Weds Presser By Belichick Has the Answer
While it wasn’t easy and not as pretty as skeptics would have liked, the Patriots took care of business on Sunday in Pittsburgh winning 27-16. In doing so, Tom Brady ran his record to 9-2 against the Steelers and the Patriots maintained their top spot in the AFC.
With Pittsburgh playing in a nickel defense most of the game, the Patriots turned to their power running game and LeGarrett Blount. The big running back had his best game of the season rushing 24 times for 127 yards and two touchdowns. Tom Brady only threw 26 passes on the day, completing 19 for 222 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Rob Gronkowski caught four passes for 93 yards and a touchdown.
The Patriots and Tom Brady have continued to have their way over the Pittsburgh defense for the past decade plus. And some of the most strident Steel City pundits, led by the Pittsburgh Post and Gazette that loves to inflame the mouth-breathing sector of the populace there with tales of cheating and nefarious doings by Belichick et al.
This week’s Tailgate video segment asked, “Who’s the Biggest Cheater, Brady or Belichick?” One can imagine the comments associated with it. But the reason why New England and Brady continues to eviscerate the Steelers, seemingly at will, has nothing to do with any cheating, filming or illegal activity. It has everything to do with the Steelers themselves.
It is simple really, the Steelers defense hasn’t changed in the past 25 years. Bill Belichick in his Wednesday presser spoke glowingly about the Pittsburgh organization, the respect he has for them, their continuity and their continued success. But in his talk to the media, he said something that is very interesting.
“They haven’t really changed defenses much over that same quarter of a century – so as a scout, I mean I could scout for the Steelers,” Belichick said.
“I mean I’ve seen them, they do the same thing, they stay with it [emphasis mine], so you know what kind of players they’re looking for at each positon. They build up, they have a very extensive scheme through their continuity so they do quite a bit in terms of the volume of their plays that you have to defend but they can do them because they’ve been doing them over and over again and they have a lot of the same guys doing them.”
So, instead of looking at stealing signs or in the case of DC Keith Butler, worrying about illegal formations, the Patriots do know what the defense is going to do, because they haven’t changed it up at all. It is called preparation. In his last six games against Pittsburgh, Brady has thrown 20 touchdowns and zero interceptions.
This one was a tough, hard-fought affair, it seemed early like the Patriots were going to cruise easily, they had a pair of very impressive drives, the first after a Malcolm Butler interception in the end zone, went 13-plays for 80 yards with Brady hitting James White on a screen pass that went 19 yards for the touchdown.
The second which started late in the first quarter and carried over into the early moments of the second was a surgical drive where Brady mixed things up beautifully and went 11-plays for 74 yards. Blount finished it off with a three-yard touchdown run to make it 14-0.
The Steelers would answer as Landry Jones, filling in for an injured Ben Roethlisberger hit Antonio Brown on a beautifully thrown deep ball for 51 yards getting them in position. He followed it up with an equally nice pass in the corner of the end zone to Darrius Heyward-Bey for a 14-yard touchdown.
The Patriots had an easy first down dropped by Brandon Bolden on the ensuing series followed by a horribly shanked punt by Ryan Allen that went for just 25 yards. The Pats caught a break when Chris Boswell’s 42-yard field goal attempt went wide right.
But the Steeler would scratch and crawl their way back to 14-13 in the third quarter and the game hung in the balance. While fans were bemoaning the play of the secondary, that isn’t giving the Steelers talented group of wide receivers their due.
They’re as deep at WR and RB as any team in the league, and the duo of Antonio Brown and RB La’Veon Bell are as dangerous a tandem as there is in the NFL. Bell ran for 81 yards on 21 carries and added 68 yards on 10 catches. The Patriots opted to not go after Jones much, intent on making him earn it, down the field in smaller chunks and trying to frustrate the young QB and stop him in the red zone.
They frequently brought only three pass rushers dropping defenders into coverage. Again, while it wasn’t always pretty, it was effective, Pittsburgh found the end zone only once in four tries and was held to just 16 points. The red zone and third down defense were much better on Sunday. However, the pass rush has to do a much better job, moving forward.
So, with the game now a one-point affair, and the crowd now loud, the Patriots showed some mental toughness. Brady led them on a very impressive 5-play, 75-yard drive that featured a nice 25-yard run by Blount. It was capped off with the Pats facing a 3rd and 7, Brady found Gronkowski down the seam and threw a dime that went for a 36-yard touchdown to put the Pats up 20-13 after Stephen Gostkowski shanked another extra point.
The Steelers drove for another field goal to narrow it to 20-16 but once again Brady and the offense answered the bell. They drove another 75 yards in just six plays to put the game away with a touchdown making it 27-16.
Brady hit Gronkowski on a 37-yard pass where the defender Robert Golden got burnt going inside while Gronk cut back to the outside. He rumbled down to the 5 where Blount powered it in for his second score of the game.
Julian Edelman showed signs of breaking out this week, he looked much more like the Edelman we’ve come to expect, catching 9 passes for 60 yards. Doing the dirty work underneath, frequently on short crossing routes, the Patriots frequently isolated him on a linebacker which is a win for the short passing game. He did have a drop and a fumble on a punt return.
Special teams didn’t have a great day, Gostkowski’s miss, Allen had the shanked punt and the kickoff coverage unit, for the first time didn’t hold the opponent deep in their end, with the Steelers doing a good job on their returns.
Malcolm Butler locked up with Brown all day and was very competitive. Brown did have the 51-yard reception and ended up with seven catches for 106 yards. But Butler had three pass breakups and the interception. Overall it was a pretty good day for the third-year corner who made his first NFL start just a year ago against the Steelers.
With the nickel corner position still in flux, the Patriots started Eric Rowe opposite Butler and moved Logan Ryan into the slot. Rowe is the biggest corner on the team and they matched him up with Heyward-Bey frequently.
Jamie Collins returned to the lineup and had eight tackles. He, along with help from others, tried to keep the elusive Bell from making too big a splash in the game. He looked like he was suffering no ill effects from his hip injury that kept him out of last week’s game.
Blount had a very solid game against his former teammates. With the Steelers flooding the short zones trying to keep Brady from shredding them once again, Blount made them pay. He and Bell who remain, close friends, exchanged jerseys after the game.
With the win, the Patriots move to 6-1, the move two games ahead of the Steelers in the AFC, and even at this early juncture, this was a game that could have implications down the road in January. They also moved two games ahead of Buffalo in the division. The Bills lost in Miami as Jay Ajayi ran for another 200-yard day.
So, while it wasn’t particularly pretty or perfect, the day worked out well for the Patriots. They improved to 3-0 on the road and now, we’re on to Buffalo.
Posted Under: Patriots Commentary
Tags: 2016 NFL Season 2016 Patriots season Antonio Brown Ben Roethlisberger Bill Belichick Jabaal Sheard Julian Edelman La'Veon Bell LaGarrette Blount Landry Jones Malcolm Butler New England Patriots NFL Patriots Patriots edge rushers Pittsburgh Steelers Rex Ryan Rob Gronkowski Rob Ninkovich Tom Brady