We have just about completed eight weeks of the regular season, passed the Patriots’ bye week, and I think we can honestly say that we’re not sure exactly what we have in this team. Are they a Super Bowl team? A playoff team? The Pittsburgh Steelers exposed weaknesses on both sides of the ball, especially on the defense. The aggressive man-to-man, blitzing defense slowed down the Tom Brady and the offense. The pass defense, well, I think we know about them, but any improvements we thought we saw against the Jets and the Cowboys vanished.
While questions surround this team, let’s try and sort out the tricks from the treats.
Pass defense. The Pats’ pass defense tricked us into believing that they had improved, but I think that was more about the other teams (Jets and Cowboys) than it was them. James Ihedigbo said earlier today after watching the tape of Sunday’s game, “As a team, we watched that, and everyone had that look on their face, like, ‘That isn’t us.’ What we put on tape isn’t us.” I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but in 6 of your 7 games, that has been you. You and the rest of the secondary have allowed 6 quarterbacks to throw for over 300 yards, and you’re dead-last in the league in passing yards allowed and total defense. Plus, your coach let go one of the better players in your secondary. Yep, that was you.
Bill Belichick does what’s best for the team. I’m not saying Bill Belichick intentionally hurts the team, but his decision making lately, especially in terms of defensive personnel, has to be questioned. ESPN Boston’s Mike Reiss wrote an excellent article today on the subject, and you can’t argue with any of his points. Tedy Bruschi also questions the revolving door of personnel in the secondary. How is releasing two starting safeties and a starting corner doing what’s best for the team? Whatever happened to Jermaine Cunningham, last year’s second-round pick who saw a good amount of time on the field last season? Is Antwaun Molden or Philip Adams better than Leigh Bodden? Is James Ihedigbo or Sergio Brown better than James Sanders?
Chad Ochocinco - He was targeted once in Sunday’s game and looked like he quit on his route. He played in only 11 of 58 offensive snaps. He’s had a preseason, 8 regular-season weeks, and a bye week. I think it’s safe to say we were tricked here.
Tom Brady and the offense. Despite the struggles Sunday, it was against a good defense that switched up its game plan specifically for the Patriots. Even against the tough Pittsburgh D, Brady was able to pull together a drive at the end and put the team within striking distance. The offense is for real, and it may be the only thing keeping the team’s head above water.
Kevin Faulk. Playing in his first game of the year, Faulk picked up right where he left off, playing in 39 of the offense’s 58 snaps. That’s a good sign for the team moving forward, and Faulk should be able to help the offense move forward and build as he shakes off any rust that may have lingered from his time away.
Red zone defense. As bad as the defense has been, it gets awful stingy in the red area. The Steelers made mince meat of the coverage, but only scored on 2 of 5 opportunities in the red area. The score would have been much worse had it not been for the defense stiffening up in the red zone. If they could only translate that in between the 20′s…