On a cold Sunday night on prime-time television, the Steelers came out looking to wow the home crowd as they prepared to take on the New England Patriots, the only team with a better winning percentage at Heinz Field than themselves. But, just as in the past, they fell short. Way short.
From the start of the game, it was evident of how it was going to play out. Tom Brady maneuvered through the Steelers defense like it was the 2004 AFC Championship Game all over again. Or at least that's what it appeared to look like.
The Patriots did play a good game, but what seemed to be more of the story was the poor, lackadaisical play of the Steelers. Brady chalked up another record as only the second quarterback to throw for 300-plus yards in three consecutive games against Pittsburgh.
I was simply appalled at not only the play of the Pittsburgh defense, but the play-calling. One can simply look at last week's game between the Patriots and Cleveland Browns and understand the key to keeping Brady from scoring.
It's something the Steelers did not effectively do tonight. Often the premier rushing linebackers dropping into coverage rather than rushing the quarterback. Too many times was the defense rushing only three down linemen.
The key to containing Brady's explosiveness is to keep him constantly flustered. Yes, Dick LeBeau ran blitz packages, but not effectively enough. And when he did, Brady was held useless. However, they were too sporadic and not at essential times. Tom Brady had too much time to use his more-than-qualified personnel to freely move the ball down the field.
What I liked best about Brady's performance is his attitude when he gets flustered. Every Steelers fan had to like the lasting image of Brady spiking the ball in front of the Pittsburgh crowd in a taunting way. What they had to like more was seeing Brady pull on his skirt every time a defender was in the backfield. After every "close call" Brady would run over to the referee and plead his case that the big bad men were trying to hurt him. I guess he can dish it out but can't take it.
However, what seemed to be most disgusting of the defensive play was yet again William Gay. He blew numerous coverage assignments last season to cost the Steelers several victories, and that returned in dramatic fashion tonight by blowing coverage on a rookie tight end, Rob Gronkowski, for three touchdowns.
Three times was William Gay burned by a tight end for three scores that cost the Steelers the game: once on the opening drive and twice when the Steelers were in a situation to make a comeback.
Troy Polamalu's absence as a "freelance" player has definitely shown its downside. LeBeau had switched assignments to where Lawrence Timmons would now be the defensive prowler, but that has not shown to be effective. Polamalu is an athlete and a playmaker; restricting him to solely a safety spot greatly cripples the Steelers defense.
On the offensive side of things, I was in utter disgust. The Patriots just came off a week of surrendering a total of four rushing touchdowns and over 200 rushing yards. So one must think that offensive coordinator Bruce Arians's promise to run the ball more effectively, the offensive scheme seemed almost 100 percent obvious. Well, apparently not the case for Arians.
Instead of doing what seemed to be the answer, the Steelers came out throwing on first possession, resulting in a very quick three-and-out. One must ask themselves: surely Arians will start to run the ball, right?
Arians continued to throw the ball. In fact Rashard Mendenhall was held to only 11 carries, but was averaging slightly over five yards. Yes, that was because of his 34-yard scamper to set up a field goal. Surely if Mendenhall had received more carries, he would have made more big plays.
The Patriots still showed tonight that they cannot consistently contain the run game. But at this point in the game, William Gay had already blown coverage so much that the Steelers had to pass so often just stay within two scores.
The only person who performed worse than Gay was place kicker Jeff Reed. He used to be Mr. Clutch, but after several drunken fights with several inanimate objects, Reed has been about as reliable as Jerry Jones not micromanaging. With a chance to make it a one possession game, Reed missed a 26-yard field goal.
And what's more astounding is that it wasn't wide where he missed it. That's right: he kicked it under the goal post. Under.
Of course, had the Steelers receivers been able to catch in traffic, the team wouldn't have to rely on Reed or the terrible touchdown percentage in the red zone that now ranks them nearly worst in the league.
Ben did throw for over 300 yards and three touchdowns, but it was to a Patriots defense that simply didn't care in the fourth quarter.
If I'm a part of the Steelers team, I'm hoping to see the Patriots again in the playoffs because this was simply a horrendous game and a mockery of what is an NFL franchise. There is no way that I would let them get away without receiving a Steelers team playing at its full potential.
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