The New England Patriots coaching staff knew exactly how they wanted to approach the first game of the season against the Pittsburgh Steelers. A heavy dose of Julian Edelman in the open field and then tight end Rob Gronkowski and Scott Chandler in the red zone left the Steelers defense without much hope on the day. The Patriots were victorious with a 28-21 final score.
Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels dialed up the tempo with plenty of success as the Steelers looked to play on their heels the entire first half of the game. Running back Dion Lewis was a major player in the Patriots offensive attack, collecting 120 yards from scrimmage on 19 touches. Lewis was a sparkplug, up until his goal line fumble, providing quality pass protection along with his fantastic open field running.
The Patriots offensive line rotated throughout the game with undrafted free agent rookie David Andrews the lone lineman to take every offensive snap. Andrews was overpowered in pass protection early in the game, but quickly adjusted and acted as a quality pivot for the offensive line. Right guard Tre Jackson, left guard Shaq Mason, and swing guard Josh Kline all rotated on the offensive line, with Josh Kline taking the vacant spot opposite of the rookie. Marcus Cannon also rotated with tackles Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer.
Of course, the Patriots tempo really limited any pass rush the Steelers could have generated, but overall the offensive line had a quality performance. Shaq Mason made positive plays in the running game, while Kline, Andrews and Jackson put in good days at the office. On an initial glace, Cannon looked like he struggled in pass protection, while Nate Solder took a few drives to settle into his role.
Gronkowski posted a monster 5 catch, 94 yard, 3 touchdown game, which complemented Edelman's 11 reception, 97 yard day. Both picked up exactly where they left off in 2014.
On the defensive side, the Patriots lost Dominique Easley early in the game to a hip injury; he did not return. It looked like an injury that could have happened to anyone, due to an awkward torque by the opposing lineman, but since it's Easley any injury deserves greater scrutiny.
The Patriots run defense was abhorrent and let Steelers running back DeAngelo Williams gain yards at will. In particular, Rob Ninkovich was unable to set the edge, which led to greater snaps for Jabaal Sheard late in the game. When Easley went out with his injury, the Patriots interior was also unable to remain stout and close rushing lanes.
The New England secondary put in a quietly solid outing against the Steelers. While Antonio Brown collected 133 yards and a touchdown on 9 receptions, exclusively in coverage against Malcolm Butler, Butler did a good job on a snap-to-snap basis to inspire confidence later in the year. Across from Butler, Tarell Brown was excellent and hardly targeted.
25% of Ben Roethlisberger's production came in garbage time.
The Patriots benefit from multiple Steelers miscues, including two missed field goals in Pittsburgh's first three drives. New England took advantage of their red zone opportunities and took a 14-3 lead into the half. The teams exchanged touchdowns after the half, with tight end Scott Chandler posting his first touchdown as a Patriot.
New England finally put the game out of reach with Rob Gronkowski's third touchdown of the day.
Later in the fourth, Duron Harmon intercepted Ben Roethlisberger, reminiscent of Harmon's interception of fellow AFC North quarterback Joe Flacco in the playoffs.
Ben Roethlisberger closed out the game with 77 garbage time yards and a touchdown to Antonio Brown as the Patriots helped wind down the clock.
The Patriots have a lot to review, but they leave Week 1 with a sterling 1-0 record.