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Game Scout: Steelers at Patriots

The SportsXchange

Pittsburgh Steelers (2-5) at New England Patriots (6-2)

Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET, at Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Mass. - TV: CBS

*TV announcers: Jim Nantz, Phil Simms

*Keys to the game: The Patriots are battling some uncharacteristic issues, but the Steelers are going to need to break some season-long tendencies to pose a threat on the road. It begins with their defense, which has produced only 10 sacks on the season in part because the 27th-ranked run defense doesn't force many long passing situations. Patriots QB Tom Brady has been sacked 16 times over the past four games and has a new starting right tackle. New England's comeback against Miami last week was built largely on a stronger commitment to the ground game, and expect more of the same in an effort to protect Brady better. The Steelers' offense, meanwhile, is ranked 30th in the league while averaging only 3.3 yards per carry. That opens QB Ben Roethlisberger to significant pressure while being forced into a one-dimensional attack while playing from behind. The result? The Steelers have a minus-9 turnover margin. The Patriots have been more vulnerable along the interior since losing NT Vince Wilfork, although veteran Isaac Sopoaga was added to the rotation this week.

*Matchup to watch - Steelers OLB LaMarr Woodley vs. Patriots RT Marcus Cannon: Cannon, a 2011 fifth-round pick, is already a cancer survivor. Now the veteran of 31 NFL games is in line for his second career start with Sebastian Vollmer done for the season. Cannon filled in well last week, but the Steelers' complex scheme is often a massive challenge for players light on experience. Woodley has half of the Steelers' 10 sacks.

*Player spotlight - Steelers CB Cortez Allen: He was charged with primary coverage on Rob Gronkowski in the last meeting two years ago when the Patriots tight end caught seven passes for 94 yards.

*Fast facts: Mat McBriar is the Steelers' fifth punter since 2011. ... Six of the Patriots' eight games have been decided by a touchdown or less.

WHO WILL WIN AND WHY

The Patriots are converting just 32.2 percent of their third downs this season and the passing game is still very much a working process. However, New England should be able to run the ball effectively, aiding Brady's pass rush and leading to a balanced attack Pittsburgh can't match.

*Our pick: Patriots 27-24
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