Tag Archives: Ben Roethlisberger

Patriots Week 1 Report Card, All Systems Go in Blowout Win Over the Steelers

Steve Balestrieri
September 9, 2019 at 11:47 am ET

  The Patriots didn’t show any effects of having a Super Bowl hangover, an aging roster, or facing the last team to beat them, the Pittsburgh Steelers on opening night. The Patriots dominated the Steelers again at home from start to finish in a very impressive win to kickstart the 2019 season.

They looked like a much better-prepared team than their opponents, who after beating the Patriots last December, were looking to erase a lot of bad history when they play the Patriots on the road. Ben Roethlisberger’s only win in Gillette came in 2008, against Matt Cassel as that was the year that Tom Brady blew out his knee in Week 1. 

The Patriots coaches put together a superb game plan and the players executed to near flawless perfection. This was a tremendous win to start the 2019 season, as we’re off and running.  

So, check out our grades and see how the team fared in this week’s close win.

Quarterback: A

Tom Brady, was in midseason form last night as he methodically and surgically picked apart the Steelers’ defense as he’s done so many times in the past  Brady was sharp, slid well in the pocket and was able to manipulate the safeties with his eyes as the offense rolled up 465 yards of offense.

Brady finished 24-36 for 341 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. He spread the ball around to a number of different receivers and backs, and Pittsburgh had no answers for. 

His best throw was a dime to Phillip Dorsett for a 25-yard touchdown that was perfectly placed down the seam. Later he Dorsett again for a 52-yard touchdown where the WR was all alone. Dave Brown from the Concord Monitor referenced the hot take artists with his call of “Brady’s macaroni elbow was supposed to be the downfall of this team.” That is classic!

Running Backs: A-

The Patriots running backs were pegged by us as a key component to beating the Steelers last night. We thought they’d have to run the ball effectively and factor out of the backfield into the passing game. They did just that. Running out of a heavy set early, they picked up a couple of first downs before spreading the defense out and picking them apart. 

James White and Rex Burkhead were both outstanding in this game, each combining for over 80+ yards on the ground and in the air. White had 5 catches for 56 yards and added 26 more on the ground. Burkhead also had five catches for 41 yards and he added 44 yards on the ground. The team also got Brandon Bolden involved early, the do-everything back had an early carry for seven yards. 

The only downside was that the team couldn’t get Sony Michel involved effectively. The Steelers made a concerted effort to make other backs beat them and Michel was frequently hit in the backfield. He had only 14 yards on 15 carries. 

Wide Receivers: A

Questions, questions, questions about this group before the game last night. Not a peep this morning. The starting trio of Julian Edelman, Phillip Dorsett, and Josh Gordon was terrific last night. The trio combined for  13 catches and 251 yards with three touchdowns.

Combined with the game the backs had out of the backfield, Brady just spread the wealth around nearly equally and the Steelers had no answer. Phillip Dorsett had four catches for 95 yards with two touchdowns [25 and 52], while Gordon had just three catches but for 73 yards and a score. His 20-yarder shows how difficult he can be in the open field to take down and he and Brady combined for a 44-yard bomb later in the game.

Julian Edelman looked in mid-season form, doing the dirty work underneath and across the middle and being a pain in the backside to anyone trying to cover him. He’s virtually uncoverable at times off the line and showed zero signs of the thumb ailment. Edelman had six catches for 83 yards. He had one carry for eight yards. 

Jakobi Meyers played only a handful of snaps but had a nice 22-yard reception where he took a big hit, was able to hold onto the ball and get yards after contact. The Patriots perimeter receivers averaged 23.75 yards per reception last night. Dink and Dunk? And they played without Demaryius Thomas, Antonio Brown, and rookie N’Keal Harry. Let that sink in a second.

Tight Ends: B-

Rob Gronkowski is retired and everyone wants to know “Who replaces Gronk?” The short answer….the wide receivers and backs. James Develin and Ryan Izzo did a good job in the running game but they didn’t contribute much in the passing game. Izzo had one catch for three yards

They should receive a boost if Matt LaCosse is able to go in Miami but I wouldn’t expect bigger things from them until Ben Watson returns.

Offensive Line: A-

The offensive line was a big question mark coming into this game. Isaiah Wynn was playing in his first NFL game and Ted Karras was starting for David Andrews at center after the veteran went on IR. It is safe to say they aced their first test.

Facing a very good Steelers front seven that led the league in sacks a year ago, Brady was able to operate clean virtually the entire game. Overall, the pass protection was excellent. The run blocking was good but not great, but one should remember that Pittsburgh was the sixth-best team against the run last year. 

One thing to monitor is the status of Marcus Cannon who left the game with a shoulder injury and was seen with his arm in a sling. That could be a big loss if he’s out for an extended period of time.

Defensive Line: B

The defensive line was outstanding against the run, limiting the Steelers to just 32 yards on the ground. James Conner had just 21 yards on 10 carries. Jaylen Samuels had a pair of carries for four yards. Last year Samuels had 142 yards in the game at Pittsburgh. The linemen were holding at the point of attack and allowing the linebackers to make plays.

The only downside was the pass rush against that outstanding Steelers offensive line was negligible. The only sack by Deatrich Wise, where he stripped Roethlisberger of the ball was more of a coverage sack than anything else. But an overall very strong effort.

Linebackers: A-

The Patriots linebackers were excellent last night. They filled the gaps in the running game, got some QB pressure and covered the backs well out of the backfield. The defense allowed just 87 yards and four first downs in the first half. 

Dont’a Hightower, Jamie Collins, and Ja’Whaun Bentley were never out of position and consistently disrupting plays. With the top receivers blanketed, Ben Roethlisberger was looking for his secondary targets, and the linebackers helped shut those down as well. 

The front seven was suffocating, Roethlisberger was 27-47 for 277 yards and one interception. Many of those yards came with garbage time drives. He simply had no where to go and no one to throw to.

And their arguably best playmaker, Kyle Van Noy was inactive as his wife was having a baby on Sunday night. Van Noy was watching, however, and tweeted out “How about that defense?!?!?!?!? Them boys hungraaaayyyyyy!! My guys!!!!”

Secondary: A

The secondary has been a source of tremendous optimism since the spring. And they had a fantastic game against a fast and potent Pittsburgh offense. This secondary was lights out and taking away everything the Steelers tried to do. 

Stephon Gilmore was tasked with shadowing JuJu Smith-Schuster and took him out of the game. Don’t be fooled by some meaningless catches long after the game was decided, Gilmore easily won this matchup. Jonathan Jones was terrific in the slot. Jason McCourty similarly was very solid except for one deep pass to James Washington where he inexplicably pulled up, which resulted in a 45-yard completion.

Pat Chung was outstanding and took Vance McDonald out of the equation as well as providing excellent run support down low in the box. Devin McCourty had the only interception of the game. 

Special Teams: A-

The Special Teams had a very solid night. Stephen Gostkowski was a perfect three for three on extra points and four for four on field goal attempts. No issues were detected on the holds for his kicks with new punter Jake Bailey which had been an issue during the preseason. Bailey had one booming punt, one short one and one so-so punt. 

Gunner Olszewski had two punt returns, one for 20 yards and the other for 15 and looks very solid in the return game. The coverage units were solid

Coaches: A

The Patriots coaching staff totally dominated the matchup with Mike Tomlin and his staff. Josh McDaniels had a tremendous game plan, going at times with “20 personnel” [2 RBs, 0 TEs, 3WRs] to make up for the loss of Gronkowski. He constantly kept the Steelers guessing and defensively the plan was to take away Smith-Schuster and make the Steelers beat them with other options. It worked to a tee.

Bill Belichick had the team excellently prepared and it was clear, the preparation on the Patriots side paid big dividends. We’re on to Miami.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news.

6 Thoughts Following the Patriots Win Over the Steelers

Ian Logue
at 10:05 am ET

The Patriots got off to a solid start on Sunday night, making a statement in front of the home crowd after embarrassing the Steelers with a 33-3 win at Gillette Stadium. Here are some thoughts on the victory as New England gets off to a 1-0 start to begin the 2019 season.

1) With or without Antonio Brown, at 42-years old, Tom Brady certainly didn’t show any signs of a drop off to kickoff the season after putting together an impressive outing. Brady threw the football Sunday night about as good as we’ve ever seen him, hitting throws from pretty much every distance on the field, including two long bombs, one of which was an impressive 58-yard strike to Phillip Dorsett that delivered the knockout blow early in the 3rd quarter after it put the Patriots up 27-3. That came just 4-plays after the Steelers, trailing 20-3, fought their way down to New England’s one-yard line, only to settle for a field goal.

It was a nice start for Brady, who finished the night with over 300-yards passing, the 88th time in his career he’s reached that mark. He also completed passes to 7 different receivers. Needless to say, teams around the league should be concerned that New England is about to add Brown to an offense that put up over 30-points on opening night and only appears to be just getting started.

2) Given the amount of talent that Pittsburgh has offensively, you can’t say enough about how well New England’s defense played in this game. They were disruptive all night, getting pressure on Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and they also didn’t show any mercy with Pittsburgh’s ground game, holding the Steelers to just 2.5-yards per carry. But one of the most impressive stats of the night was the fact that they held the Steelers to just five carries of over 3-yards.

The tackling was one of the most impressive aspects of the game, with each of New England’s defensive players really doing a terrific job. There really wasn’t a play all night where a Patriots defender didn’t immediately wrap up and they made some big tackles in key moments, stopping the Steelers for either no gain or a loss on 3 plays, including twice on third down.

As good as the offense was, it was good to see such a terrific performance on that side of the football and one they’ll hopefully continue building on in the weeks to come.


Dorsett had a solid night for the Patriots.

3) Phillip Dorsett has been one of the most reliable receivers for Tom Brady in New England’s offense since he joined the team and Sunday night was another reminder of how valuable Dorsett is to this football team.

One of the interesting aspects for Dorsett is the fact that 2018 saw somewhat of a transformation in his targets, with the veteran receiver really improving on the perimeter part of his game. Prior to last season, one of the knocks on Dorsett was the fact he was often targeted by Brady primarily on deep attempts downfield, which didn’t see the two players have quite the success that they probably hoped for very often. However, Dorsett was used in a larger variety of routes last season, which ended up making him a much more dangerous target offensively.

To take it a step further, the precision in which Brady has found him has been pretty impressive. Brady was a perfect 4-of-4 targeting him last night for 95-yards, including two touchdowns. He’s actually got a solid streak with Dorsett which, not counting the postseason, started in last year’s outing against the Colts in Week 5. Brady finished last year’s regular-season 15-of-15 targeting Dorsett and last night’s performance extends their regular-season streak to 19-of-19.

Needless to say, in a stable of receivers that is pretty crowded at this point, Dorsett continues to make himself a valuable asset. Last night was another reminder of how far he’s come and it’s certainly been fun watching him evolve into such a lethal weapon for Brady and the offense.

4) One of the biggest things that stood out last night was the success the Patriots had on early downs, with Brady doing most of his damage on first down. Brady was 16-of-18 (89%) for 180-yards and two touchdowns against the Steelers’ defense on first down alone, which mixed things up and kept Pittsburgh off-balance.

Between the success Brady had, along with the fact they did a good job running the football, it made life difficult for a Steelers team that never really figured it out. It also left them vulnerable because it opened up opportunities for Brady to hit some deep plays, with the quarterback hitting on a combined five plays of 20+ yards on first and second down.

That success was one of the key reasons why they were able to take control of this one early and play the game on their terms as they got up early on Pittsburgh and never looked back.


Jason McCourty rebounded nicely after giving up a big play.

5) For the Patriots, the only real bad play of the night came on a 45-yard strike from Roethlisberger to receiver James Washington to begin the 3rd quarter. Trailing 20-3, the Steelers appeared to be on the verge of getting back into the game after Washington got behind cornerback Jason McCourty and pulled away, putting the Steelers at New England’s 18-yard line.

It was a frustrating play as McCourty wasn’t able to close on Washington and it appeared as though it could have been a costly miscue. Instead, after getting down to the one-yard line, New England’s defense kept the pressure on and forced Pittsburgh to settle for the field goal, ending the potential scoring threat.

Either way, credit McCourty for shaking it off because he came back and made a terrific play on the next snap against Donte Moncrief and it didn’t affect him the rest of the game. The veteran cornerback put it behind him and continued making plays, playing a key role in holding Moncrief to 3 receptions on a team-high 10 targets for Pittsburgh as the Patriots defense continued the relentless stranglehold they had on the Steelers’ offense.

6) There’s no way to finish this out without giving plenty of credit to Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski, who quietly finished with a terrific performance.

After a shaky preseason, which also included the transition to a new holder in new punter Jake Bailey, Gostkowski looked back to his old self Sunday night. The veteran went out and drilled all four of his field-goal attempts, hitting kicks of 25, 41, 35 and 39-yards respectively, accounting for 12 of the team’s 33-points.

There was never any doubt in any of his attempts, all of which hit right down the middle. It’s a nice start for a player who last season was a perfect 21/21 from 20-39 yards, with just two misses from 40-49 yards during the regular season, while hitting 2/5 from 50+. He also hit 4/5 during the postseason.

It was obvious in the preseason that working out the kinks was a focus and Sunday night was about as perfect as you could have asked for. In a game where their execution was pretty solid all the way around, Gostkowski certainly did his part in New England’s blowout win.

The Patriots will now spend the week getting ready to travel to Miami to take on the Dolphins next Sunday afternoon.

Patriots Drop Banner #6, Throttle Steelers 33-3, Observations

Steve Balestrieri
at 7:21 am ET

Saying the New England Patriots got off to a good start in 2019 is an understatement. The night began with the team unveiling its sixth Super Bowl banner and then absolutely dismantling the Pittsburgh Steelers by a 33-3 that was every bit as dominant as the score would indicate.

We entered the season just a few hours ago with questions about the offensive line, and how the offense would gel with a wide receiver core that didn’t get a lot of practice time with Tom Brady. Demaryius Thomas and Damien Harris sat this one out with injuries but the remaining cast members were outstanding as the Patriots rolled up 465 yards of offense. 

Isaiah Wynn and Ted Karras both handled their duties excellently as these two were under the microscope going against a very good Pittsburgh front seven that led the league in sacks a year ago. Karras’ shotgun snaps [as many commented on during the game] were fluttering to Brady and while it didn’t set back the offense a bit but it is something that will have to be worked on. 

With aggressive play-calling by Josh McDaniels, the Steelers were reeling almost from the outset and the receivers looked in mid-season form. Pittsburgh had no answer for the Patriots backs out of the backfield while Tom Brady absolutely picked them apart, something he’s done to Pittsburgh every time they’ve played in Foxboro.

Brady finished the night 24-36 for 341 yards with three touchdowns. 

The Patriots defense, which we’ve been excited about all summer long looked as dominant as hoped for. Pittsburgh was unable to mount any kind of sustained offense. Stephon Gilmore rendered the dangerous JuJu Smith-Schuster to an afterthought and forced Ben Roethlisberger to be constantly having to look at his second and third options. Pittsburgh’s ground game was held to just 32 yards, while the Steelers passing game piled up a bunch of garbage time yardage, they were frustrated all night long.

Other observations from tonight’s win include:

Josh McDaniels Play-calling – McDaniels had an aggressive game plan and the players executed it to near perfection. The Patriots ate the Steelers alive with quick throws, utilizing shallow crosses underneath which allowed the receivers to make yards after the catch. Pittsburgh beefed up the middle of their defense this year, but at least for tonight, they didn’t look like they were ready for the Patriots passing game. 

McDaniels dusted off the double pass from Julian Edelman to James White which had blockers out front and netted the team a huge 32-yard gain that set up the first touchdown. Whenever the Patriots spread the Steelers out, they were able to find open receivers all night long. 

Brady Razor Sharp – Rust? Is Father Time catching up? Not any time yet. Brady was methodical in his approach and surgical with his precision, something he’s done to Pittsburgh time and again in the friendly confines of Gillette Stadium. 

Brady’s best throw was a perfectly thrown ball right down the seam, a laser to Phillip Dorsett for a 25-yard touchdown. He put it in just the right place in a tight window for an easy score. Later in the second half, Brady uncorked a 52-yard strike to Dorsett for another easy touchdown when the deep safety blew the coverage and left the middle of the field wide open. With a national audience watching, Brady looked in vintage form. 

Phillip Dorsett – Speaking of Dorsett, he’s often the forgotten man among the Patriots offensive playmakers. But tonight, he made the Steelers remember his name. He had four catches for 95 yards including two TDs [25, 52], and was a thorn in the secondary’s backside considering how many other players they had to cover. 

The last 20 passes that Brady has attempted to Dorsett, dating back to last season have all been completions. Think about that for a second. 

Josh Gordon – The troubled but uber-talented wide receiver was reinstated by the league just a few weeks ago but he too appears in mid-season form. Gordon has had good success against Pittsburgh in the past and tonight was no exception. 

Gordon had three catches for 73 yards and included in that was a very impressive 20-yard touchdown where Gordon ran a crosser, broke tackles and powered his way into the end zone. Later, with the Patriots backed up in their own end, he and Brady connected with a 44-yard bomb right down the middle of the field. 

James White/Rex Burkhead – On a night where the Steelers front seven bottled up and rendered Sony Michel ineffective, White and Burkhead constantly gashed the Steelers in both the running and passing games. 

White had five catches for 56 yards and added 26 more on the ground in just four carries. Burkhead had 44 yards on eight carries and added five catches out of the backfield for 41 more. The versatility and the ability to spread the wealth around bodes very well for games down the road. 

The Secondary is Outstanding – We’ve been beating the drum for this secondary all summer and tonight was a prime example of how good this group can be. They picked right back up where they left off from the Super Bowl. After holding the Rams to just three points, that was all the Steelers’ offense could muster tonight. 

Stephon Gilmore neutralized Smith-Schuster all night long and on every big down, blanketed him like a glove forcing Ben Roethlisberger to look elsewhere. Smith-Schuster had a few catches in garbage time that made his numbers look better than the night he had overall.

Jonathan Jones, fresh off signing a long-term extension was brilliant in the slot, taking away the Steelers’ second options. He’s tough, physical and has excellent speed. Pat Chung was also outstanding, putting Vance McDonald, [someone we pegged as a possible safety blanket for Roethlisberger in our pregame] on a milk carton until the final drive of the game when he caught two meaningless passes. 

Julian Edelman – Hurt thumb? No worries here. Lost in all of the hoopla with the rest of the offensive weapons was the fact that Edelman was his normal uncoverable self tonight, doing all of the dirty work across the middle of the field. 

On the national broadcast, Chris Collinsworth called Edelman “fearless” as he knows he’s going to get tattooed with many of his catches. But it never stops him from completing his routes. With the offense spreading the wealth, Edelman had six catches [team high] for 83 yards. 

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The running game wasn’t as sharp as they had hoped, Michel had only 14 yards on 15 carries. They didn’t finish drives and had to settle for FGs. The pass rush didn’t generate much pressure on Roethlisberger [one sack]. So, the coaching staff will have plenty to pick apart in the film sessions to hammer home the point that they still have a long way to go. But it was a heckuva start.

Consider this, the offense looked as good as it did and they still didn’t have Demaryius Thomas, Damien Harris, and Antonio Brown, who signed with the team on Saturday…just in case you were on Mars over the weekend and hadn’t heard. 

Arguably their best playmaker on defense, Kyle Van Noy missed the game due to the birth of his child tonight [we hope everyone is fine], So, this wasn’t even a fully-loaded roster. 

The march to be “Knockin’ on Seven’s Door” began in earnest tonight and put the rest of the league on notice… the Patriots are back and don’t look like they’re going anywhere any time soon. 

We’re on to Miami.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and myself from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news and game analysis.

Patriots Players To Watch, Week 1 Against the Steelers

Steve Balestrieri
September 6, 2019 at 7:20 am ET

The NFL regular season is back and judging from the game tonight between the Packers and Bears, Thursday Night Football is in mid-season form. However, the Patriots and Steelers are set to kick off the Sunday Night Football season with what we hope is a much better product. 

The first game of the season is always the toughest to get a great feel for because of so many of the starting players from either team barely played during the preseason. The offensive and defensive top units get only a cameo on the field. 

But there are some players that we feel must step up for the team to be successful. With that in mind here are our Patriots players that we will be watching closely on Sunday night in the game against the Steelers. 

Isaiah Wynn/Ted Karras:

Wynn was the Patriots top draft choice a year ago but suffered an injury in training camp which forced him to miss his entire rookie season. The Patriots eased him back on to the field and limited his reps until they felt he was really ready to go. He’s now protecting Tom Brady’s blindside at left tackle. 

His conditioning will be an area to monitor as the game moves forward. Wynn will have his work cut out for him, the Steelers strength defensively is in their front seven. Wynn will probably draw a lot of Cam Heyward in this one. A very tough first test. 

Karras has been a trusted but backup interior offensive lineman for the past few years. With David Andrews out for the season after suffering a blood clot in his lung during the preseason, Karras is now the Patriots starting center. 

Now he’ll have to hold up inside and make all the right calls when it comes to protection. Look for the Steelers to test him right away by bringing A-gap pressure and blitzes to try and force the issue. Like Wynn, this is a big test for him in Week 1.

Sony Michel: 

The Patriots other 1st round draft pick from a year ago is coming off a solid rookie season along with an outstanding playoff run where he posted over 300 yards and six touchdowns during the Super Bowl run. 

Michel looked like the Georgia-version of himself this summer, explosive, with excellent vision and the ability to make plays at the second level. With some questions along the offensive line and Tom Brady’s receiving core, the running back position will be leaned on heavily in the early going this season. And that begins with Michel. They need to get a solid production night from Michel and all of the backs in this one, which should help in getting the rest of the offense untracked.

The Patriots are attempting to get Michel more involved in the passing game, they were trying to get he and rookie Damien Harris involved all summer. James White and Rex Burkhead have always had that versatility, but if they can get the two younger players more involved, especially Michel, it will make the offense difficult to stop.

Jamie Collins:

Truth be told, we weren’t fans of the idea of bringing back Collins this year, but thus far, he’s proven to be a really big addition. The Patriots jettisoned him in 2016 for a third-round draft pick, but after getting paid by the Browns, Collins is back with the Patriots on a modest deal.

The linebacker position is deep with Collins, Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, Elandon Roberts and last year’s rookie Ja’Whaun Bentley who flashed early but was injured early in the season and lost to IR. 

Collins’ athleticism and versatility were on full display this summer and he could be a really valuable chess piece for the defense in 2019. We’re looking for him to play a big role in the game plan as they try to move him around and try to disrupt things with the Steelers offense. 

Julian Edelman:

The Super Bowl LIII MVP was looking good this spring and seemed poised to pick right up where he left off in February. But then he injured his left thumb in the time before training camp and missed nearly all of it and the preseason.  

Edelman didn’t appear until the final preseason game against the Giants. He played in only one series and caught a 20-yard pass. But in going to the ground, he appeared to fall on the injured thumb and came off the field shaking it. The team stated that it wasn’t reinjured but just a scare and he should be ready to go for the opener.

Edelman has always had tremendous chemistry with Brady. They’ll need that on Sunday night since neither Josh Gordon [suspended] or Demaryius Thomas [injured] was able to spend much time with Brady during the end of camp. Look for Brady to look for his favorite target early and often in this one. 

Michael Bennett: 

Remember him? With all of the talk surrounding the OL and WRs lately, Bennett has been relegated to nearly an afterthought around these parts.  After Trey Flowers got a huge payday from the Lions, many questioned where the pass rush was going to come from. The team swung a deal for Bennett, who was second on the Eagles in sacks with nine in 2018. 

Bennett had a tremendous summer and dominated in one-on-ones during both training camp and the joint practices. Although he’s getting up there in age, there doesn’t seem to be any dropoff in his level of play. And like several other players in the front seven, he has the versatility to move around and create favorable matchups for the defense.

Look for the Patriots to try to ease Bennett’s workload a bit in the early going to bring some pressure on Ben Roethlisberger. I see Bill Belichick and the coaching staff using Bennett a lot this year from an interior position and try to collapse the pocket. 

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Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and myself from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news.

Patriots-Steelers Wk 1 Key Matchups, Who Has the Razor’s Edge?

Steve Balestrieri
September 5, 2019 at 9:10 am ET

The Patriots begin their 2019 regular season with a very familiar foe as they take on the Pittsburgh Steelers at Gillette Stadium for the first Sunday Night Football broadcast of the year. Prior to kickoff, the team will unfurl their sixth Super Bowl banner as only the Patriots and Steelers have won as many Lombardi Trophies during the SB era.

This week’s game will be broadcast by NBC 10 in Boston. Al Michaels will handle the play-by-play with Cris Collinsworth doing the color commentary while Tracy Wolfson will work the sidelines. The game will also be aired on the Patriots flagship radio station 98.5 The Sports Hub with Bob Socci and Scott Zolak on the call, produced by Marc Capello.

The Patriots (11-5) are coming off last year’s Super Bowl win over the Rams after beating the Chargers at home in the divisional round and the Chiefs on the road in a dramatic overtime win.

The Steelers (9-6-1) had another late 4th quarter comeback and pulled off a dramatic 39-38 win over the Baltima disappointing 2018 where they missed the playoffs and finished second in the division to the Ravens.

We here at PatsFans.com are continuing our “Razor’s Edge” column in 2019 to give some quick analysis on some of the key matchups of the game and what you can look for in how the game plays out.

Series History:

The Patriots and Steelers are meeting for the 33rd time where the teams are tied 16-16 overall. Pittsburgh owns a 15-12 advantage in the regular season while the Patriots own a 4-1 advantage in the postseason. However, during the Bill Belichick era the Patriots are 11-4 against the Steelers and have won the last five meetings in Gillette Stadium. 

Here is a look at some of the key matchups and who holds the Razor’s Edge.

First up is the Patriots offense:

Patriots RBs vs Steelers Front Seven – Razor’s Edge New England

The Patriots running game should be a key strength of the team moving forward in 2019, as they were fifth in the NFL in rushing a year ago. Sony Michel looked strong in his only preseason cameo and is backed up by James White, Rex Burkhead, Brandon Bolden, fullback James Develin and rookie Damien Harris. They have depth and versatility here to be very effective. 

The offensive line took a big hit when center David Andrews was placed on IR with a blood clot in his lung. Ted Karras takes over and he’ll be a focal point in both the run game and in pass protection. Isaiah Wynn, last year’s top draft pick takes over at left tackle and will be playing in his first NFL game

The Steelers were stout against the run in 2018 finishing 6th best. It starts up front with Stephon Tuitt, Cameron Heyward, and Javon Hargrave who stop things at the point of attack which allows the linebackers to clean up and make plays. 

Look for a lot of two-back sets as the Patriots will try to move the defense around and hit them with runs between the tackles. Michel, Burkhead, and Harris should see plenty of play here. Develin will play a key role as he may line up as a TE or H-back in some of the different formations. 

Patriots WRs vs Steelers Secondary – Razor’s Edge Pittsburgh

The Patriots passing game on paper looks daunting for opponents to stop. Josh Gordon and Demaryius Thomas have traditionally given the Steelers trouble in the past. But those two and Julian Edelman had virtually no training camp reps and very little preseason action. Their timing with Tom Brady, may not be as crisp as they want on Sunday night. Phillip Dorsett was the only WR to get a lot of time working with Brady this summer. He may see a lot of snaps here.

James White, Burkhead, and Harris may see plenty of reps in the passing game as well. This was an area that the Patriots tried to attack during the December game last year. But the Steelers defended it well holding White, Burkhead, and Develin to 10 catches for 61 yards. They are better suited now to counter those moves with rookie Devin Bush and Mark Barron who they signed from the Rams.

The Steelers led the league with 52 sacks a year ago. They are more than capable of bringing pressure right up the middle which doesn’t allow Brady to step up and slide in the pocket. This will be a key area to watch. With Joe Haden and Steven Nelson at the corner, the Pittsburgh defense can play more man coverage than the Tampa 2 zones which Brady has traditionally eviscerated, especially in Foxboro. 

Next up the Pittsburgh offense:

Steelers RBs vs NE Front Seven – Razor’s Edge New England

The Steelers replaced Le’Veon Bell with James Conner a year ago and haven’t looked back. Conner rushed for 973 yards and a dozen touchdowns in essentially 12 games and gives the offense a nice weapon running and receiving. He’s back by Jaylen Samuels who roasted the Patriots for 142 yards on the ground last December. The Pittsburgh offensive line is outstanding and always presents a tough challenge. 

The Patriots look much better prepared to stop the run this year. Danny Shelton had a very good summer. He, Lawrence Guy, and Adam Butler are the anchors inside. This allows the inside linebackers Elandon Roberts and thumper Ja’Whaun Bentley to clean up and make plays at or behind the line of scrimmage. 

The Steelers were badly skewed in the run/pass ratio a year ago, running the ball on just 33.4 percent of the time while passing 66.6 percent. So, stopping the run early will be a priority and then forcing them into a more predictable pattern. 

Steelers WRs vs NE Secondary- Razor’s Edge Pittsburgh

Ben Roethlisberger lost one of the more talented wide receivers in the league in Antonio Brown and although he may not admit it, he is probably happier for it. Brown has immense talent, he’s also an immense pain in the ass. His on-field production will be missed but the Steelers have a knack at developing quality WRs.

JuJu Smith-Schuster is the team’s go-to guy, he had 1426 yards a year ago. He’s backed by Donte Moncrief, who is now their #2, James Washington, Ryan Switzer, TE Vance McDonald as well as Samuels and Conner out of the backfield. And they drafted Diontae Johnson in this spring’s draft. 

The Patriots have plenty of cornerbacks in Stephon Gilmore, Jason McCourty, J.C. Jackson, Jonathan Jones, and rookie Joejuan Williams. It will be interesting to see who they match up with Smith-Schuster [Gilmore seems to be favorite], but we’ve seen in the past where they’ll put their 2nd corner on the top WR with safety help and then try to take away the #2 with their best coverage man. 

The Patriots pass rush, which was outstanding this summer is key here. They can’t allow Roethlisberger to extend plays and hit secondary targets down the field. But that offensive line won’t be an easy nut to crack.

Special Teams- Razor’s Edge New England

The kickers for both teams Stephen Gostkowski for New England and Chris Boswell for the Steelers had their issues a year ago. Gostkowski had some misses in the preseason which may have been an issue with going to a new holder, rookie punter Jake Bailey.

But Gostkowski is very solid and at home gives the Patriots the edge in the kicking game. It is going to be intriguing to watch Bailey in his first NFL action. He has a tremendous leg and can flip field position which is the reason he was brought here.

The return game will feature Ryan Switzer for the Steelers while it isn’t clear if Julian Edelman or rookie Gunner Olszewski will handle punt returns for the Patriots. The UDFA looked good enough to carve out a role for himself this summer. 

Next up, who wins and why…

Prediction:

Another year, another Patriots-Steelers classic. Both teams want to start the season well, something even more important to Pittsburgh as they’ve traditionally been slow starters under Mike Tomlin. The Patriots too have started slowly in September. 

The first games of the season are always the hardest to get a feel for as no one really knows how all the pieces are going to fit together once the rubber hits the road. 

Keys to the game from a Patriots perspective:

Run the Ball Effectively, Especially Early: The Patriots are going to lean on the ground game and with the passing attack trying to find their feet, it is especially true early this season. The offense has to get into third and manageable situations in this game. Pittsburgh’s defense has a lot of speed and can get after the QB. Third and long situations play right into their ability to get after it. 

Therefore, Michel and Burkhead will be key players to watch in this one. If they can keep the chains moving and the defense on the field, it will slow the pass rush and possibly wear them down in the second half where conditioning may play a part. No one has played an entire game during the preseason. Then the passing game may start having more success with Brady having more time to throw. Pre-snap penalties? Last year in Pittsburgh, they had far too many…can’t have it.

Third Down Defense is Key This Week: The Patriots are going to try to take away Smith-Schuster and force Ben Roethlisberger to look elsewhere. Last year they did a pretty fair job of it, holding him to four catches for 40 yards. But with Moncrief, Washington [who had a solid game a year ago], Switzer et.al. they have a lot of weapons to bear. 

Two players to watch in this one are Vance McDonald and Samuels. It would easy to see both of them becoming very valuable third-down targets this year with Brown gone. And consequently, it will be important for the Patriots to play solidly on third down and get off the field. 

Jamie Collins is a key player to watch this week. The Patriots brought him back this spring and he’s got the ability to be a huge chess piece that they can move around and influence the play.  

Finish Drives: Against the Steelers last year, the Patriots had plenty of opportunities to put points on the board and failed to do so. After a horribly blown coverage which resulted in a way too easy and early Chris Hogan touchdown, they managed three points the rest of the way. 

Finishing drives is always important but especially against this team, as you don’t want to be playing from behind with their pass rush. Brady and Josh McDaniels will have to use the big men Gordon and Thomas [if he plays], down in the red zone to take some of the routes that Gronk ran in the past. 

___________

This one won’t be as high scoring as some people think, both teams may not be executing at the level that they will later on down the road. The Steelers may have an adjustment of their own for a bit with no Brown on the field. It should be another excellent football game between two of the best teams in the past decade. The Patriots are dropping banner #6 and hold serve at home. Patriots 24-21

“Knocking on Seven’s Door” begins Sunday night

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Patriots 2019 Opponents, First Impressions of the Steelers

Steve Balestrieri
September 3, 2019 at 7:30 am ET

The NFL regular season is back. The 2019 NFL season is finally here. This is the first meaningful game for New England since the Patriots – Rams Super Bowl. Every year we begin the week with a quick overview of the Patriots opponent and this year will be no different. 

The Patriots 2019 season begins with a very familiar foe coming to Foxboro. Although the Pittsburgh Steelers reside in the AFC North, it seems like a date with Pittsburgh is slated for every year, to where the two teams are now almost in the realm of divisional opponents. With both teams being annual front-runners to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl, this one will begin with the Patriots unfurling their sixth Super Bowl banner, and the only other team to have six? The Steelers.

Last year, the Steelers rode a tremendous defensive effort and the running of Jaylen Samuels, who roasted New England’s defense for 142 yards on 19 carries to down the Patriots 17-10. That was the last game that the Patriots lost, winning their final two regular-season games against Buffalo and the Jets and then winning all three playoff contests to nail down Super Bowl LIII. 

The two teams have met 32 times and the overall series is tied 16-16. The Steelers have the edge 15-12 in the regular season while the Patriots own a 4-1 advantage in the postseason. However, the vast majority of games [22] have been played in Pittsburgh. This will be just the 11th time the two teams have met in Foxboro. Since taking over the Patriots Bill Belichick is 11-4 against the Steelers while Mike Tomlin is 3-7 against the Patriots. 

So, here are our first impressions of the Steelers of 2019:

JuJu Smith-Schuster is the Unquestioned “Go-To Guy” in the Steelers Offense:

Antonio Brown is now a Raider and LaVeon Bell is a member of the Jets. While many were predicting the demise of the Steelers’ offense with those two gone, it may end up being addition by subtraction. This summer, the Steelers training camp was all about football and none of the drama that surrounded them in recent years.  

Smith-Schuster capped off a fantastic season in 2018 with 111 catches for 1426 yards and seven touchdowns. He has developed a fantastic rapport with Ben Roethlisberger and is now clearly the top receiver on the team. He received gushing praise from Bill Belichick before the game last season that was entirely warranted. 

He and Roethlisberger can work the short or deep game depending on how the defense is lining up and he’s primed to be even better in 2019. If there is any slight concern for this season, it is without Brown on the field, Smith-Schuster should now be facing the top corners for each team. While it may make his job a little bit harder, it makes the matchups that much more intriguing. 

Lining up mainly against rookie J.C. Jackson last year, the Patriots did a good job of holding him in check [4 catches for 40 yards on 10 targets], this year, it will be intriguing to see who the Patriots matchup with Smith-Schuster. Stephon Gilmore would be the obvious choice but with James Washington, Donte Moncrief, slot receiver Ryan Switzer, and Diontae Johnson, Pittsburgh has a tremendous amount of speed outside. 

Look for More Balance This Year in Pittsburgh’s Offense:

With Bell now far in the rear-view mirror, the running game is now the sole responsibility of James Conner. Conner had a very solid 2018, appearing in 13 games with 12 starts and carried the ball 271 times for 973 yards [4.5 yard average per run] with 12 touchdowns. He was also targeted 71 times in the passing game and caught 55 for 497 yards and another touchdown. He missed the Patriots game but the Steelers, as we mentioned above gashed the run defense with Samuels.

The Steelers had the worst run/pass ratio in the league last year, throwing the ball on 66.6 percent of the plays and running just 33.4 percent of the offense plays. One of the things they look to do this season is to mix things up and run the ball a bit more to keep opposing defenses off balance. And Conner, entering his third season is primed to make that happen with little loss of offensive production. If anything, it should improve their offensive efficiency.

Conner while not a burner, has shown to be explosive, averaging a 20-yard run in every 24 carries and very reliable in the red zone. While Bell held out for a big dollar contract with the Jets, it was still less than what the Steelers had offered him. But in his last four years with the Steelers, Bell had 19 touchdowns. Conner had 12 last year alone. 

Devin Bush and Mark Barron Are Transforming the Middle of the Defense:

The middle of the field has been the kryptonite for the Steelers defense since Ryan Shazier was injured. But the Steelers addressed this area of their defense this spring. They picked up Mark Barron in free agency from the Rams, the 29-year old hybrid linebacker/safety is undersized but very athletic and can cover in sub-packages The Steelers gave him a two-year contract worth $12 million dollars. Then they moved up in the draft and selected Devin Bush, the linebacker from Michigan with the 10th pick in this year’s NFL Draft. 

Bush has impressed the man the Steelers were looking to replace in Shazier, who was severely injured in 2017. “You’ve seen the way he plays. He had 10 tackles in the first half (against the Buccaneers). Sometimes it’s hard for people to get 10 tackles in two games,” Shazier said.

“I think he’s going to make a lot of splash for us. He’s going to be a big-time player for us. I don’t want to put too many expectations on him but I know one of his goals is to win defensive MVP, and I want to do whatever I can to help him out. I think he’s not gonna be that far away from it. I think he’s gonna have a great year.”

They also added FA Steven Nelson from the Chiefs who should be an upgrade from Coty Sensabaugh and Artie Burns.

Having these playmakers on defense should help the one area that the defense really struggled with…turnovers. For a team that led the league in sacks, the secondary had only eight interceptions. Usually, those two things go hand in hand. But in 2018, they didn’t. By adding those two in the middle of the defense, look for Pittsburgh to force more picks this year.

Vance McDonald and Samuels Should Evolve Into Big 3rd Down Targets in 2019

With the loss of solid tight end Jesse James in free agency this year, [we were calling for the Patriots to show interest there], the Steelers aren’t deep at TE, but in Vance McDonald, the Steelers have a very good option to attack the middle of the field and get more looks in the offense now that Antonio Brown is in Oakland. 

McDonald had 50 catches last year, good for 610 yards and four touchdowns. He’s backed by blocking tight end Xavier Grimble and rookie Zach Gentry who the team picked up in the 5th round of the 2019 NFL Draft with the 141st overall pick. 

McDonald and Jaylen Samuels should see a big uptick in third-down snaps this year with plenty of opportunities to increase their productivity this season. I’d look for both to get lots of looks from Roethlisberger, starting on Sunday night. 

Tuzar Skipper is the Steelers Feel Good Story of the Summer:

This summer Patriots fans got behind the efforts of UDFA Gunner Olszewski, a defensive back from tiny Div.II Bemidji State who they turned into a WR/KR. Pittsburgh fans were treated to a similar story. Tuzar Skipper was a UDFA from Toledo who went for a tryout with the Kansas City Chiefs but was turned away. The Steelers invited him to tryout at their rookie minicamp and signed him to their 90-man offseason roster. 

He came into training camp at the very bottom of the depth chart but consistently impressed the coaches every day with solid play, which should also sound familiar. In his first preseason game, he registered a sack of the QB against the Buccaneers. Against the Chiefs, he added another. He finished the preseason with 5 sacks, the most in the league. 

Skipper leapfrogged several players and has earned a spot on the 53-man roster. And like Olszewski with the Patriots, he’s quickly become a fan favorite of the Steelers faithful. 

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Patriots Week 15 Report Card, Mistakes Galore In Another Ugly Loss

Steve Balestrieri
December 18, 2018 at 6:35 am ET

The Patriots road woes continued once again and the team finished the regular season on the road at a dreadful 3-5, losing their last two in particularly ugly fashion. This week’s loss against the Steelers was a continuation of that. Terrible mental mistakes, unforced errors, drops, penalties. Poor offensive line play when it counted and absolutely awful run defense.

We’ve been waiting for this team to get its act together and show who they are. It is becoming increasingly (and frustratingly) clear that this IS who they are in 2018. An inconsistent, and undisciplined group on the road. At home, this team can beat anyone. On the road, they can lose to anyone.

So, check out our grades and see how the team fared in this week’s close win.

Quarterback: B-

Tom Brady, in the grand scheme of things actually didn’t play very badly. He finished 25-36 for 279 yards with 1 TD and 1 INT. Drive killing drops by Julian Edelman and Josh Gordon on third down. Another by James White was behind him where it wasn’t a great throw by Brady but it is one White has made in the past. The interception was a pass he was trying to throw away but the pressure on him caused him to float it.

Penalties were absolute killers. On a first and goal from the 5-yard line, Sony Michel ran to the 2, but a holding call pushed them back to the 15-yard line. On a 2nd and 5 from the Pittsburgh 11-yard line on their final drive, another holding penalty on Shaq Mason pushed them back to the 21. Two passes in the end zone Gronkowski and one to Edelman sealed it.

Brady wasn’t getting his usual support on Sunday that much is for sure. But to score 10 points on a Pittsburgh defense that he’s routinely shredded for 18 years? That isn’t going to get it done.

Running Backs: C+

The Patriots running backs were ineffective running in the first half, they got it going for a short while early in the second half but being down caused them to ditch the running game and concentrate on the pass. Sony Michel (13 rushes, 59 yards, 4.5 avg), Rex Burkhead (4 rushes 25 yards, 6.3 avg.) and James White (2 carries, 12 yards) totaled up 96 yards on 19 carries, a 5.1-yard average, wasn’t bad. But they couldn’t sustain anything and of course, the holding and false start penalties were killers.

White wasn’t used much in the passing game with five catches for just 25 yards and it seemed like they went away from him late in the game. Burkhead had three catches for 18 yards and James Develin had two for 18.

Wide Receivers: D

Not a great day for the wide receivers, on the surface it appeared Julian Edelman had a really big day with seven catches for 90 yards but he had a key drop and then picked up two costly penalties. And he was at the head of the class. Chris Hogan had the huge 63-yard TD on their first possession. But then he had just one more catch for five yards the rest of the game.

Cordarrelle Patterson had three catches for 20 yards but it was the one yard that was taken away that hurt. On a third down, Patterson was stopped about four yards short of the sticks but on the second effort bulled his way to pick it up. But the play was reviewed and they moved his forward progress back to a 4th and 1 and the Patriots punted.

Josh Gordon had his worst game as a Patriot on Sunday. He had just one catch for 19 yards and he too had a very costly drop on 3rd down that was right in his hands and that killed a drive. It was the first time he’s struggled since signing with New England and came at a bad time. He was targeted just those two times and wasn’t even on the field for the final series inside the Steelers’ red zone.

Tight Ends: D-

Rob Gronkowski went from one of his better games of the season to invisible again in the passing game. The Steelers couldn’t cover Jared Cook a week ago and then Gronkowski could manage only one catch in each half. He ended up with 2 for 21 yards….nuff said.

Offensive Line: D-

The offensive line did reasonably well in spurts in the running game and they averaged 5.1 yards per rush. But they couldn’t sustain anything and in the passing game at crunch time, they folded under Pittsburgh’s pressure.

The offensive line was called for six penalties. Two of the holding calls wiped out red zone scoring opportunities. Another holding call wiped out a 25-yard run by Michel, which has happened far too often this year. Michel should have about 1100 yards rushing.

Like the defensive line, the Patriots OL gets pushed around on the road and yesterday it really cost them.

Defensive Line: F

The defensive line got decent but not great pressure on Ben Roethlisberger and notched 5 QB hits with Trey Flowers and Lawrence Guy each with two apiece…that is the good news. The bad news is that they were totally gashed by the run again.

Jaylen Samuels had just 59 yards rushing for the year before Sunday’s game. He ripped the Patriots for 142 on Sunday afternoon on just 19 carries (7.5-yard average), part of the Steelers’ 158 yards on the ground. The defensive line was manhandled at the point of attack and it has been a common occurrence in every Patriots loss this season that the DL has been dominated in the trenches.

We gave them the benefit of the doubt against the Vikings as they went to very light packages to get after the QB and stop them from passing. But Miami and Pittsburgh were two of the worst running teams in the NFL and they have combined for 347 yards rushing the past two weeks. That is a recipe for losing.  

Linebackers: C

The Patriots linebackers can share in the gaffes in run support with the defensive line. They too in run support frequently got washed out. On one play Dont’a Hightower flew up into the line and filled the wrong gap and Samuels shot into the unoccupied space for a big gain.

Kyle Van Noy got a sack when he perfectly anticipated the snap and blew thru the Steelers OL and got Roethlisberger in a bear hug and wouldn’t let go. But the linebackers actually did a really good job in coverage. We were worried about Samuels more in the passing game coming into this one and he wasn’t a big factor in the passing game. In some good news, the linebackers did a good job of securing the middle of the field.

Secondary: A-

The secondary had a rough start to the game. The Steelers began the game by spreading the Patriots defense out and they had great success with it and went down the field with ease on their first drive. On that TD pass, one of two by Roethlisberger, Vance McDonald beat Pat Chung easily for a 5-yard score. Antonio Brown later beat Jason McCourty badly for a 17-yard score. But the secondary did their job and well.

Despite gashing the Patriots in the running game, the Steelers insisted on trying to throw it down the field and Roethlisberger had only 235 yards on the day. He had two TDs and two INTs, both by Duron Harmon. Jonathan Jones was the victim of what we thought was a horrible 26-yard pass interference penalty.

Stephon Gilmore and rookie J.C. Jackson were both outstanding on the perimeter. They held Antonio Brown (4 catches, 49 yards on 7 targets) and JuJu Smith-Schuster (4 catches, 40 yards on 10 targets) in check. Harmon had the two interceptions and the Patriots defense at the end of the day held Pittsburgh to just 17 points.

Special Teams: A-

The Special Teams had the Pats best play of the day. Ryan Allen punted for the far left corner of the end zone. The ball bounced and appeared to be rolling toward the Steelers’ end zone. Jonathan Jones dove and popped the ball straight up. The Rex Burkhead dove into the end zone and knocked the ball out of the air to be downed at the Steelers’ one-yard line. It was a fantastic effort all around.

Allen was excellent all game with his directional punting but got flagged on a false start… as a holder for a field goal. I can honestly say that I’ve been following the NFL for over 50 years and have never seen that one before.

Stephen Gostkowski nailed his only field goal attempt after having a rough afternoon in Miami last week.

Coaches: D

The Patriots coaching staff has a dilemma, which I don’t think is fixable…this year. How can this team play so well at home and be so undisciplined and terrible on the road? It is an issue that may eventually cost them in January. They certainly are capable enough of playing well against good teams.

Once again, the play calling and some of the personnel packages are mystifying. The Steelers were flooding the middle of the field and trying to take away where the Patriots like to work. So on a 3rd and 4, why call a bubble screen to Edelman with only Chris Hogan out there to block for him. The Steelers had too many bodies there and that one had little chance of success.

And on the final series, Josh Gordon wasn’t even on the field as they went with Patterson, who isn’t the route runner Gordon is…head scratcher.

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Steelers Down Patriots 17-10, Knock Them Out of a Bye

Steve Balestrieri
December 16, 2018 at 9:14 pm ET

Steelers Down Patriots 17-10, Knock Them Out of a Bye

Mistakes, mistakes, mistakes. They keep piling up on the 2018 Patriots on the road and it cost them dearly again on Sunday down in Pittsburgh.

Dropped passes, missed opportunities and generally, poor play has the team now on the outside looking in for one of the two teams earning a bye in the AFC. The Patriots, like a week ago in Miami, earned that loss this afternoon in Pittsburgh. They were outplayed, and once again were owned at the line of scrimmage in the Steelers 17-10 win.

Their second loss in a row drops the team to 9-5 and the #3 seed, forcing them to now have to beat the Bills next week at home to win the division. After that, they close out against the Jets and they have to hope that they win out at home while hoping for the Texans to stumble against either the Eagles or the Jaguars in the final two weeks. Other than that, they will be playing on Wild Card Weekend.

The Steelers went to an empty formation early in the game so that the Patriots couldn’t effectively double their wide receivers. It was a great tactic and they easily sliced and diced the defense by mixing in well-designed runs and scored easily on the opening possession.

The Patriots answered when the Steelers totally blew a coverage and left Chris Hogan all alone on a cross from left to right. Brady hit Hogan in stride and he cruised 63-yards without a Steeler in sight. It looked like it was going to be another shootout.

But only one more touchdown would be scored, a Roethlisberger 17-yard pass to Antonio Brown one play after a horrible pass interference penalty on the Patriots for 26 yards set the Steelers up inside the red zone. Pittsburgh went 92 yards in eight plays to take a 14-7 lead. The teams would just trade field goals for the rest of the game.

The game against the Steelers can be summed by the A. Penalties, B. Red Zone and C. Run Defense. And all three of those areas, the Patriots rate A’s this week. Eh…you say. Yes, A’s as in Appalling, Awful and Atrocious.

Penalties: A as in Appalling

The Patriots had 14 penalties on Sunday….That is totally unacceptable on any level. Sony Michel had a 25-yard run wiped out by a holding call at the line of scrimmage after he was clearly past the line and into the second level. That just isn’t smart football.

Another holding call pushed them from the 2-yard line on a Michel run on first and goal at the 5-yard line to the 15. Two plays later Brady was picked off by Joe Haden when trying to throw the ball out of bounds.

On the final drive, facing a 2nd and 5 at the Pittsburgh 11-yard line, yet another holding call pushes them back to the 21. On third down, Brady throws it out the back of the end zone and misses James White standing all alone in the flat. He had an easy 8-10 and would have made the 4th down pass much more manageable.

Red Zone:  A as in Awful

When you go 0-3 in the red zone and a combined 3-11 on third and fourth down attempts, you’re not going to win many football games. The Steelers were getting good pressure on Brady and were intent on taking away the middle of the field….which they did. Which begs to the question, why didn’t Josh McDaniels adjust?

Josh Gordon was MIA in this one, he wasn’t even on the field for the final series inside the Pittsburgh red zone. After his big TD catch, Chris Hogan was rendered invisible as well. Very curious play calling in this one.

Run Defense: A as in Atrocious

Jaylen Samuels sliced and diced the front seven to the tune of 142 yards and a 7.2-yard average. Pittsburgh has been awful at running the football, just like Miami was before last week. And once again the offensive line of the Steelers totally dominated the point of attack all game.

The Patriots front seven doesn’t travel well because in every loss this season, they’ve been blown off the ball. This doesn’t bode well for a team on the outside looking in for a bye in the playoffs.

The Patriots limp home after an abbreviated by disastrous 0-2 road trip. Instead of fighting for the #1 seed and locking up the division, now they are no closer to the division and any chance of the #1 seed are gone.

The run defense is scary to watch…and not in a good way. And the offense is still searching for an identity after 14 games.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news.

Players To Watch Patriots-Steelers Week 15

Steve Balestrieri
December 15, 2018 at 9:10 am ET

Playoffs Start Early For Both Teams


The New England Patriots head to what seems an annual trip to Pittsburgh to take on the Steelers in a very important game for both teams. The Patriots, courtesy of a bizarre last play of the game in Miami blew a golden opportunity to take over the #1 seed if they win tomorrow. The Chiefs were beaten by the Chargers in another wacky finish and New England owns the tiebreaker with KC.

Pittsburgh is reeling right now at 7-5-1, having lost three in a row including the last two in bizarre fashion. Their lead in the AFC North is down to just a half-game over the Ravens and with the Patriots and Saints back-to-back in the next two weeks, the playoffs start now for the Steelers.

Yesterday we posted our keys to the game and key matchups where we broke down the game positionally.

So, from a Patriots perspective, here are our Players to Watch on Sunday:

Tom Brady:

Most times the old cliché, “Player A owns Team B” is really overused and just that a cliché. But in this instance, it is really hard to make that argument. Brady overall is 11-2 against the Steelers but since 2006, he’s 7-1 against what is always one of the best teams in the AFC. In the last four regular-season meetings, Brady has thrown 11 TDs, just 1 INT, completing 70.6 percent of his passes for 1240 yard (an average of 310 yards per game and 9.84 per pass) for a passer rating of 127.7.

The Steelers haven’t changed the way they approach the way they play defense against Brady and the Patriots since Brady’s first matchup with them back in 2001 playoffs. The only time they really changed things up was back in the 2011 season, a Steelers 25-17 win. They rely on their pass rush getting home and creating pressure. The Steelers are 2nd in the NFL with 45 sacks on the season. T.J. Watt has 10 and they have four players with five or more sacks.  But against the three best QBs they’ve faced this season (Patrick Mahomes, Philip Rivers, and Matt Ryan), they’ve allowed 910 yards, 8 TDs 0 Ints for a passer rating of 126.7.

Brady has always known how to attack this Pittsburgh defense, it holds no allusions for him. Unless they change the way they approach things tomorrow, there is no reason to believe that the trend won’t continue.

Rob Gronkowski:

The Patriots big tight end has had unprecedented success against the Steelers as well as Brady. In six career games against Pittsburgh, Gronkowski has reeled in 39 catches, 664 yards, and 8 TDs. His 110.6 yards per game average is the most he’s had against any team that he’s played more than once.

The Steelers defense has struggled against tight ends. Travis Kelce earlier in the season hurt them for seven catches, 109 yards, and 2 TDs. Last week, they played five different defenders on Raiders tight end, Jared Cook and still couldn’t stop him as he had seven catches for 116 yards. Gronkowski took over the game in the fourth quarter a year ago in Pittsburgh hauling in 9 passes for 168 yards and a two-point conversion.

The Steelers have said that they’re going to change up the way they cover Gronkowski this week and may switch up their looks on the big tight end. With lingering back and ankle injuries, he’s been slowed considerably this season. But bad news for the Steelers this week?  He had arguably his best game of the season against Miami last week catching 8 passes for 107 yards and a touchdown.

Stephon Gilmore:

The Patriots best cornerback will have his work cut out for him this week. The Steelers have several excellent targets in the passing game. But Gilmore will be worried about the just the top two, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Antonio Brown. We’d expect that Gilmore will be covering both at times on Sunday and neither will be an easy receiver to shadow. Brown has been the Steelers go-to guy since he entered the league but this year, Smith-Schuster has had more receptions and yards.

Gilmore is having a fantastic Pro-Bowl-type of a season for the Patriots and has been their best at covering the opposition’s best wide receiver this year. Pro Football Focus had him as their 2nd rated CB on 3rd or 4th down this season behind just Marlon Humphrey of the Ravens. An interesting tidbit via Jeff Howe of the Atlantic. The Patriots are 8-0 when Gordon doesn’t allow a TD and 1-4 when he does. Gilmore is currently tied for 3rd place among all CBs with passes defensed with 13.

The feeling here is that Gilmore will go one-on-one with Smith-Schuster which should be a fascinating matchup to watch. He does better against bigger receivers and Smith-Schuster is 6’1 while Brown is 5’10. I’d expect Brown to be doubled with a corner and a safety. Eli Rogers is expected to be back this week which will be another tough matchup.

Josh Gordon:

The Patriots big wide receiver is someone who has had pretty good success against the Steelers in the past and played them often while a member of the Browns. Included in that was a 17-yard touchdown late in regulation that tied the opener, which ended up in a tie. Now he’ll be going with a much better cast of characters against the same Steelers team that he’s faced before. And with a much better quarterback.

Gordon has gradually learned the Patriots offense on the fly since making his first appearance in the Week 4 game against Miami. And since then, he’s put up some very decent numbers (39 catches for 701 yards and three touchdowns) which is very impressive considering he had to learn the Patriots offense in mid-stream. How many WRs have struggled here after having an entire offseason to learn the WR route tree? Gordon’s 18-yards per catch average is the best among NFL WRs since Week 4. And that is troubling to Pittsburgh Defensive Coordinator Keith Butler. “Shoot, he’s a big man that can run,” he said. “He’s a deep-ball guy. If you look for anybody that’s going deep for them, it’s probably him.”

With the Steelers putting a lot of stock in slowing down Gronkowski this week, that will mean a lot of single coverage on Gordon. And this might be the time for him to have that one big monster game that has been lacking from his resume this season.

Devin McCourty:

The Patriots captain and their center fielder at the back end of their defense will have to have a big game on Sunday against a very potent Steelers passing attack. Between Brown and Smith-Schuster they have two of the more explosive wide receivers in the game. Added into the mix is Eli Rogers who tore his ACL in the playoff loss to Jacksonville last year and has spent the season on PUP. Now he’s healthy and is expected to be activated for Sunday’s game. That gives McCourty, even more, to be worried about on the back end.

Rogers career high for catches and yards? The 2017 AFC Championship Game against the Patriots where he caught seven passes for 66 yards. He’s someone that will have to be on the Patriots and McCourty’s radar if he gets his hands on the ball.

One of the more underrated aspects of McCourty’s game and that of the Patriots defense is tackling. This week, in particular, the Patriots have to limit the YAC (yards after the catch). When they’ve been successful, they’ve not allowed teams to run after they’ve caught the ball. McCourty will be a big, big part of that this week.  

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news.

Patriots-Steelers Key Matchups, Who Has the Razor’s Edge?

Steve Balestrieri
December 14, 2018 at 7:00 am ET

Patriots-Steelers Key Matchups, Who Has the Razor’s Edge?

The Patriots go back on the road for their final regular season road game of 2018 with a trip to Pittsburgh to take on the Steelers. This is, in essence, a playoff game for both teams. Each needs to win to try to lock down the #2 seed.

For Pittsburgh, it is even more important as they’ve dropped three in a row and their lead in the division has dwindled to just a half-game over the suddenly surging Ravens. By the time that the game starts, they should know the results of the Ravens-Bucs game. However, Baltimore ends the season with games at the Chargers and home against the Browns who are playing much better. Pittsburgh has New England this week, New Orleans next week and then the Bengals.

This week’s game will be broadcast by CBS on Sunday, December 16 at 4:25 p.m. ET and can be seen locally on WBZ-TV Channel 4 in Boston. Jim Nantz will handle play-by-play duties with Tony Romo as the color analyst. Tracy Wolfson will work the sidelines. The game will also be aired on the Patriots flagship radio station 98.5 The Sports Hub with Bob Socci and Scott Zolak on the call, produced by Marc Capello.

The Patriots (9-4) are coming off an awful loss in Miami, just like a year ago on the last play of the game.  The run defense was terrible as was the run blocking for the offense. But Tom Brady had a big day throwing the ball, tossing for 358 yards and three TDs.

The Steelers (7-5-1) had another late 4th quarter comeback and pulled off a dramatic 39-38 win over the Baltimore Ravens where Ben Roethlisberger threw for over 500 yards and Antonio Brown had 213 yards receiving.

We here at PatsFans.com are continuing our “Razor’s Edge” column in 2018 to give some quick analysis on some of the key matchups of the game and what you can look for in how the game plays out.

Series History:

The Patriots and Steelers are meeting for the 32nd time and the Patriots with a slight 16-15 edge. However, during the Bill Belichick era the Patriots are 11-3 against the Steelers and have won the last five meetings including last years meeting in Pittsburgh.

Here is a look at some of the key matchups and who holds the Razor’s Edge.

First up is the Patriots offense:

Patriots RBs vs Steelers Front Seven – Razor’s Edge Slightly to New England

The Patriots running game has been very good this season until they hit a snag against one of the worst run defenses in the league in Miami last week. Sony Michel has been the workhorse for the Patriots in the running game with James White and Rex Burkhead in support roles.

The Steelers have the #6 run defense (96.9 yards a game) in the league and still use the same 3-4 defense that they’ve been running seemingly forever. It starts up front with the big men, Jason Hargrave at the nose tackle and Stephon Tuitt and Cameron Heyward at the ends. The linebackers are quick and aggressive and will shoot the gaps.

Look for Josh McDaniels to throw in order to run this week. Look for the Patriots to try to take advantage of the Steelers aggressiveness at getting after the passer and try to get Michel going in that way. Some quick hitters with White and Burkhead could be on the agenda this week. The same with some Jet sweeps with Julian Edelman and Cordarrelle Patterson.

Patriots WRs vs Steelers Secondary – Razor’s Edge New England

The Patriots passing game is ranked 15th in the league but much of that has to do with the slow start that they got off to in the first month of the season. Since Josh Gordon has arrived, Brady’s numbers are about the same as they were in 2017 when he was the league’s MVP. The good news is they are getting healthy, Rob Gronkowski had his best game of the season last week. Gordon is heating up and has traditionally played well against Pittsburgh. Rob Gronkowski and Brady have always played well against the Steelers. Brady also Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, Patterson and White and Burkhead out of the backfield.

Pittsburgh is ranked 12th in pass defense allowing just 233.9 yards per game. They get after the QB very well with T.J. Watt leading the way with 10 sacks, Jason Hargrave has 6.5 from the nose which will be very telling in this game. The key to stopping Brady is pressure up the middle, if he can step up in the pocket, he will be very successful. Heyward has 6 sacks and Bud Dupree has 5.5.

It will be interesting to see how Pittsburgh decides to defend Gronkowski. Last year they played him almost exclusively with Sean Davis and he torched them in the second half. They’ll have to decide on whether to go with Joe Haden on Gordon or Coty Sensabaugh. Edelman will also be a tough matchup for them. In the past, the Steelers have played the same defense they always have against Brady. Will they mix things up this week? Or will they continue to just run their defense and try to out-execute the Patriots? Under Mike Tomlin, that is their M.O. they preach execution but they aren’t a big adjustment defense.

Next up the Pittsburgh offense:

Steelers RBs vs NE Front Seven – Razor’s Edge Pittsburgh

The Steelers running game is mired in 29th place in the NFL averaging just 89 yards per game. They haven’t shown the patience with it, even with James Conner in the lineup to stick with it. With Conner banged up and questionable to play, it will be interesting to watch if they do this week.

The Patriots rush defense is in the middle of the pack 15th in the league. But last week, against another team that struggles to run in Miami they were gashed for 189 yards on 21 carries. The defensive line was pushed around at the point of attack and the linebackers in run support were awful.

The Pittsburgh OL is one of the better lines in the league, and if they stay patient with the running game, even without Connor, they could dictate the pace and keep New England’s offense on the bench. From an NE perspective, the DL and LBs will have to play much better than a week ago.

Steelers WRs vs NE Secondary- Razor’s Edge Pittsburgh

Ben Roethlisberger has a dynamic duo in JuJu Smith-Schuster and Antonio Brown on the outside for as good a 1-2 punch as there is in the NFL. Smith-Schuster has 91 catches for 1237 yards and 6 TDs. Brown has 86 for 1063 yards and 12 TDs. Ryan Switzer is the third option outside. Vance McDonald is having a career year with 44 catches at tight end while Jesse James is still out there as well. Jaylen Samuels will be a player to watch this week. We really liked him coming out of the draft this spring and he’s an intriguing player to watch.

The Patriots pass defense has been going thru ebbs and flows. Two weeks ago they had arguably their best game shutting down Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs from the Vikings. But last week Kenny Stills gave them fits in Miami. They will no doubt try to roll their double teams from Smith-Schuster to Brown and disguise them. They have been good at getting pressure on opposing QBs but bad at getting home with sacks.

Look for Roethlisberger to work the middle of the field this week with McDonald and James to set up his top 2 WRs. They’ll try to isolate their TEs on the NE LBs which will be a mismatch.

Special Teams- Razor’s Edge New England

The kickers in this one, the Patriots’ Stephen Gostkowski and the Steelers Chris Boswell both had a rough week. But Boswell has been struggling most of the season. The team brought in former kicker Shaun Suisham to work with him. Boswell is just 3-8 from 40-49 yards this year. Despite missing an extra point and a field goal last week, the Patriots have a big edge here in the kicking game with Gostkowski.

Ryan Switzer has done a good job with the return game for the Steelers but with Patterson and Edelman, I’m going to give the edge to the Patriots here as well.

Next up, who wins and why…

Prediction:

This one should be another Patriots-Steelers classic. Both teams really need this game, last year at this time it was about the #1 seed, this season it is about #2. The Texans are right on their heels in the conference and the Steelers can’t afford to lose their fourth in a row. Even for a team that never puts coaches on a hot seat, if Tomlin were to lose four in a row after a 7-2-1 start, he will start to feel the heat.

Keys to the game from a Patriots perspective:

Put the Ball in Brady’s Hands: He’s had remarkable success against the Steelers thru the years. I know they want to push the running game, but this week, let #12 take the reins and trust in him to get it done.

Target the Big Men: I just have a feeling that the bigger WRs (Gordon and Patterson) are a more difficult matchup for the Steeler secondary this week. This is a situation the Patriots haven’t had much of thru the years. Their WRs tend to be the smaller quicker ones. But both Gordon and Patterson are big and very athletic. Add Gronk to the mix and they’ll be difficult to stop.

Play a Clean Game: The team can’t afford any turnovers this week. The Steelers offense is explosive and can score quickly and they don’t need to be giving them any short fields, especially on the road. No turnovers and win third downs and the red zone.

I think this one will go down to the wire, but the Patriots go home with a very close win. Brady works his magic in Pittsburgh once again. Patriots 31-27

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.