Patriots-Steelers matchup of the day: Wednesday

Posted Oct. 26, 2011 @ 4:55 p.m.
Posted By Kevin Fishbain

Here's a key matchup to watch in the Week Eight game between the Patriots and Steelers:

Steelers WR Mike Wallace vs. Patriots secondary

Wallace introduced himself to the Patriots' defense in last year's meeting, catching touchdown passes of 15 and 33 yards en route to an 8-136-2 day in the 39-26 loss to the Patriots. Since that game, Wallace clearly has established himself as one of the most electric receivers in the league.

This season, Wallace is averaging 20.3 yards a catch. He has 730 receiving yards and five touchdowns, including a 95-yarder last week.

Second-year CB Devin McCourty likely will cover Wallace most of Sunday afternoon, but the Patriots will use other members of the secondary to keep him in check. McCourty is the fastest New England defensive back and he can get physical with Wallace, but he will need help over the top.

As much as Brandon Meriweather's freelancing became a problem in Foxborough, he was adept at covering receivers deep and had playmaking abilities from his position in center field. This season, the Patriots have had three players — Josh Barrett, Sergio Brown and James Ihedigbo rotate at free safety. Each DB has his own skillset, but none has really stepped up to assume the starting position going forward. Ihedigbo likely will get the start, and the former special-teamer will have to keep an extra eye on Wallace.

The DBs will need to avoid leaving Wallace if Ben Roethlisberger escapes the pocket. His mobility helps extend plays, and that's when Wallace can get behind the secondary.

The Patriots' 32nd-ranked pass defense has been better in its last two games, but the Steelers will be sure to test it with Wallace, especially considering his success against New England last season.