So we finally get to the start of the season, but we still can’t escape the deflategate saga, but after the opening parade of trophies and celebrations we could finally move on to football.
It was an interesting game with both teams transitioning on defence, but for me the game was won and lost in the red zone. The Steelers had no problem moving the ball as they were able to establish the run early, and actually generated more yards on offence that the Patriots. However, whilst they connected with a number of deep passes, their offence kept getting bogged down in the opponent’s half and they lost six points with Josh Scobee missing his first two field goal attempts. The Patriots however, after a first series stall, managed to get a two touchdown lead and were never really troubled by the Steelers for the rest of the game.
The Steelers offence looked good for the most part, and they certainly were prepared for Le’Veon Bell’s suspension, with DeAngelo Williams throwing off the years and running for one hundred and twenty-seven yards at an average of six yards per carry. The deep ball was also working against the Patriots rebuilt secondary, with several such passes going to Anotio Brown, Markus Wheaton somehow getting his feet in after Ben Roethlisberger was given an age to find a receiver, and Darrius Heyward-Bey managing to get behind Bradley Fletcher on a go route to gain fourty-three yards that was the Steelers’ longest play of the game. The problem is that they stalled at the Patriots’ twenty-six and twenty-eight yard line for the missed field goals, got field goals from the twenty-six and six yard lines, whilst only scoring two touchdowns.
The Patriots rebuilt their defence in the offseason, but appeared to be focussing on their front seven rather than trying to replace the cornerbacks they let go. However, right from the first series they appeared to be soft against the run, and given the success the Steelers were having, I was surprised to see them run a trick play early that gave Antonio Brown the chance to throw the ball, but which merely led to a sack. The Patriots were able to generate some pressure, sacking Roethlisberger two times in addition to getting Brown down, but at other times big Ben had plenty of time to throw the ball and they were beaten deep a number of time. What they were able to do though, was to bend and not break, as the defence managed to stop the Steelers as the field got shorter. We will have to see how this works as the season goes along, but they did enough in this game to get the job done.
The Patriots on offence on the other, hand were highly effective at what they do, and it was the usual suspects. The reinstated Tom Brady threw for two hundred and eighty-eight yards with twenty five completions from thirty-two attempts. The majority of these passes went to Julian Edleman and Rob Gronkowski, with Gronkowski being the kind of red zone threat that the Steelers struggled to find. Their was no sign of the early wobble that troubled the Patriots last season, and I go back to the loss of their long time line coach Dante Scarnecchia and the resulting adjustment as a possible cause for this. They ran the ball fairly well with Dion Lewis, and with Brady they always have a chance, but I might be a little concerned for them if Gronk or Eldeman were out for any stretch of time.
The Steelers defence looked off for most of the night, there were flashes of what they were trying to do, but there appeared to be a lot of miscommunication and they did nothing to allay the fears regarding their secondary. It will be interesting to see how the defence progresses as they gain experience in the changed system, and they will have been happy to see their first round draft pick Alvin Dupree pick up a sack in his first game.
Finally I want to look at two specific plays that caught my eye during the game. This season I will be working on a series I will call adventures in film. I’ll be looking at a game from the previous week once the tape becomes available, and picking out certain plays from the Thursday night games when I write up that game.
The first play that struck me was a beautifully timed completion to Danny Amendola. The Patriots lined up shotgun with five receivers, three on the left and two on the right. The Patriots snap the ball and the Steelers rush with four. Danny Amendola is the closest receiver to the line on the left side with Gronkowski and then Edleman outside him; Amendola runs an out then up route whilst Gronkowski runs a hitch that sets a pick to get Amendola open whilst Edleman runs a go route. Ryan Shazier has a relatively clear path to Brady, but on receiving the snap Brady takes a further three step drop and then floats a ball over the trailing William Gay for an eighteen yard completion before anyone can get to him. It was a lovely play, and I don’t know how a defence can counter it with Brady getting rid of the ball so quickly and given that the safety has to honour the go route of Edleman.
The other play I wanted to look at was the sack by safety Will Allen. The Patriots line up with 11 personnel (ie one tight end and one running back) in a shotgun formation with Gronkowski the right side tight end and running back Dion Lewis to Brady’s left. The Steelers are in a 3-3 nickel with single high safety coverage and a linebacker playing as one of the down linemen. Will Allen just times his run to perfection so he’s moving when the ball is snapped but no one accounts for him as a pass rusher. Thanks to William Gay rushing from the nickel corner spot on the same side as Allen, running back Dion Lewis picks up Gay, leaving Allen a free run to the quarterback. What caught my eye about this play initially was the timing of Allen’s run, but in looking at it on coaching tape, it also demonstrates that although the defence maybe changing, the zone blitz is not done in Pittsburgh. They may have sent a corner and a safety, but it was a classic overload of one side whilst all four linebackers dropping into coverage, so the defence only actually rushed four, sticking to the aim of the zone blitz to generate a pass rush safely.