NFL Playoff Picture: How Steelers can exploit Patriots, 8 stats to know for Week 15

NFL Playoff Picture: How Steelers can exploit Patriots, 8 stats to know for Week 15


Finally, the moment we’ve been waiting for all year long has arrived. It’s here. Two elite enemies will be pitted against each other in a fight that should determine the balance of power. And a squad that has so frequently fallen to the empire over the years will get yet another chance to end its lengthy reign.

No, I’m not talking about “The Last Jedi.” I’m talking about the Patriots-Steelers Week 15 clash in Pittsburgh on Sunday, which will likely determine which team secures home- field advantage throughout the postseason.

Entering the game, the Steelers — at 11-2 after a few unimpressive, last-second wins — own the top seed over the 10-3 Patriots, who are coming off a dismal outing against the Dolphins. If the Steelers win and the Jaguars lose or tie, they’ll secure home-field advantage. If the Patriots win, they’ll take over the top spot and be in the driver’s seat.

For nearly the entire season, we’ve highlighted this game as the moment that will likely determine the entire fate of the AFC’s portion of the postseason. No one — not including those affiliated with the Steelers, of course — believes the Steelers can go into Foxborough in January and beat the Patriots with a trip to the Super Bowl at stake. That turns this week into a must-win game for the Steelers. They’re at home. And they have a chance to make sure the Patriots are forced to return to Pittsburgh come January.

For nearly the entire season, I haven’t given the Steelers a chance to win Sunday’s game. But after what we witnessed on Monday night, when Jay Cutler out-dueled Tom Brady in a convincing Dolphins win, I’m ready to believe in the Steelers’ chances on Sunday. They shouldn’t be favored and if I had to bet on the game, I’d take the Patriots. But they can beat the Patriots, who are actually beatable. They’re not hopeless.

They can beat the Patriots because they have the two best skill-position players on the field. Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown are good enough to carry the Steelers to victory. If Cutler, Kenyan Drake, and Jarvis Landry found a way to rip through the Patriots’ defense, so can the Steelers’ Killer B’s.

Bell leads the NFL in yards from scrimmage with 1,684 and offensive touches with 358. The Steelers need to make sure he hits quota of 27.5 touches per game for a few reasons.

The first is that by running the ball effectively or by using Bell efficiently in the short passing game, they can keep their offense on the field and as a result, keep Brady away from the football. The second is that the Patriots’ defense can be exploited by running backs. On Monday night, Drake touched the ball 30 times and picked up 193 yards. He did most of his damage as a runner (25 carries for 114 yards), but don’t discount his contributions in the passing game (five catches for 79 yards).

The Dolphins split him out wide and let him work in space against slower linebackers.

Against Patriots linebacker Elandon Roberts, Drake caught all three of his targets for 58 yards, according to Pro Football Focus.

The Steelers can follow the Dolphins’ strategy, but they can execute it even better considering they have Bell, arguably the best all-around back in football — as you can see below in his receptions map via PFF:

The touchdown below, taken from the Steelers’ recent win over the Ravens, should look similar to the Cutler-Drake slant play above — except Bell ends his reception by blasting his way through two tacklers:

The Steelers can exploit the Patriots by using Bell against their slower linebackers. It’s a matchup they’ll win.

When the Steelers do put the game in Ben Roethlisberger’s hands, they need to find a way to force the ball into Brown, who has worked his way into the MVP conversation by leading the league in receptions with 99 and receiving yards with 1,509. He’s also tied for the second-most touchdown catches with nine. Brown suddenly has a slim chance to become the first receiver to break the 2,000-yard barrier. It’ll take a superhuman effort for him to get there — he needs to average 163.7 yards per game from…