the Steelers linebacker 7.5 sacks over the last four weeks, a total that has made it easy for the Steelers defense to stomach the loss of James Harrison. It hasn’t just been Woodley, as the Steelers have allowed just 83 total yards to the high-powered New England offense, but he’s been a star of a very good first half for Pittsburgh.
It’s still a one-possession game, though, and the Patriots get the ball to start the half. Brady and company are too good to count out after one bad half. The key will be for the Patriots need to be much better on defense — something that could be complicated by the loss of Shaun Ellis to a rib injury — or else all the offensive turnaround in the world won’t matter.