Tag Archives: Will Allen

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

Steve Balestrieri
September 9, 2015 at 12:00 pm ET

The New England Patriots take on the Pittsburgh Steelers in the NFL 2015 season opener on NBC. Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth will be on the call with Michelle Tafoya handling sideline duties. Kickoff is slated for 8:30 p.m.

The Patriots (12-4) won the AFC East and defeated Baltimore in the divisional round of the playoffs, Indianapolis in the AFC Championship and Seattle in the Super Bowl for their fourth title in the Belichick reign.

The Steelers (11-5) won the tough AFC North title but lost in the Wild Card round to Baltimore. With one of the more potent offenses in the league, the Steelers will be looking to make a deep playoff run.

We here at PatsFans.com are continuing our  “Razor’s Edge”  column in 2015 to give a quick break down 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 have met 27 times with the Steelers holding an all-time 15-12 edge including a 3-0 record in Overtime. The teams are 4-4 in games at New England and have split the last four meetings. The last time they met in November 2013, the Patriots blew open a close game in the 4th quarter for a 55-31 victory. The teams combined for over 1130 yards of offense in that game.

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

Who gets the nod on offense, defense and special teams in the Patriots – Steelers game on Thursday night? Read on and check it out.

First up is the Patriots offense:

Patriots Offense Goes Thru Rob Gronkowski, Jammed or Not

Steve Balestrieri
September 8, 2015 at 6:02 am ET

Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski will be the focus of not only the Pats this Thursday but the Steelers as well. Pittsburgh has already stated that they plan on jamming the big man in an attempt to disrupt the timing of the Patriots offense.

It is a sound plan because however Gronk goes thus does the Patriots offense. It is no secret that without Gronkowski at the end of the playoffs in the 2011 Super Bowl and the 2012-13 Conference Championship games, the Patriots offense was a shell of itself without the big man. And a look at the playoffs in 2014 with a healthy Gronk shows how potent this attack can be.

But there is a vast difference between facing a New England offense without Gronkowski and trying to take him away. Above I said the plan was sound because everything in the Patriots offense is based on timing, so if you can throw the timing of the routes off, it messes with Tom Brady’s rhythm and can impact the offensive production.

The Steelers are in a transition defensively; gone is Dick LeBeau and the master of those zone blitzes that the Steelers thrived on for so many years. Troy Polamalu, Brett Keisel and Ike Taylor are all gone from the defense as well. They’re trying to change to a faster, more athletic defense under new coordinator Keith Butler who was the Pittsburgh linebackers coach.

The Steelers were 27th against the pass in 2014, an anomaly for them so something had to be done. Now Butler is rebuilding on the fly with a new system, new players but the same hard-nosed attitude. Not surprisingly, they struggled badly in the preseason. They’ll eventually get it figured out, so for the Patriots, although facing somewhat of an unknown defense in Week 1, it may be better seeing them now rather than in December.

Much of how the Patriots react to the strategy of jamming Gronkowski will depend upon who the Steelers use to jam and how they’ll play the big man.

One tactic that worked to perfection in the Super Bowl was to split Gronkowski out wide, if the defense puts one its linebackers out there, it opens up mismatches elsewhere and if Gronkowski can beat the jam at the line, not many linebackers can run with him.

Look for Brady to put Gronkowski in motion, he’ll drag a defender a defender across the field with him and will be harder to slow down when he’s already moving. If Pittsburgh chooses to double team Gronk it will open up a big piece of real estate for fellow tight end Scott Chandler. Chandler was added this off-season during free agency and he, Gronk and Brady worked a lot during the spring and summer on red zone offensive plays. At 6’7, 270 Chandler is even bigger than Gronkowski and is adept at attacking the seams and finding ways to get the ball with a huge catch radius.

During his Monday morning press conference, Bill Belichick spoke about having the Twin Towers (Gronk/Chandler), and how teams may attempt to slow them down.

“Each team will probably have its own way or game plan or whatever of how to deal with whatever personnel we have out there,” Belichick said. “There are different combinations of people that we can have, so it’s hard to talk about just one or two players, who are the other three guys, and how are they aligned formationally. I don’t know.

“We’ll try to create situations that stress the defense, and if they overplay one thing and underplay something else, then hopefully we’ll be going to that softer point. That’s pretty much what we’re trying to do anyways. Whoever the players are out there, that’s kind of the basic philosophy.”

Covering Gronkowski and Chandler will probably fall to the safeties, Mike Mitchell and Will Allen. They’ll have their hands full with those two and it will be a key area to watch. If Pittsburgh is placing multiple players on Gronkowski to slow him down, it should open up some real estate for Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola and Aaron Dobson. Dobson had the best game of his career against Pittsburgh back in 2013. It was also a game where Gronkowski caught 9 passes for 143 yards and a touchdown.

Belichick spoke about how the Steelers defense, is multiple and they change fronts and coverages. One thing that is a philosophical difference from years past is that this season’s Pittsburgh team will play more Cover-2/Tampa-2 than their predecessors.

Where they gave up a lot of big passing plays, the Cover-2 is designed to take that the deep ball away. The variant, the Tampa-2 is like the Cover-2 but splits the deep part of the field in thirds and adds a MLB into the mix to take away the deep ball.

Brady has had plenty of success thru the years against the Cover-2 because the New England offense isn’t a deep passing attack. They have the short-medium passing game that takes advantage of the seams and underneath routes of the defense.

There will be plenty of sub-plots on Thursday night, the last time these two teams met in Foxboro in November 2013; they rolled up over 1130 yards of offense. But one of the key areas and players to watch will be Gronkowski. They’ll be jamming….but do it at your own risk.

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

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcast 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.

Patriots 2015 Opponents, Five First Impressions of the Steelers

Steve Balestrieri
September 7, 2015 at 8:44 am ET

The Patriots 2015 season kicks off with a Thursday night prime time match-up against the Pittsburgh Steelers. The will be televised nationally by NBC with Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth on the call and Michelle Tafoya handling sideline duties. Kickoff is slated for 8:30 p.m.

The Steelers (11-5) have one of the most explosive offenses in the NFL. QB Ben Roethlisberger set career records for attempts (608), completions (408), yards with 4952 and tied his touchdown record with 32 in 2014. His 106-52 record as a starting quarterback is fourth best among active QBs putting in the company of Brady, Manning and Rodgers. His start on Thursday will make him the all-time leader in QB starts in franchise history.

The defense is going through a transition period with the departures of long-time defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, as well as long-time Steelers Troy Polamalu, Brett Keisel and Ike Taylor. The onus now by new coordinator Keith Butler will be on fast, athletic players and having their defensive linemen tee off and come after the quarterback. It may take them time to gel as a unit with so many changes in both personnel and philosophy.

Here are our Five First Impressions of the Steelers:

Bell, Brown and Ben Cornerstones of the Offense: The Steelers have arguably the best offensive trio of QB, WR and RB of any team in the NFL, led by RB Le’Veon Bell, Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown.

They mark a very impressive trio that vaulted the Steelers to the #2 offense in the NFL last season. Bell won’t play on Thursday, having to serve a three-game suspension for a DUI arrest and drug possession charges. Although he’ll be missed, former Panther DeAngelo Williams and Dri Archer still give them a formidable duo.

Brown’s 129 catches last season were the second most in NFL history for a single season. He’s Roethlisberger’s go-to guy and with Markus Wheaton and newcomer Sammie Coates, the Steelers have plenty of speed outside. The venerable Heath Miller returns for an 11th season, providing Roethlisberger with a reliable safety valve.

Allen Replaces Thomas At Safety: Pittsburgh announced that 12-year vet Will Allen will replace Shamarko Thomas at strong safety this week and play opposite free safety Mike Mitchell. Thomas, the 3rd year safety was originally drafted to replace Polamalu but has struggled this preseason.

He allowed a 31-yard scoring play against the Jaguars, as well as a 67-yard scoring play against the Bills and a 49-yard touchdown run versus Carolina where he missed a key tackle. He still may see the field in some sub-packages on Thursday.

Allen and Mitchell will be tasked with stopping the Patriots tight end tandem of Gronkowski and Chandler which will be one area of interest to watch in this week’s game.

Offensive Line, Once a Weakness, Now a Position of Strength: The Steelers offensive line for years took a lot of flak, some of it deservedly so for their play in protecting Roethlisberger. But part of the reason was that the big QB would hold the ball for incredibly long stretches trying to allow plays to develop. While many big plays developed, Roethlisberger also took a terrific beating.

Now with an improved offensive line, perhaps the best in his time in Pittsburgh and a passing game of OC Todd Haley that is keyed on his getting the ball out quicker, the offense has thrived.

Maurkice Pouncey anchors the line at center, although he’s hurt now and will miss the first eight weeks of the season. But Big Ben’s blindside is firmly protected by left tackle Kelvin Beachum and left guard Ramon Foster. Beachum is a good story, a 7th round pick who worked his way into a job and has been steadily improving. The right side is held down by T Marcus Gilbert and G David DeCastro.

This is a very solid unit and will provide a great test for the Patriots new improved front seven this week.

Change in Philosophy on Defense Still Working Out Kinks: The zone blitzes of the Steelers defense under Dick LeBeau was known as Blitzburg. But he’s gone, now in Tennessee and former LB coach Keith Butler has had to retool on the fly.

Instead of the two-gap responsibilities of the past, this Steelers defensive line will probably get after the quarterback in a more aggressive style.Cameron Heyward had a breakout season last year and Stephon Tuitt will have to fill big shoes with Keisel retiring. Steve McClendon leads a group of large bodies in the interior with Daniel McCullers, Clifton Geathers and Cam Thomas.

The linebacking group will have to pick up the slack in the pass rush department with James Harrison, Arthur Moats, Lawrence Timmons, Jarvis Jones, Ryan Shazier and newcomer Bud Dupree.

The Steelers secondary was a problem, compounded by a weaker pass rush in 2014. They’re most probably going to use a Cover-2/Tampa-2  system to cut down on the big plays that they gave up last season. In the Tampa-2, the safeties and MLB drop and cover the deeper part of the field to take away the deep ball, but against New England with a shorter passing game, which is very effective against that, we may see some other looks. But the secondary of Cortez Allen, William Gay, Mitchell and Allen will be under the microscope early this season.

Feel Good Story, Army Ranger Villanueva Makes Roster: The Steeler have a big offensive lineman that made the roster this season. Huge 6’9, 335 pound Alejandro Villanueva made the initial 53-man roster out of training camp.

Villanueva is a West Point graduate and served in the 1st Ranger Bn at Hunter Army Airfield as well as in the 3rd Brigade Combat Team of the 10th Mountain Division. He earned a Bronze Star for Valor while rushing to the aid of pinned down fellow soldiers under fire in Afghanistan.

He gained 90 pounds from his military weight of 245 due to a strict workout and his wife’s cooking. He’s a versatile player who can play multiple positions and has impressed the Pittsburgh coaches with his work ethic and professionalism, hallmarks of a military officer.

He was signed to the Steelers practice squad last August and earned his way onto the 53-man roster this season. Note to the Patriots coaches….there ARE other services other than the Navy…

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

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcast 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.