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Patriots-Steelers matchup of the day: Friday

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Recent posts by Kevin Fishbain

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By Kevin Fishbain

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

Patriots running game vs. Steelers run defense

This is not the Pittsburgh "D" of last season. The run defense has some holes thanks to injuries along the defensive line and the fact that it's an aging group. It has been picked up by the league's top-ranked passing defense, but the Patriots will prefer to stay somewhat balanced in their attack on Sunday.

The Steelers are allowing 107.1 rushing yards per game, nearly 45 yards per game more than last season. Considering Tom Brady's success against Pittsburgh in the past, the Steelers will be extra focused on stopping the pass, which could open up some holes for BenJarvus Green-Ellis and New England's backs.

The Patriots' running game was a problem in the first three games of the season but improved starting in Week Four, culminating in a big effort against the Jets, when Green-Ellis rushed for 136 yards. The bye week should have given Danny Woodhead extra time to return to 100 percent and rookie Stevan Ridley an extra week to get more familiar with the offense.

The Patriots' offensive line has been paving big holes for the run game, and they did have some success against Pittsburgh last season, as Green-Ellis rushed for 87 yards on 18 carries (4.8-yard average).

An effective run game really would put the Steelers on their heels, as they know how lethal Brady can be against their secondary. If the front seven can bottle up Green-Ellis, though, and put Brady in obvious passing downs, that's where the Steelers can gain an edge.

The Steelers are without DE Aaron Smith for the rest of the season, but it appears they will get NT Casey Hampton back for Sunday, and he might have an advantage over Patriots C Dan Connolly in any one-on-one matchups, so look for OGs Brian Waters and Logan Mankins to add extra help.

If ORT Sebastian Vollmer returns to a starting role, look for rookie OT Nate Solder to come on as an extra blocker in certain running situations. Solder impressed with his run blocking and the Patriots have been using an extra tight end to open up holes.

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