The Pittsburgh Steelers entered Sunday night's game against the New England Patriots with a lot to prove. They had to prove that they were as good as their record and that they could beat Tom Brady and the Patriots in a big game. They also had to prove that they can make adjustments and stop a short passing attack.
If you watched the game last night, you would know that the Steelers did not prove any of the above. They got beat in all aspects of the game, especially coaching. The Pittsburgh Steelers got embarrassed on national television by a team that has made more Steelers fans cry then any other team.
This game was supposed to be a AFC Championship type game for both teams and the Steelers looked lost, depleted, and lethargic for most of the night. This game was supposed to define this season for the Steelers, and maybe it did. Unfortunately for the Steelers, it might have shown that this team is not good enough to compete for a Super Bowl this year.
It's hard to pinpoint just one thing to blame on the loss. The play-calling, offensive line, defense and injuries, are all good reasons that nobody can argue with. After watching the game for a second time, I'm going to breakdown the game for you and tell you who played bad, who played good, and how the game could have gone differently if a few plays were made.
All week long, most people knew that the Patriots were going to come in here and throw the ball at least 40 times. Most people knew that the Patriots were going to have their receivers run short routes and deek-and-dunk themselves down the field.
Well, apparently everyone knew this besides the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Patriots had little intention of running the ball, throwing in 43 times last night. The Steelers had about 10 years to figure out the Patriots' offense, considering that every time the Patriots have faced the Steelers, they've thrown it 75% of the time.
Last night was no different, yet the Steelers made zero adjustments. They continued to try and get their normal outside pass rush with James Harrison and LaMar Woodely, despite that approach not working against Tom Brady in the past, and it didn't work against Brady last night.
The way to get to Brady is to blitz up the middle. Getting pressure up the middle causes Brady to be uncomfortable. The Steelers couldn't figure that out. The Steelers continue to play a deep coverage, most times a cover three, having their safeties 15+ yards off the line of scrimmage, despite the fact that the Patriots are a short yardage passing team.
Again, zero adjustments made by the Steelers. Tom Brady and the Patriots' passing attack is very similar to Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints' passing attack, with quick passes.
Once again, no adjustments made, and obviously the Steelers didn't learn their lesson from previous games against the Patriots or teams similar to them.
This defense is now overrated. Yes I said it. They don't make adjustments, and they crumble against pass-first offenses. Unless they're playing a run-first offense, they don't really seem to have a chance.
I'm sure Steelers fans will blame it on not having Aaron Smith in the lineup. Fact is he would have had little to do with that game. Maybe he could have helped an inside pass-rush but the Steelers defensive strategy was lethargic and unimpressive.
Continuing on the defense and making adjustments, how about the fact that Tom Brady owns this defense?
Brady is now 6-1 against the Steelers, including 4-1 at Hienz Field. In those games, he has 14 td passes with just three interceptions. That, my friends, is owning a team. And give credit to him and the New England Patriots for understanding what works and what doesn't.
Brady picked apart the Steelers' defense with short and quick passes, not worrying about the big play. He gets rid of the ball fast before the Steelers' outside pass rush has a chance to get to him. Brady and the Patriots also understood their mismatches.
They obviously knew that the Steelers' worst defensive back is William Gay, and attacked him all night. Gay was covering Patriots' rookie tight end Ron Gronkowski on all three of his touchdowns. That's an example of the Patriots making adjustments and the Steelers not doing so.
Brady had most of his success in the quick passing game, but even when he didn't get rid of the ball right away, the Steelers still couldn't get to him. There were multiple times when Brady had five, six, and sometimes even seven seconds to throw the ball last night. That's embarrassing and unacceptable.
I don't know who thought it would be a good idea to rush four guys for most of the night against Brady, but that's just idiotic. Every team that goes into facing Brady and the Patriots should take the New York Giants' approach. Rush your four or five best pass rushers, and stunt up the middle. Blitzing from outside takes too long and Brady can see it coming. If you blitz him up the middle, you get him moving and can make him very uncomfortable.
The Steelers failed to sack Brady and the only time they were able to hit him was when James Harrison got a roughing the passer call. Expect a fine for that.
Total fail on the Steelers and lots of credit and props deserved for Brady and the Patriots. As for anyone that is saying that the Steelers will get them next time, I for one would be really happy not to see the Steelers have to face Brady and the Patriots again this year.
Have you seen this man? Troy Polamalu is supposed to one of the best defensive players in the league, if not the best. People say that nobody impacts the game defensively as much as Troy. He's considered an athletic freak of nature who can cover so much field. A lot of that has been true in the past and even in the beginning of this season.
However, in the big game this year and recently, Troy Polamlau has been almost invisible, on the field. I've seen Troy on the t.v. with his Head and Shoulders commercials. I've seen him talking about Roger Goodell's punishments and critiquing his job as NFL commissioner.
The only place I haven't seen Troy Polamalu is making plays on the football field, which is his job. Before Troy fans and defenders get mad, let me state that I like Troy Polalmalu and think that he is one of the best players in the league. I also understand that teams try their best to stay away from him and gameplan around him.
All that being said, he has to do more. He has to make some big plays. Force a fumble, get an interception, make a play. His counterpart, Ed Reed, missed the first six games of the season, and already has more interceptions then Polamalu. Understanding that Reed plays free safety and Troy plays strong safety, that's still unacceptable.
Polamalu will get defended by Steelers fans because of his luscious hair and calm personality, but the Steelers need more from him. They need him to play up to his capability. All of last year, I kept hearing that the defense would have been better against the pass had Troy not been injured.
Well, he's healthy and the pass defense is struggling more then ever. As for Troy, he's just, more than anything, been a complete non-factor. A guy that talented should be making his presence felt much more. Started the year on fire and hasn't done much since.
Fact: The play-calling on both sides of the ball stinks right now. Which one is worse? Well, it's the offensive play-calling.
The Steelers are by far the most predictable team in the NFL on offense. Everyone in the stadium can tell if it's a run or a pass. Last night's game was no different. The Steelers came out in a one receiver, two tight ends, "jumbo' package, on first down, and ran the ball. They followed that by going shotgun, five wide-receivers set, and threw the ball.
When the defense knows what you're doing, it gives them a bit of an advantage. It also puts your offensive players in a almost no-win situation, especially considering the fact that the Steelers were missing two starters on their offensive line, both on the left side, which is the quarterback's blind side.
The Steelers' offense also lacks intelligence. No adjustments, no killer instinct. I don't know who is to blame for that. Is it Ben Roethlisberger? Is that why the Steelers have their receivers run deep routes on every play, causing Ben to hold on the ball longer?
Or is it offensive coordinator Bruce Arians' fault? Arians could arguably be the worst offensive coordinator in the NFL. He has a top five qb, and yet the team has a difficult time moving the ball at long points in the game.
Most of the Steelers' big plays come off of improvisation. Now Ben is really good at backyard football and is the best qb in the league when it comes to improving a play. However, the offense needs more rhythm. How about some three step drop throws? How about some more play-action? How about running the no-huddle more often?
The Steelers continue to run plays that take long to develop. When a team blitzes, the Steelers' receivers usually have their backs to their qb, causing Ben to either get sacked and run for his life.
Roethlisberger is good out of the pocket, so have some designed bootlegs and play-actions that will allow him to throw on the run. It's not rocket science.
The Steelers also got exposed in another area against the Patriots. Everyone finally saw their lack of wide receiver depth. Once Hines Ward left the game with a concussion, the Steelers' passing game seemed doomed.
Despite Roethlisberger not playing his best game, he had three potential touchdowns dropped by Antwaan Randle-El, Heath Miller and Mike Wallace.
The Steelers have to adjust their offense for the rest of this season. If play-calling continues to be a issue, the Steelers should move on from Bruce Arians.
Everyone's darling, Antwaan Randle-El is utterly useless. I want to make it clear that I still believe that he is only on this team for P.R. reasons. The Steelers had a hellacious offseason, thanks to Big Ben and Santonio Hollmes.
Antwaan Randle-El is considered a model citizen who is both a media darling and fan favorite. He does the right things and says the right things. That's all great, I'm glad that he's a good person.
That being said, there is no more reason for him to get any playing time, at all. He offers very little besides being good for an occasional trick play.
Last night, Randle-El caught five passes for 66 yards. He also dropped a potential touchdown in the first half.
For the season, Randle-El has 17 catches for 205 yards. Mediocre at it's best. This isn't 2005 anymore. Randle-El was overrated as a Steeler before and he's really overrated now.
Not only is Randle-El useless as a receiver, he's even more useless as a punt-returner. He actually has more fair catches then actual punt-returns. He continues to be the fair-catch wizard, especially inside the 20 yard line.
It isn't summer anymore. People have forgotten about the offseason incidents for the most part. There is no reason for Randle-El to play, let alone be on this team anymore.
It's time for Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown to get playing time. So what if they make some mistakes? You have to learn somehow. I would rather take a gamble on those guys making mistakes, in return for having some much needed speed on the field.
Hines Ward's streak of catching a pass in 186 consecutive games ended last night. Ward got rocked by New England Patriots' safety James Sanders, which caused Ward to drop the ball and to leave the game.
Ward was just five games away from passing Marvin Harrison for second all-time in that stat. The Steelers' offense could have used Ward last night, especially in the red-zone. The Steelers had three potential touchdowns dropped and you would like to think that Ward would have caught one of those.
Ward left the game with concussion like symptoms. I wonder if anyone questioned Ward's toughness for not returning. The word is that Hines wanted to come back into the game but was not cleared by the doctors.
I don't question that, but I do find just a bit of karma for Ward, after he questioned Ben Roethlisberger's toughness last year. Roethlisberger did not play against the Baltimore Ravens last year because he was not cleared by the doctors. Ward then went on national television and said that he would have played if it were him.
I don't think Ben will return the favor.
As for the actual hit, I thought that a flag could have been thrown on the play. As a Steelers' fan you have to wonder how it would have played out if it would have been Ryan Clark or James Harrison delivering the hit.
With the Steelers down 17-3, Jeff Reed missed a 26 yard field goal. Now, this did not lose the game. I don't blame Jeff Reed for the loss.
That being said, I'm about done with him. I'm done with his whining. After the game last night, Jeff Reed talked to the media and had some interesting things to say.
Thanks to the good folks at steelersdepot.com, who has the entire interview with Reed, everyone got to here a sour Reed speak after the game. Dressed in a "haters hate" tee shirt, Reed went on to say that the fans are only there to bash him, and then went on to blame the turf for his misses.
Reed has been playing at Heinz Field since 2002, so I automatically dismiss that excuse. As for the fans bashing him, don't give them a reason to bash you. Make some field goals, especially the ones that you're supposed to make.
All offseason, Reed complained about his contract and said that he feels betrayed. Yet the Steelers franchised him, making him one of the highest paid kickers in the league this year.
Reed is not playing like a player that doesn't have a contract should be. Instead of blaming the fans, the field, and the Steelers, Reed needs to take a long look at himself, because he only has himself to blame.
Let me start on Ben by saying this, Ben did not play well in the first half. That being said, Ben was still the Steelers' best player on the field last night.
The Steelers had two backups playing on the left side of the offensive line. Hines Ward got injured in the 1st quarter. The defense was awful and so was the offensive play-calling.
Yet Roethlisberger still did everything he could to keep the Steelers in it. He was running for his life for most of the night, getting sacked five times. Usually the sacks are on Ben because he holds on to the ball long, but not last night. The pass rushers came fast and Ben was set up to fail.
Roethlisberger took the Steelers into the red-zone on multiple occasions last night. He had three potential touchdowns DROPPED. Another trip in the red-zone resulted in a 26 yard missed field goal by Jeff Reed. I guess that's Ben's fault?
Roethlisberger on the night, was 30-49, for 387 yards, with three touchdown passes and a 97 qb rating. He threw a pick six, but the game was out of reach by then. Most of these stats came in garbage time when the game was out of reach.
That being said, Ben lead the Steelers to 23 points in the 4th quarter, only to have the Patriots combat that with 16 more points in the 4th. If the Steelers' defense could have made some key stops or big plays, Ben might have given this team a chance to comeback.
Ben has to overcome a lot the rest of the season. Inept play-calling, a junior varsity offensive line, and slow-mediocre receivers with the exception of Mike Wallace. Heck, Ben can't even rely on Heath Miller anymore.
In the end, the Steelers were outplayed, outcoached, and outmatched last night by the New England Patriots. If the Steelers can somehow fix their problems and try and compete for a Super Bowl this year, they're going to have to make some major adjustments.
They have to put some of their personal prides aside and get the best players on the field. I"m talking about getting William Gay, Antwaan Randle-El, and Jeff Reed off the field. I'm talking about addressing the mediocre play-calling.
The Steelers' next game is against the red hot Oakland Raiders. The Radiers come to Heinz Field winning three games in a row, and are playing for a division title. After a Steelers' loss last night, this now becomes a huge game, and a bit scary.
Last year, the Oakland Raiders upset the Pittsburgh Steelers in a game in which the defense had a total meltdown. The Steelers blew three fourth quarter leads and made Bruce Gradkowski look like Dan Marino.
This Raiders team is much better, and even more confident. The Raiders feature the 2nd ranked rushing atttack and the 2nd best pass defense.
That means that tackling on defense will be the most important part of the game. The Steelers also have to be able to run the ball to open up play-action.
This game will be a must win, being that there are only two gimme type games left on the schedule for the Steelers.
This season was the 4th year in a row that the Steelers started 6-2 and if the Steelers lose a couple more games, would lead to another year with a second half self-destruction.
This article along with many others can also be read on the Pittsburgh dedicated blog www.412sportstalk.net.