FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Bill Belichick had extra time to prepare during the New England Patriots’ bye week.
Then the Pittsburgh Steelers gave him something new to look at as he gets ready to face them on Sunday — the longest pass play in team history.
Ben Roethlisberger and Mike Wallace connected on a 95-yard touchdown in the second quarter of a 32-20 win over the Arizona Cardinals. The Patriots went into their bye with the AFC’s best record, 5-1, but the NFL’s worst pass defense.
“He’s a big play receiver,” Belichick said Monday. “He’s really fast. Nobody is going to catch him, so you have to be careful about how much space he gets when he catches the ball.”
The Patriots coach will have his players back at practice on Tuesday. The defensive backs will have a busy week preparing to face Roethslisberger, who completed 26 of 39 passes for 361 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions at Arizona on Sunday.
Eight receivers caught passes with Antonio Brown grabbing seven for 102 yards, Emmanuel Sanders getting five for 46 and Wallace finishing with three for 118.
That’s a lot for a Patriots defense that has allowed an average of 322.2 yards passing. The Steelers (5-2) are ninth in the NFL with 265.4 yards passing per game.
“They utilize a lot of different personnel groups and different people within those groups, so they give you a lot of different looks and they have a lot of good players,” Belichick said during a conference call.
“They have different skills, but they’re all good. Some guys do some things a little more or better than others, but then other guys come in with different matchup problems. They get a lot of mileage out of everybody.”
The Patriots offense also must prepare for a big playmaker, safety Troy Polamalu.
“You’ve got to know where this guy is on every single play,” offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien said. “He’s one of many defenders on that defense that is going to be tough to go against.”
The Patriots could get their best defender back. Linebacker Jerod Mayo missed the last two games with a knee injury but practiced before the 20-16 win over the Dallas Cowboys on Oct. 16. Belichick said he’ll have a better idea when the Patriots practice on Tuesday about Mayo’s condition.
“Jerod is definitely getting better,” Belichick said. “We had a few days away from here, so he’s gotten an opportunity to get some more healing and treatment. We’ll see where he is when we get out on the field this week. He’s certainly making progress and it will be great to have him back out there whenever that happens.”
Starting right guard Sebastian Vollmer has missed five of the Patriots’ six games with a back injury.
Might he play on Sunday?
“I’ll give you the same answer I give you every week on the same question, just change the name,” Belichick said. “We’ll put them out there. We’ll see what they can do. If they’re ready to practice, we’ll evaluate them. If they’re not, then we’ll do some more rehab.”
Running back Kevin Faulk, in his 13th season, also may return for the game. He played in only the first two games last season before being sidelined with a knee injury. This year, he was on the physically unable to perform list before practicing last week.
“We’ll go out to practice here starting (Tuesday) and, by the end of the week, make a determination on what the game day roster is,” O’Brien said.
The Patriots began working on the Steelers right after the win over the Cowboys. But the coaches did have some time to relax.
“Bill did a really good job of giving us a couple days off for the staff,” O’Brien said. “That’s always good. I always describe it as kind of being an Army wife for Colleen, my wife: six months on, six months off.”
No extra time off anymore, though. After visiting the Steelers, the Patriots will face the New York Giants, the New York Jets, the Kansas City Chiefs and the Philadelphia Eagles. Each won its most recent game.
“Today’s a good day for us,” Belichick said, “to go back over all the things we worked on (in practice and meetings) last week, pull it back together, get ready for the players coming in.”