Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has a career record of 5-1 against the Steelers.
By Ed Bouchette Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
No secret the Steelers are owned by Irishmen, family name Rooney. There is another Irishman who owns the Steelers. His name is Tom Brady.
For all its ferociousness and stinginess and high rankings through the years, the Steelers' defense has been putty in Brady's hands whenever he and his New England Patriots get the good fortune of playing them.
Brady has won five of six games he has started against the Steelers, beginning with the 2001 AFC championship game. The only time he lost to them came in the middle of the '04 season when he brought his Patriots to Heinz Field riding an NFL-record 21-game unbeaten streak. Even then, he exacted revenge by returning for the AFC title game and whupping them in Heinz Field, 41-27, on way to his third Super Bowl title in four years.
The Steelers had to wait until Brady was sidelined with an injury to beat the Patriots again, in '08 when Matt Cassell quarterbacked New England.
Sunday night, Brady returns for another visit and another big game between two of the NFL's best teams, both atop their divisions at 6-2.
"I would think that any defensive coordinator, if he was being honest on the week he was playing Brady, would say this is not a good matchup," said Dick LeBeau, the Steelers' defensive coordinator.
"We think it will be good on good. If we execute our defense, it'll be difficult for them to consistently go down the field all the way. I think that's true of any offense -- if we execute consistently. But we fully recognize who we're playing against, and his track record's pretty good."
Better than that. Brady has the best winning percentage of any quarterback in the league at .763 (103-32). It's even better against the Steelers at .833.
His performance in those six games comes to 143 completions in 213 attempt for 1,658 yards, 11 touchdowns, 5 interceptions and a 97.9 passer rating.
But the Steelers did beat him, even if only once. In that '04 game, Brady completed 25 of 43 passes for 271 yards and 2 touchdowns. But he threw two interceptions, was sacked four times, and turnovers played a big role in the Steelers' 34-20 victory.
"They were a good football team and we were on the rise and just happened to catch them that day," said Chris Hoke, who started his first game at nose tackle for injured Casey Hampton and caused a key fumble.
"I think they have a different philosophy now; they have that little Wes Welker thing now going on, where if they can't run the football, they throw little dumps to Wes Welker, little dinks and dunks. When we played up there a couple years ago, they went to a spread offense with one back and kept dumping the ball to Welker; it was a run option.
"I think that's kind of their blueprint. If they can't run the ball against us, they say we'll just spread you out and throw little 5 yards and see if Welker can break it out for 6, 7, 8 yards."
Brady no longer has the deep threat he had with Randy Moss. Welker, who leads the Patriots with 44 receptions, averages only 8.1 yards a catch, which is a good day for a running back.
Because no one has been able to run on the Steelers and their pass defense cannot say as much, the Patriots can be expected to do their thing, which is throw the dinks and the dunks. The Steelers' pass defense has been content to let offenses do that while preventing the deep pass.
That should make for an interesting mesh of philosophies Sunday night -- a defense content to let the offense throw short passes and an offense willing to do so.
"He's always been a control passer -- use the short pass for a run and then play-action and hit you deep," LeBeau explained. "He's never been just a wild horse, sit back and throw the ball 50 times 40 yards up field. That's why his deep throws have probably been as effective or more effective than most. I don think it's a change in philosophy."
Safety Troy Polamalu remembers a change, though, from one game to another with Brady in 2004, and he expects to see the formula that won it for the Patriots to return.
"In order for them to have success against us, they'll have to be a little more balanced than people might anticipate," Polamalu said.
"Against us the first time we beat them in 2004, they came out and tried to just pass the ball and we forced turnovers. But the second time they were a lot more balanced. That's what we kind of anticipate them being, more balanced.''
Maybe, but the history of Tom Brady vs. the Steelers has been anything but balanced.