By BOB LABRIOLA
The following are some of the interesting matchups to watch when the Steelers travel to Gillette Stadium for a 4:15 p.m. game on Sunday against the New England Patriots:
STEELERS DEFENSIVE BACKS VS. PATRIOTS WR RANDY MOSS: Just as it once was said that it takes a village to raise a child, it's going to take the Steelers' entire secondary to deal with Randy Moss. Much has been made of the fact that Wes Welker led the Patriots with nine catches in last year's meeting, but those nine went for 78 yards, while the seven Moss caught were good for 135 and New England's first two touchdowns. Moss is freakishly good, and as the Dolphins discovered last weekend it's foolish to expect one defender to deal with him for an entire game.
STEELERS LG CHRIS KEMOEATU AND LT MAX STARKS VS. PATRIOTS DE RICHARD SEYMOUR: Because the Patriots are a 3-4 defense, the task of facing Seymour isn't always the responsibility of the same guy. New England's starting defensive line is made up of a trio of former No. 1 draft picks, and Seymour is the veteran of the group. This season, Seymour trails fellow defensive linemen Vince Wilfork and Ty Warren in tackles, but his seven sacks and 13 pressures is more than the other two have in those categories combined. The Patriots are a big play team, and Seymour is one of the guys on defense who provides them with those.
STEELERS OLBs LaMARR WOODLEY AND JAMES HARRISON VS. PATRIOTS QB MATT CASSEL: Obviously, it's going to be important to get pressure on Cassel, even more important to hit him, sack him and force some turnovers, but in the process of trying to accomplish that the Steelers pass rush cannot lose containment. "I think that he is surprisingly mobile," said Coach Mike Tomlin. "You have seen the highlights all year and you know that he can make any of the throws on the field. You know that he is doing a nice job of communicating, identifying potential hots and running their offense. The added element that he brings is the ability to buy time and create as pockets lag on. He was their leading rusher versus the Jets; he has 199 yards rushing on the season. He is a big reason why they are seventh in the league in rushing. His ability to escape is an issue; an issue that you do not historically have to deal with when you prepare to play New England." Getting off the field on third down is critical for the Steelers defense, and if they manage to get the receivers covered it would be a killer to allow Cassel to scramble for the first down.
STEELERS LB LAWRENCE TIMMONS VS. PATRIOTS RB KEVIN FAULK: Speaking of getting off the field on third downs, another player the Steelers defense will have to control is Faulk, a do-everything back the Patriots have utilized to stick daggers in opponents for years. Faulk leads the Patriots in rushing with 372 yards, and he has another 315 yards on 36 catches, but with him it's not so much about the total as it is the timing. Faulk is New England's move-the-chains guy on offense, and he also is averaging 15.1 yards on seven punt returns. Timmons could see a lot of Faulk in third-down situations, as well as on special teams. It takes an athlete to control an athlete, and so Timmons and Faulk could be going against each other in a lot of situations.
STEELERS QB BEN ROETHLISBERGER VS. PATRIOTS COACH BILL BELICHICK: "I think they're capable of confusing an offense," said TE Heath Miller, "but you can get caught up in a variety of different looks they give you and not worry about the things they do the other 80 percent of the time." Over the course of this season, Roethlisberger has honed his ability to make the quick throws, to go to the check-down quickly is that's what the defense demands, but he showed against the Bengals that he also hasn't lost his ability to make plays down the field. Recognition is going to be important, and that has to start with the quarterback.