On a day where the Patriots defense failed to show up, the struggling New England offense finally broke out of their season long slump, as the Pats rolled to a 24 point win over Pittsburgh. Tom Brady threw for 432 yards and four touchdowns, as he led his team to a 600 yard, 50 point performance, a rarity in this day and age with the Patriots.
There were plenty of positives to take away from this blowout, but as always, there are things that the Pats will have to work on, particularly on the defensive end.
1. Pass Defense Struggles
Coming into this game, the Pats were decimated by injury, as Vince Wilfork, Tommy Kelly and Jerod Mayo are all lost for the season. This goes without mentioning that they were without the services of top cornerback Aqib Talib against the Steelers as well. The absence of these players on the field really hurt the Patriots defense in this game, particularly in the passing game. Surprisingly, they held up fairly well against the run, but Roethlisberger tore them up through the air, which is something that will need to be fixed.
The Steelers walked out of Gillette Stadium with 371 passing yards, due to an inconsistent pass rush, and some real spotty coverage from the Patriots. New England did sack Big Ben five times, but far too often, I found myself watching Roethlisberger sit back with all kinds of time in the pocket, just waiting for one of his receivers to break free. At times, the Pats were able to get it on Roethlisberger fairly quickly, but getting after the quarterback in a more consistent manner will have to be a point of emphasis for Belichick and company throughout the second half of the season.
As for the secondary, I thought that most of the problems could be traced back to Kyle Arrington being forced to work on the outside. Generally, Arrington is strictly a slot cornerback, but with the injury to Aqib Talib, he has been called upon to cover outside the numbers. He was beat early and often in this game, as the two guys that faced off with Arrington the most, Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery, combined for 13 catches, 194 yards and three touchdowns. I love Arrington in the slot, but the minute he moves outside, the Patriots secondary will find themselves in trouble. The rest of the defensive backfield played pretty well. Devin McCourty continued his rise to the top of the safety class in the NFL with another key interception, and Alfonzo Dennard just keeps locking guys up in man to man coverage (even the touchdown he gave up was decent coverage).
2. Offense Finally Comes Together
All season long we have been waiting for the New England offense to gel, and begin to produce like old times. I think that we can say that this group broke out of its season long slump in this game, after they put up 55 points on the “vaunted” Pittsburgh Steelers defense. Tom Brady proved to all of his doubters that he is not on the decline, and he is in fact still one of the top quarterbacks this league has to offer. Brady completed 23 of 33 passes, for 432 yards and four touchdowns. Nearly all of his throws were extremely accurate, although he was benefited by the fact that his receivers were able to separate themselves from their defenders, all game long. Rob Gronkowski started the party, hauling in seven catches for 119 yards in the first half, and it was continued by his fellow pass catchers Aaron Dobson and Danny Amendola, hauling in a combined nine catches, which went for 252 yards and three touchdowns.
Stevan Ridley also led an explosive New England running attack in this game, coming up with 115 of the Patriots’ 197 rushing yards. The Steelers found themselves in the cross-hairs, as the Patriots could run the ball and throw the ball with ease throughout this entire game. The offensive line put together a solid performance, especially considering the fact that they were without Sebastian Vollmer, who is one of the best offensive tackles in the game. But for the most part they kept Brady upright (only three sacks) and they paved the way for Ridley and company all game long. This unit has been under fire over the last couple of weeks (and rightly so), but when they play well, they deserve credit, and they definitely put forth a positive performance today.
Hopefully this offensive success can continue into the future, because if it does, the rest of the NFL better watch out.
3. Injuries Continue To Kill New England
As I mentioned earlier, the Patriots are getting absolutely obliterated on the injury front. They were already without four defensive starters heading into this game, and they came out of it without two more. Rob Ninkovich, the reliable veteran, exited out of this game in the second half with a foot injury, while safety Steve Gregory also left with what appeared to be a hand injury. We do not currently know the severity of these injuries, but they are both key contributors to this depleted defense, and the Pats can’t afford to lose anymore important players on that side of the ball. Their injury statuses will be watched closely over the next few days, with the hope that both will be ready to go in two weeks.