The Patriots did not play a great game. The offense was inconsistent, the defense could not generate a pass rush, and special teams coverage was horrendous. However, the team made enough plays on offense and defense for a convincing win. The Patriots needed to defeat the Steelers to set themselves up for ideal postseason position, even though they didn’t have their QB and best defensive player. It was the type of game where the Patriots won, but there enough mistakes that Belichick will keep the team focused for the next game and hungry to improve.
The Blount smokes you: The Steelers were missing their best front 7 player, defensive end Cameron Heyward. His absence created a weak point in the Steelers defense, which the Patriots took advantage of. Blount picked up 127 yards on 24 carries and 2 TD. Blount had early success as the Patriots compiled an early 14-0 lead, but scuffled a bit in the 2nd quarter. The Patriots made the adjustment to a lighter formation by replacing a 2nd TE with a 3rd WR and forced the Steelers to take a defensive lineman off the field to match in nickel. Blount was able to take advantage of the smaller boxes in the second half and iced the game.
Patriots soft zones got the job done: The Patriots decided that Landry Jones was going to have to beat them by stringing together 12+ play drives. That was a smart decision by the Patriots, as the Steelers offense could only muster 3 FG and 1 TD. While the Patriots couldn’t consistently pressure the QB to generate turnovers, the defense yielded 1.25 points per drive in the game as the Steelers offense went 1 for 4 in the Red Zone (3.25 RZPPD). Credit belongs to the Patriots talented secondary, which may be the best overall unit in the NFL. Malcolm Butler recorded an end zone interception and did a good job of covering Brown.
Patriots able to limit Le’Veon Bell’s effectiveness: With Roethlisberger out of the game, the Steelers were going to put the game on Bell’s shoulders against a team with only 3 healthy DL. The Patriots did a phenomenal job in the run game, holding Bell to 81 yards on 21 carries (3.9 YPC). Bell also added 10 catches for 68 yards on 13 targets. A lot of those yards were hard-earned by Bell, that’s all you can really ask for the defense. Overall, Bell averaged less than 5 yards per touch and as a receiver 5.2 yards per target. Bell also had a killer drop for the Steelers prior to a questionable decision to kick a 54-yard FG. Bell put up 149 yards from scrimmage, but that was a result of a high-volume workload.
Sloppiness plagues offense: The Patriots sloppiness on the offensive line stalled out a few drives in the first half. The Patriots only had 4 penalties accepted against them, but had a lot of declined penalties as well. Ironically Marcus Cannon, the Pulpit punching bag for OL issues, was the only OL that wasn’t flagged for any penalties and wasn’t noticeable in the game for good reasons. In addition, they had two third down drops in the second quarter, one by RB Brandon Bolden and another by WR Julian Edelman. Edelman caught 9 balls for 60 yards as he victimized Lawrence Timmons on 5-yard crossing routes.
Special Teams played its worst game of the season: A shanked punt, a fumbled punt return, and poor kickoff and punt coverage was part of the C-level effort. Allen shanked a punt and had two of his punts turn into touchbacks as Brandon Bolden played two-phase dud as he allowed 2 punts to bounce into the end zone. The Patriots kickoff coverage struggled mightily as well as the Steelers did a good job of executing their blocks on the return. In addition towards the poor punt and kickoff coverage, kicker Stephen Gostkowski pushed a PAT attempt wide right. Fortunately I think this is an aberration on Special Teams and not something to be concerned with.