In what was previously thought to be one of the best games of the season, the Patriots went into Heinz Field against a Roethlisberger-less Pittsburgh Steelers team and took down the second best team in the AFC by a score of 27-16. While one would expect the Patriots to come out throwing the football all around the field against a relatively weak Steelers secondary, the Patriots heavily utilized the run game.
Early in this game, the Steelers were only rushing three or four and dropping everyone back in coverage so Tom Brady could not pick apart this secondary. Because of this, the Patriots relied on LeGarrette Blount and, surprisingly, Tom Brady, who rushed for three first downs in this game. Blount rushed the football 24 times for 127 yards and two touchdowns in one of his best games as a New England Patriot. Sure, I know he had that massive 200+ yard game against the Indianapolis Colts a few years back, but the Patriots were dead in the water this week if not for Blount.
As I mentioned previously, the Steelers dropped everyone back in coverage and almost neutralized Tom Brady in this game, at least in the first half. Because check down passes and seam routes were open all day because of the deep coverage, Julian Edelman had his best game of the season. Edelman caught nine passes for 60 yards and was a cushion for Tom Brady in the first half. For some reason unknown to me, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin decided to switch up the defense in the second half, changing to Cover 1 with a single high safety. As soon as this occurred, tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett became more open and involved in the passing game. While Bennett only had two targets for one reception, Rob Gronkowski had four receptions on four targets for 93 yards and a touchdown. It looks as if Gronk is finally back, and his postgame press conference proved that...
Defensively, we saw a mixed bag from the Patriots. They, once again, utilized the bend-but-don't-break philosophy, as the Steelers had 375 total yards of offense, yet only scored one touchdown. The Patriots continue to be a top-two defense statistically, in the NFL, if you go by points allowed. However, there is obviously more than meets the eye. There is no denying the fact the Patriots defense is underperforming. Logan Ryan and Malcolm Butler are two of the worst cornerbacks statistically in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus. Jamie Collins and Dont'a Hightower cannot stay on the field together at the same time. The front-seven, whether it is design or lack of ability, are not getting to the quarterback at the same clip that they were last season.
Thankfully, the Patriots have the luxury of playing in a wildly mediocre league. It is hard to name another team in the NFL that could legitimately knock off the Patriots, whether that is in the AFC Championship game or the Super Bowl. The Patriots can continue to play this brand of defense because, simply put, there aren't that many good quarterbacks in the NFL. If the Patriots remain healthy, I still have complete confidence they will win Super Bowl 51.