New England Patriots QB Tom Brady understands how to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers defense because it hasn’t really changed over the course of his career. The Steelers are vulnerable if the quarterback and receivers are on the same page because of their style of defense.
“The Steelers are a zone coverage team,” Jeff Hartman of BehindTheSteelCurtain.com writes. “They might run man concepts from time to time, but they rely on their cover 2 scheme primarily. Those teams who have moved the ball through the air against the Steelers have done two things. Protect the quarterback, especially against the blitz, and been able to fit the ball into the windows of the zone. The Steelers are still vulnerable in the back half, but the pass rush has been doing their job getting the quarterback off his mark and creating havoc in the backfield. If the Patriots can keep Brady clean, and not having to move around a lot out of the pocket, they could have success in the passing game.”
Brady needs receivers that he can trust, which is why rookie WR Malcolm Mitchell will be active, possibly over recently acquired WR Michael Floyd. The receivers will need to sit in the same zones that Brady sees. They will have to see the same blitzes as Brady and react according so Brady can make the quick pass to avoid the rush.
And it helps that the Patriots have the perfect personnel to counter the Steelers defenders.
There are multiple ways to beat the cover 2 defense, but one of the most basic is by flooding zones with multiple receivers, forcing defenders to make decisions. The cover 2 relies on each defensive back and linebacker having a certain coverage zone. If the Patriots can run a running back like Dion Lewis or James White on a wheel route towards the sideline, while also running a wide receiver into the same zone, the cornerback will have to decide which player to cover- and Brady will have already delivered the ball to the open player.
The same quickness applies to defeating the Steelers zone blitz. If Pittsburgh sends an additional rusher at Brady, then the receiver will have to sit down in the the vacated zone and expect Brady to deliver the ball before the coverage compensates for the blitz. Brady is one of the best quarterbacks in the league against the blitz and should be able to make the right pass.
It also helps that the Patriots receivers are perfect counters to the big Steelers cornerbacks like rookie CB Artie Burns and 3rd-year veteran Ross Cockrell.
“There are different types of cornerbacks,” Patriots WR Julian Edelman said this week. “You’ve got your longer guys that will try to get physical with you and use their length, and you’ve got your quick guys that will try to use their quickness, and then you’ve got your ‘tweener’ guys that will try to use both. So, it all depends on the corner.”
“They’re longer guys,” Edelman added about the Pittsburgh secondary. “They’re long guys, so we’ll see what they do...Burns, he’s an unbelievable athlete, a first-rounder out of Miami. The kid’s got it all; he’s got the athleticism, the speed, length. So, he’s definitely been playing well.”
Edelman is saying that he expects the Steelers cornerbacks to be physical at the line of scrimmage, and that the Patriots will have to win with their quickness. The players that are quicker than the likes of Edelman, Chris Hogan, and Danny Amendola at receiver, Lewis and White at running back, and Martellus Bennett at tight end are far and few between.
The Patriots are a perfect counter to the Steelers defense due to the intelligence of Brady at quarterback and his ability against the blitz, along with the quickness and savvy of the receivers, and the receiving ability of the running backs. If the offensive line can do their job against the Steelers suddenly powerful pass rush, then the Patriots should be able to move the ball against Pittsburgh with ease.