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Postgame, Week 14: New England 34, Pittsburgh 13

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Actions vs. Words
Who Needs a Running Game?

OK, so you don't need a running game to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers.

That's not entirely true. You need to run it four times in the first quarter to get a loudmouth benchwarmer to bite on play-action so one of the best quarterback-receiver combos ever can hook up on a 63-yard wide-open touchdown.

Playing "defense" on that touchdown was none other than the benchwarmer himself, Anthony Smith, the guy who "guaranteed" Pittsburgh would beat New England.

P1hotobucket - Video and Image Hosting 34 - - - P1hotobucket - Video and Image Hosting 13

Smith said that the Cincinnati Bengals receivers are better than New England's before guaranteeing the victory. The day after, he stood by his claim, so as not to be misconstrued. Posed the prospect that the Patriots would target him for big plays, Smith said, "I hope they do. I haven't been getting a lot of action, so hopefully I get a chance to make some big plays, and if the receivers come after me, I welcome it."

Be careful what you wish for.

Worth A Thousand Words Patriots wide receiver Randy Moss has, uh .. words .. for Pittsburgh backup safety Anthony Smith who earlier last week guaranteed the Steelers would beat New England. The Patriots won 34-13.

Photo courtesy: The Boston Globe / Jim Davis

After the game, Patriots coach Bill Belichick, always complimentary of the opponent before and after a game ("It was a good win and Pittsburgh is a good team"), let a rare derogatory comment slip.

"I think Rodney [Harrison] put it best," Belichick said. Earlier in the week, told of Smith's guarantee, Harrison said, "Anthony who?"

"I'll just leave it at that," Belichick said.

But he didn't leave it at that.

"We've played against a lot better safeties than him, I'll tell you."

Tom Brady, also generally complimentary, was a little kinder.

"He's the one that's got to go back to his team," Brady said.

Brady did a little more talking on the field, and not just with his arm. Brady had some words for Smith after his first touchdown pass, a 4-yarder to Randy Moss in the middle of the end zone -- with Smith in coverage.

"I don't care to repeat it [what was said]," Brady said, "especially if my mother reads it. She wouldn't be happy with what I said."

Brady to Moss to Brady to Gaffney Lateral-recipient Randy Moss lateraled back to Tom Brady who heaved a pass 65 yards in the air to Jabar Gaffney, who had about 10 yards on Pittsburgh safety Anthony Smith. Gaffney had to wait for the deep pass, but he still scored an easy 56-yard touchdown.

Top photos: Boston Herald / Matt Stone; bottom photo: The Boston Globe / Jim Davis

Not so coincidentally, Smith mouthing off back to Brady was when Pittsburgh's 242-pound linebacker James Harrison bumped Brady hard from behind. Real tough guy.

Moss was even more gracious .. sort of.

"I think that the Baltimore Ravens and the Pittsburgh Steelers, as far as their toughness and their mouths, it's no telling what's coming out next," he said. "Like I said, they've done their talking throughout the week and we did our talking on the field today."

Getting Back to the Running Game

Including his four 1st-quarter carries, Laurence Maroney was pedestrian. Even less than that. Pedestrians cover more ground crossing the street than Maroney covered all game. His longest carry was 10 yards, and the offensive line did most of the work in a scrum.

Maroney's runs:

  1. 1st quarter, 5:39, 1st-and-10, 2 yards
  2. 1st quarter, 3:42, 1st-and-10, 10 yards
  3. 1st quarter, 2:32, 3rd-and-1, 2 yards
  4. 1st quarter, 1:51, 1st-and-goal (7), 3 yards
  5. 2nd quarter, 11:21, 2nd-and-10, zero yards
  6. 2nd quarter, 9:48, 2nd-and-10, zero yards
  7. 4th quarter, 2:49, 1st-and-10, 2 yards
  8. 4th quarter, 2:05, 2nd-and-8, -1 yards

Eight runs, only one for more than 3 yards, three for zero or a loss. The "drives" with is two 2nd-and-10 yards for no gain were both 3-and-outs, one a punt, one a field goal. Trying to run out the clock in the 4th quarter, he was no Clock-Killin' Corey Dillon (or Sammy Morris). He gained 1 yard total on two runs.

From Another Angle No matter how you slice it, the Patriots defense put Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger under the kind of pressure the Steelers were supposed to put Tom Brady. Linebacker Adalius Thomas (96) figured differently.

Left photo: The Boston Globe / Jim Davis; right photo: Boston Herald / Matt Stone

In fairness to Maroney, the Steelers did have the No. 2 rushing defense in the league. Pittsburgh remains No. 2 behind Minnesota.

Remember the Vikings? Last year, when they had the No. 1 rushing defense, the Patriots ran the ball just 15 times for 86 yards total. Maroney ran the ball 8 times (sound familiar) for 34 yards. Heath Evans lead the team with 35 yards -- all on one carry. Meanwhile, Tom Brady was 29 of 43 (.674) for 372 yards, 4 TDs, 1 interception and a passer rating of 115.6. Sunday, Brady was 32 of 46 (.696), 399 yards, 4 TDs, no interceptions and a passer rating of 125.2.

You know what? Those two games are not every different. Two opponents, excellent against the run, not very good against the pass. At least not Sunday. Pittsburgh had (past tense) the league's best defense (now owned by Indy), but they were without their two starting safeties, one replaced by a guy who will be a backup on a much worse team next year.

If we learned anything in the 2006 Minnesota game that we forgot before Sunday, it's that this isn't the 1970s NFL. You don't necessarily need a running game. You need a great game plan, and you need players with the ability to execute it. New England's previous two games are also microcosms of that tenet -- except that the Patriots had the players who executed in the 4th quarter of each.

Establish the Run? Why?

Last season, Brady had 12 interceptions in 516 attempts (2.33 percent) with a crew of castoffs and rejects (plus Troy Brown and oft-injured then-rookie Chad Jackson), and Brady and the running backs, relied on more for output, fumbled 15 times.

This year, with a top-notch receiving corps, Brady has 5 interceptions in 476 attempts -- a mind-melting 1.05 percent. The team has 4 fumbles. Three of those are Brady's, and one was by Ellis Hobbs on a kickoff return. So, really, with the offense as it's currently constituted, while Brady accounts for 8 of New England's 10 turnovers (Matt Cassel also has an interception), it would still be difficult to argue that "lack of a running game" hurts New England -- in good weather. The ball is as safe coming off Brady's arm as it is in the hands of almost any running back.

One of the big differences against Pittsburgh as opposed to against Philadelphia or (as much as I could tell from ESPN's terrible coverage) Baltimore, is that New England showed the Steelers a lot of different looks, even though a large majority of the basic formations were four or five receiver/tight-end sets. Randy Moss was split wide left, wide right, in the right slot. Kevin Faulk was lined up behind Brady, next to Brady, split wide right, in the left slot. Wes Welker lined up wide on each side and in the slot on each side.

So, You Can Run on New England? Pittsburgh running back Willie Parker may have gained 124 yards, but they were tough yards. Patriots defenders Rodney Harrison (37), Richard Seymour (93) and Junior Seau (55) made sure of it.

Photo courtesy: Boston Herald / Matt Stone

Rarely did the Patriots line up in the same set on more than a couple consecutive plays -- except when New England played "we're running it until you stop it," a favorite game they've played time to time, like in last year's Wild Card drubbing of the Jets when Faulk ran straight up the middle on three straight plays. Or another time (don't remember the game) when Brady hit Faulk on three straight screen passes.

This time, it was Brady to Welker -- five straight plays, almost all exactly the same:

  • (Shotgun) T. Brady pass short right to W.Welker to NE 23 for 22 yards
  • (No Huddle, Shotgun) T. Brady pass short right to W.Welker to NE 34 for 11 yards
  • (No Huddle, Shotgun) T. Brady pass short right to W.Welker to NE 41 for 7 yards
  • (No Huddle, Shotgun) T. Brady pass short right to W.Welker to PIT 44 for 15 yards
  • (No Huddle) T. Brady pass short right to W.Welker to PIT 36 for 8 yards
Welker was lined up in the right slot, Moss split wide left, on every play.

New England wasted little time on offense, at least in the first half. Only one of their six drives lasted longer than 2 minutes. That drive was the second (the first was a 3-and-out, lasting just 1:01). New England ran 9 plays to gain 52 yards, taking a mere 4:40 off the clock. The next longest drive was their last of the half, an 8-play drive covering 64 yards (including a 10-yard offensive holding), taking just 1:47 off the clock and ending with a field goal.

New England had one other scoring drive in the first half: one play, 63 yards (10 seconds). We've covered that.

So that's three drives totaling 18 plays, taking just 6:37. The other three first-half drives: 3, 3 and 4 plays.

Another Tale of Two Halfs

The second half was different. Very different.

The Patriots had just four drives, and one of those was an attempt to kill the game clock late in the fourth quarter. Otherwise, their three drives were 4 plays (the last was the double-lateral), 94 yards, 2:29 and a touchdown; 10 plays, 44 yards, 4:35 and a touchdown; and 13 plays, 89 yards, 6:27 and a field goal. Three series, 27 plays, 12:31.

Yeah, That's the Guy Randy Moss points at Pittsburgh's Anthony Smith in the end zone of New England's 34-13 win over the Steelers on Sunday. Smith guaranteed a Patriots win. After the loss, he guaranteed the teams would meet again in the playoffs.

Photo courtesy: Boston Herald / Nancy Lane

The Steelers owned the edge in time of possession for every quarter. They scored one touchdown and made just two field goals, all in the first half. That's the bend-don't-break defense that's become very familiar to us.

Pittsburgh's two longest first half drives of 15 and 12 plays (8:14 and 5:52 of game time) culminated in two field goals. The touchdown came on a drive with Willie Parker's 30-yard run -- the only significant damage he did all night -- and the broken play that resulted in a "look-what-I-found" Bledsoe HuckTM from Ben Roethlisberger to Najeh Davenport.

Bend-don't-break was never exemplified better in 2007 than on Pittsburgh's drive spanning the end of the 3rd to the start of the 4th quarter. Down 31-13, the Steelers pounded the ball down the field. Four runs, two passes to a 1st-and-goal the Patriots 8. Parker off the right tackle for 3 yards, Hines Ward on a shovel pass to the 1. Then an incomplete pass in the left corner of the end zone to Santonio Holmes with spectacular defense by Rodney Harrison. Then, on something of a "trick" play, a handoff to Ward in motion over the right tackle. Harrison was there again.

OK, so Chad Jackson was returning kicks and punts -- a second-year, second-round draft pick with not much else to do. OK, so the Patriots don't have much of a running game.

Flaws?

One Steeler player remained unimpressed.

"We'll see them again," Anthony Smith said.

Some people never learn.

Poll

With the Patriots 13-0 after Week 14, they will finish ...

This poll is closed

  • 80%
    ... 16-0
    (80 votes)
  • 15%
    ... 15-1
    (15 votes)
  • 1%
    ... 14-2
    (1 vote)
  • 4%
    ... 13-3
    (4 votes)
100 votes total Vote Now