2. Drape double-coverage on Antonio Brown and put your best corner on JuJu Smith-Schuster.
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Part of the reason the Patriots have been so successful against the Steelers in previous meetings boils down to their defensive strategies against Pittsburgh’s top weapons. Conventional wisdom says a team should put their top cornerback on the opposing team’s top receiver, but Belichick has repeatedly eschewed that philosophy when playing Pittsburgh.
Instead, he assigns his biggest, rangiest cornerback to the Steelers’ biggest, rangiest receiver. Last year, and probably this year again, that means he’ll have Stephon Gilmore shadow JuJu Smith-Schuster across the field on Sunday.
Gilmore is having a standout season with the Patriots. He’s not only the team’s undisputed best corner – he also might be the best corner in the NFL this year. At 6’1 and 202 lbs, he’s also New England’s largest corner with the widest wingspan, making him a perfect fit for the 6’1, 215-lb Smith-Schuster.
So what to do then with Antonio Brown? He might be smaller than Smith-Schuster, but he’s miles faster, has surer hands, and above all, has a much-longer and deeper rapport with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Brown is arguably the best wideout in the entire NFL, so Belichick has taken to treating him as such by double-teaming him from whistle to whistle.
Typically this means assigning New England’s No. 2 corner to Brown with safety help over the top. In years past, that meant Malcolm Butler and Devin McCourty were responsible for keeping Brown contained. This year, that tall task falls to McCourty and either his twin brother Jason or rookie cornerback J.C. Jackson.