PITTSBURGH -- Cleaning out the Patriots' notebook before the team's game against the Steelers tonight at Heinz Field:
1. With starting right guard Stephen Neal out for tonight's game with a shoulder injury, the question is whether Logan Mankins is ready to go wire to wire at left guard. Last week, in his first game since reporting to the team, Mankins played seven of nine series (45 snaps) as part of a three-man guard rotation. Neal played six of nine series (50 snaps) at right guard, while top backup Dan Connolly was on for five of nine series -- two at left guard and three at right guard (29 snaps). Connolly should step in for Neal tonight, and if there is a rotation, either Quinn Ojinnaka or Ryan Wendell project as the top backup.
2. One consistent theme heard among defensive players this week is that the Steelers are a big, physical offense, an attack that features a lot of inside runs. This puts an added importance on getting off blocks and meeting the match at the line of scrimmage, which is why young defensive ends Brandon Deaderick (rookie) and Ron Brace (2nd year) are important players to watch alongside Vince Wilfork.
3. The Patriots are 5-0 when they are on the plus side of the turnover differential this season, and 1-2 when on the negative side.
4. One leftover nugget from Bill Belichick's appearance on the SIRIUS XM talk show, "Basketball and Beyond with Coach K" with Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, came when Belichick talked about Tom Brady and the importance of the quarterback position in the NFL. "I think what it comes down to is the decision-making by the quarterback. If 60 percent of your plays are pass plays, which is about normal in this league, that's 60 percent of the decisions that are being made. If that player can make good decisions and execute the plays properly, as well as manage the team -- timeouts, end-of-the-game situations, making audibles at the line of scrimmage when a play we have called is going to run into a bad situation -- those decisions are so critical to the success of your entire football team."
5. In his first week with the Jaguars, former Patriots cornerback Terrence Wheatley was inactive in today's game against the Texans.
6. Offensive lineman Joe Andruzzi, who played for the Patriots from 2000-2004, will receive a special award for his achievements Tuesday at the Hockomock Area YMCA’s fifth annual Legends Ball, held at Christina’s in Foxborough. Patriots left tackle Matt Light, among other teammates, are scheduled to be in attendance, with proceeds benefiting the Hockomock Area YMCAs Integration Initiative for families of children with special needs. Those interested in attending can do so by calling 508-643-5225, or by visiting the YMCAs website at www.hockymca.org.
7. A tip of the cap to editor in chief/publisher Fred Kirsch and his staff at Patriots Football Weekly, who published their 500th issue this week.