What We Learned: New England Patriots vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
Looking back at the AFC Heavyweight bout between the New England Patriots and the Pittsburgh Steelers, there are a few points which are very clear. Firstly, on the Steelers side, they are a very different team when healthy. However, they were outplayed in all phases of the game yesterday, as the Patriots earned a complete victory.
On the Patriots side, here is what I noticed:
Last week, Brandon Spikes was the linebacker the Patriots sent in to penetrate on run plays, letting Jerod Mayo patrol the middle of the field. This week, Mayo was called upon more than a couple of times to hit the point of attack.
The Patriots are finding a good balance between sending Spikes and Mayo, changing schemes enough to put question into the minds of offenses.
Tom Brady was, in fact, off over the past two games. This week reminded us that Tom Brady can be the best quarterback in the NFL. He struggled in the past couple of games, whether due to injury or just mis-communication, but receivers hung onto passes and Brady was hitting guys in stride.
3. Running Game
The Patriots running game is built off of their passing game. Most of the time, a good passing game is the result of a good running game. However, the Pats showed that once Brady got clicking, BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Co. became more effective.
The Patriots compiled the most rushing yards against the Steelers this year, rushing for 104 yards.
4. Opportunistic Defense
The Patriots defense is built to be opportunistic. They are not a great defense in the sense that they won’t hold teams to 10 points week-in and week-out. However, they create turnovers, are very strong in the red zone (especially with Pat Chung), and can rush the quarterback.
The Patriots had struggled in rushing the passer, but it seems they can beat slower offensive lines with Banta-Cain, Cunningham and Warren, and they have the potential to cause trouble with faster lines because of Wilfork.
5. Return Game
Brandon Tate is a good return man, but he’s still learning. He has all the skills, but now he needs to simplify. Twice I saw him try to “outquick” a defender on a kickoff return when he could have picked up an extra 3-5 yards had he just put his head down and run forward.
6. Rookie Development
The Patriots rookies are developing what we like to call intangibles. See Rob Gronkowski: Miserable performance last week against Cleveland, but stepped up yesterday with 3 TD catches and some big first down pickups. Devin McCourty is developing into a great number 1 corner for this team, Brandon Spikes and Jermaine Cunningham are regular contributors, and Shawn Crable (hurt last year), was involved in a couple Roethlisberger sacks.
I know it’s hard to look past this season, but when the Pats defense gets Ty Warren and Leigh Bodden back next year, the unit will look much more threatening.
7. Stats Lie
In baseball the numbers don’t lie, but in the NFL, numbers are full of garbage. The Pats are statistically the 18th ranked offense in terms of total yards, and 29th ranked in total defense. Yet, they’re 7-2 and atop the AFC.
8. Roundup: Overall Picture
The Patriots are a top 4 team in the NFL. With the Giants losing, the Falcons are the best team in the NFC (unless the Eagles win tonight, in which case it’s a toss-up). In the AFC, the Pats are better than Pittsburgh and Baltimore, but I do think the Jets have the most talent.
It remains to be seen whether the Pats can hold that spot, with two important games coming up against Indianapolis and New York.
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