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Patriots vs. Steelers: Pittsburgh Exposes Flaws That Will Affect Pats Long-Term

PITTSBURGH, PA - OCTOBER 30:  Antonio Brown #84 of the Pittsburgh Steelers dives into the endzone to score a touchdown against the New England Patriots during the game on October 30, 2011 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images
Cian FaheyFeatured ColumnistOctober 31, 2011

There is no doubt that the Pittsburgh Steelers are an overwhelmingly talented football team, however the New England Patriots contributed to their own downfall also in the team's second loss of the season at Heinz Field.

While the score was only 25-17 in the end, the Patriots were really never in the game. Even when they had a chance to score on two quick drives late in the game, and take a one-point lead, the same offensive incision wasn't evident.

Tom Brady will remain an elite quarterback, however it is evidently obvious that he is still a system quarterback also. He can be both.

The unanimous MVP from last season is an elite talent who throws an unbelievably accurate football, shows great pocket awareness and understanding of opposing defenses. However, unlike an Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger or even Cam Newton, Brady must be comfortable in order to be effective.

Playing behind the best pass-protecting offensive line in football has allowed Brady to be dominant over the past two seasons. However, that was not the case yesterday.

LaMarr Woodley was the scariest thing in sight this Halloween for Brady before going out injured. Woodley dominated Sebastien Vollmer, who started in place of rookie Nate Solder at right tackle. Solder should probably return to the starting lineup as Vollmer was exposed significantly in ways the rookie hadn't been to this point.

Dick LeBeau showed a lot of invention with his front seven, making use of feigned blitzes from his backers and stunts from his linemen.


It is a well known fact that Tom Brady cannot deal with pressure through the middle; the Patriots have built their offensive line from the inside out with Logan Mankins and Brian Waters playing some of the best football of their careers to this point of the season.

LeBeau knew that his defense needed to get in Brady's face to shut down the Patriots offense. Instead of looking to power through the expert offensive linemen, the Steelers defensive coordinator confused the Patriots offense and shot through the gaps.

Without Dan Koppen at center, the Patriots did not communicate well, allowing pressure up the middle on multiple occasions to crossfire linebacker blitzes and outside stunts from Woodley and defensive end Ziggy Hood.

Bill Belichick doesn't have the instant remedy of Koppen to fix this problem, as the team's starting center was placed on injured reserve. Dan Connolly is not solely responsible for the communication issues but his inexperience at playing the position will be a major point of contention for the remainder of the season.

Even when Brady did have time, the Steelers proved once again that the Patriots lack a true playmaker on the outside.

With Ike Taylor essentially shutting down Wes Welker, and Keenan Lewis limiting Aaron Hernandez to nine receiving yards, the Patriots only had one player with a 20-plus-yard reception: Rob Gronkowski.

Gronkowski may be a brilliant tight end, but the Patriots offense is built on having multiple matchups. Gronkowski may have had three touchdowns in this fixture last year but against strong defenses, such as the Steelers, he alone will not be enough to win football games.


Chad Ochocinco's anonymity was once again infamously consistent. For anyone that had actually watched Ochocinco play over the past two or three seasons, his inability to be a big-play threat is no surprise.

Ochocinco could be a nice piece in this offense, but he is too similar to Deion Branch and Wes Welker which essentially makes him redundant.

If you contrast the Patriots receivers to the Steelers receivers from yesterday, the speed and overall play from the position is like watching two different sports.

Of course the team's two tight ends and group of receivers will be good enough to easily blow past the lesser teams in the league. The lesser teams in the league don't make it to the playoffs, however.

It was also noteworthy that the Steelers defense was missing some key figures, most notably James Harrison, Aaron Smith and LaMarr Woodley for a stretch.

The Patriots were also missing a few pieces on defense but using that as an excuse would definitely be clutching at straws.

While Bill Belichick is, in my mind, easily the best coach in the league, many of his decisions this year have been, quite simply, poor.

The Ochocinco experiment is a failure. Albert Haynesworth has added little and neither of the team's rookie running backs have proved worthwhile investments to this point, even if it is for a lack of opportunities.


The result of all this? The Patriots defense.

Most recently, Belichick released Leigh Bodden just two days before the Steelers game. Bodden may not have been starring this year, but he had been contributing and was missed yesterday. With Ras-I Dowling gone to injured reserve, and Devin McCourty looking more like a bust than the All-Pro from last season, the Patriots corners are in serious trouble.

That's without even considering the safety position, a position that Belichick has severely mishandled.

Pat Chung is solid, but by no means spectacular. Brandon Meriweather may have roamed too often, as well as being a bit...let's say rash...but why release James Sanders as well, when James Ihedigbo and Sergio Brown are now considered starters in some combination?

Because of Belichick's moves this year, the Patriots have a secondary that has the fatal combination of lacking experience and talent. Talent can overcome a lack of experience, while the opposite is also true, in certain situations.

Having neither is a death sentence, however. Each player may have some level of talent individually to contribute on NFL rosters, but as a group they are potentially the worst group in the whole league.

Had Belichick invested in his defense during the draft, as opposed to adding two additional running backs who were not needed, then maybe they could overcome the team's inherent lack of a pass rush. Without a pass rush or coverage, your defense has no chance of competing.


Belichick has been getting a pass for the moves that he has made based on his reputation as the best coach in the league and a defensive genius—by no means am I calling for him to be sacked—but one must wonder how many coaches would get away with many of the decisions he has made this year.

The New England Patriots may sit at 5-2 at this stage of the season, but the team's problems are a lot more palpable than many will want to believe.

A poor schedule will all but guarantee the team of a playoff spot, but overcoming that playoff jinx may have to be delayed for another season.


Tweeting @Cianaf


This article originally appeared at

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