Patriots run up big numbers on ground, too
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The Steelers have been recognized for years as a franchise that takes great pride in the running game; the Patriots have been defined in their modern era as a passing powerhouse directed by future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady.
So, what to make of the fact that the Patriots are on track to rank higher than the Steelers in rushing yards per game for the fourth consecutive season?
While that might come as a surprise to many, Steelers defenders are well aware that Brady's offense can be just as effective when he is handing off as it is when he is throwing.
The Patriots average an NFL-leading 474.5 yards of offense per game, including 350.5 through the air. That's a record-setting pace for Brady and his receivers, but the Patriots are hardly one-dimensional.
- Game: Steelers vs. Patriots, 4:15 p.m.
- Where: Heinz Field.
- TV: KDKA.
New England's 124 rushing yards per game ranks 11th in the NFL and continues a streak of consecutive seasons when the Patriots have ranked among the NFL's top rushing teams. The Patriots ranked 9th, 12th, and 6th in each of the past three seasons.
"They can run and pass it," defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau said. "Whenever you throw like that, everyone will talk about how well you throw it. But averaging those kind of yards running is pretty doggone good, too, particularly when you throw it that well."
Brady never has needed much of a running game to beat the Steelers. In the 2002 season opener, he threw 25 consecutive passes in the first half of a convincing, 30-14 victory at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough. That trend has continued over the years, including a 350-yard, three-touchdown performance from Brady in a 39-26 victory last season at Heinz Field.
Brady has directed a well-balanced offense through their first six games this season.
In back-to-back games against the New York Jets and Oakland Raiders earlier this month, the running game was nearly as impressive as the passing game.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis ran 27 times for 136 yards in a 30-21 win against the Jets as the Patriots gained 152 on the ground.
A week earlier in a 31-19 victory against the Raiders, the Patriots rushed for 183 yards. Green-Ellis had 75 and Stevan Ridley, a rookie from LSU, had 97.
Ridley is averaging 6.4 yards per carry; Green-Ellis 4.3.
"The main thing with teams that can run and pass, you better read your keys," linebacker Larry Foote said. "You better focus on your keys, you better focus on your assignment, do your job at all times. If we do that, we'll be OK. When you're not reading your keys, they can strike the band up fast. It's going to be important that we read our keys, get off blocks and make tackles."
Green-Ellis, a fourth-year pro out of Mississippi, introduced himself to the Steelers last season when he ran for 87 yards at Heinz Field as the Patriots outrushed the Steelers, 103-76.
"They're extremely effective in the running game, and it's something we're going to have to contend with," safety Ryan Clark said.
"If we don't stop it, they'll run it. With the Patriots, they do whatever it takes to win."
The Steelers run defense should get a lift with the return of nose tackle Casey Hampton, who missed the past three games with a shoulder injury. Hampton, an 11-year veteran, said as easy as it is to focus on the passing game, it is vital for the defense to have a mindset of stopping the run first.
"I know we're not overlooking it," Hampton said. "We know what type of running team they are. We're definitely aware of them. You just have to be sound.
"They out-tempo you. You go out there and think it's a pass. You're ready for the pass, and they run the ball. They get a hat on a hat, and next thing you know, the back hits it up in there. You have to be focused and not let them out-tempo you. I think that's the main thing."
Clark said the presence of versatile tight ends Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski make the Patriots tougher to defend than most teams. They have the ability to line up and run the ball out of two-tight end sets, but they also have the ability to split Gronkowski and Hernandez out as receivers and get them into favorable matchups in the passing game.
"With two tight ends, it's not a situation where you know they're going to spread you out," he said. "They have the tight ends to do it. Then, you have linebackers matched up on them. For us, we just have to play our game. We're not nervous about the run, though. Tackling people in the run game is about physicality and wanting to be there."
Linebacker James Farrior and receiver Hines Ward were listed as questionable for the Patriots game. Ward (ankle) did not practice all week, and Farrior (calf) was limited in practice for the third consecutive day.
Linebackers James Harrison (eye) and Jason Worilds (quadriceps), offensive lineman Doug Legursky (toe) and nose tackle Chris Hoke (neck) will not play.
First Published October 29, 2011 12:28 am