FOXBOROUGH – Here’s what we’re watching today when the Patriots host the Steelers.
1. Tom Brady – The past few weeks have been anything but pretty for Brady. He’s failed to throw a touchdown in two of the last four games and his completion percentage has dipped to a career-low 55.7 percent as a starter. Last week against the Miami Dolphins, he completed a season-low 13 passes. There are worries about Brady’s hand and in turn his accuracy. If he can get through this week with at least a solid performance and a win, he can rest easy through the bye week at 7-2, a huge accomplishment for any team and any struggling quarterback.
2. Availability of Aqib Talib, others — Talib (hip) is listed as questionable. He has practiced for the last two weeks, but has been limited in doing so. He would be a great help Sunday against a player of Emmanuel Sanders’ speed and skill. There’s also concern about Kyle Arrington and his groin injury. He’s been limited the past few weeks. That’s two of the team’s top three corners. RB Leon Washington (ankle) is listed as questionable and seven others are listed as probable for Sunday’s game.
3. Isaac Sopoaga – The Patriots’ new defensive tackle, who was traded to the team earlier in the week, is expected to make his debut against the Steelers. As a defensive line player, he can easily be inserted and help inject some toughness up front for a team that has given up 156.5 yards rushing per game since Vince Wilfork was placed on injured reserve. We’ll be watching his snap count and what situations he’s asked to help in.
4. Marcus Cannon – The third-year offensive tackle will likely start in place of Sebastian Vollmer, who was placed on injured reserve earlier in the week. Cannon had stepped in for Vollmer after he went down in the Miami Dolphins game last week. He has also pitched in at right guard and left tackle this season, but has struggled in run blocking. In 56 passing plays, he has allowed only one total pressure on the quarterback. He’ll get a more extensive showing Sunday against a good blitzing team.
5. Who’s on first? – We’ve seen some changes to the wide receivers group with the return of Rob Gronkowski and the addition of Austin Collie, particularly after Collie contributed with two major catches in the game-winning drive against the New Orleans Saints. He started last week’s game against the Dolphins in a three wide receiver set. Collie joined Amendola and Aaron Dobson as the starting receivers. Julian Edelman, who came off the bench, ended up having just as many snaps as Collie (32). But it was Kenbrell Thompkins, after beginning the year as the starting outside receiver, who saw his snap count dip to 13 plays. Dobson led all receivers with 49 plays. Meanwhile, Collie recorded no catches and was never targeted. Thompkins was targeted once.
So who gets the start this week? We’ll wait and see.