I had been curious over the last few weeks as to whether the Patriots’ pass defense was truly improving or they were merely the benefactors of teams that were featuring their running game. The Steelers answered my pondering today by torching the Patriots’ defense through the air en route to a 23-17 victory. The Steelers’ offensive game plan was simple: Attack the Patriots’ weakness on defense in the secondary and run sparingly. Ben Roethlisberger threw the ball 50 times while the Steelers ran the ball 23 times, and that’s including two Roethlisberger sneaks. The majority of the runs came in the 4th quarter when the Steelers were trying to put the game away.
How effective was the Steelers’ passing attack? They didn’t punt until there were 28 seconds left in the 4th quarter.
The horrendousness of the pass defense can’t be put into words, so let’s go to the stats. Ben Roethlisberger was 36/50 for 365 yards, 2 touchdowns and a pick. The defense could not get off the field on third down, allowing the Steelers to convert on 10 of 16 third downs (62%). The worst came on a 3rd-and-15 when the defense gave up a 17-yard Emmanuel Sanders first down. Of the Steelers’ 29 first downs, 23 came through the air. The time of possession was a lopsided 39:22 to 20:38.
The Patriot offense could never get going, partially due to the defense’s inability to get off the field. Tom Brady couldn’t get into a rhythm, and he was harassed by the Steeler defense most of the game. Opposed to the Steelers’ old game plan of playing off and zoning the Patriot offense, they played bump-and-run, not allowing the receivers to get a free release, and brought pressure on Brady. The game plan was very similar to what the Jets were able to do in the playoffs back in January.
The Patriots were able to get the game to within 6 with 2:55 left in the game, but a pitiful onside kick attempt gave the Steelers good field position. The defense was able to knock the Steelers out of field goal range, giving Brady the ball back with about 19 seconds left. On the Pats’ first play, Steelers DE Brett Keisel strip sacked Brady and Troy Polamalu swatted the ball (illegally) towards the end zone. The Steelers were able to get a safety from the strip sack, adding two points to their lead and ending the game.
On the positive side, Kevin Faulk made his return and played a majority of the snaps at running back. He had six runs for 32 yards and 5 catches for 20 yards. The score could have been MUCH worse had the defense not stiffened up inside the 20-yard line, and Shaun Suisham not missed a field goal.
Next up, the Patriots host the New York Giants. The Giants relied heavily on Eli Manning today, who threw 43 times. Care to guess what the Giants will do on offense next week?