The Patriots handled a very talented Steelers team rather easily in their quest to reach Super Bowl LI. The offense was on point and the defense played well enough for the Patriots to achieve a very comfortable win. The Patriots took the ball first despite winning the coin toss, scoring on the first drive and never trailing at any point in the game. The Patriots got big plays from their receivers, particularly Julian Edelman and Chris Hogan, who combined for 298 receiving yards on a day Brady threw for 384. The defense forced a huge goal-line stand to end the first half and got a pair of 2nd half turnovers to put the game away in the 3rd quarter.
Brady being Brady: The Steelers presented the best match-up for the Patriots offense. Despite taking advantage of some weaker offenses down the stretch, a talking point for Patriot-doubters before this game, the Steelers are just a good match for Brady. Brady easily picked apart their zone scheme, completing 32 of 42 passes for 384 yards and 3 TD. To further prove how on point Brady was, Pro Football Focus charted him with 36 catchable passes on 39 targeted attempts, an adjusted completion percentage well over 90%. The Steelers were unable to pressure Brady and when they sent extra rushers at the QB, Brady made the Steelers pay dearly. Credit goes to the offensive line, where Nate Solder, David Andrews, Shaq Mason, and Marcus Cannon all received a PFF grade above 80 for the game. Mason and Cannon were especially stout in pass protection as neither allowed a single pressure.
The Steelers blitzed Tom Brady 6 times. He completed all 6 of those passes for 108 yards and a touchdown.— Nathan Jahnke (@PFF_NateJahnke) January 23, 2017
Chris Hogan and Julian Edelman torch the Steeler secondary: This was also a favorable match-up against the Patriots as the Patriots veteran receiving corps got the better of the Steelers young secondary. Hogan paced the air game with a Julio Jones-esque stat line of 9 catches on 12 targets for 180 yards and 2 touchdowns. Edelman contributed 8/118/1 himself, including a 41-yard catch and run on the opening drive. Hogan’s 180 yard game came in a series of big chunks instead of the one big play, as Hogan had 5 catches of 20+ yards. When your top-two receivers combine for almost 300 yards, it’s most likely a good day for your offense.
Patriots use up-tempo offense early, still win time of possession overall: The key for the Patriots was to use an up-tempo passing attack to tire out the Steelers defense early. The Patriots were successful in that, quickly getting a 10-0 lead in the first quarter. The Steelers really struggled to cover the Patriots receivers as the Patriots tempo caught them off-guard multiple times. Despite the faster-moving offense and a long Steeler drive at the end of the first, the Patriots controlled the ball for 31:26. Winning the time of possession was key because that was time the Steelers potent offense was not on the field.
Goal-line stand at the end of the first half set the table for the 2nd half: At the end of the first half, the Steelers were very much in the game. Trailing 17-6 and driving inside the Patriots red zone, the Steelers got a big gain from TE Jesse James that was initially ruled a TD. Replay moved the ball to the Patriot-1/2 yard line. The Steelers tried to run the ball on first down and second down only to find the entire Patriots defensive line in the backfield for two consecutive losses. That set up a third and goal at the Patriot 5, and Roethlisberger was unable to hit Eli Rogers in the flat with Eric Rowe closing in. The Steelers had to settle for 3 points and the Patriots offense would score 19 consecutive points to put the game away by the end of the third quarter.
Defense holds it own, holds Steelers to 17 points: While it didn’t look pretty, the Patriots defense got the job done. The Patriots held the Steelers to 54 rushing yards, 368 total yards, 17 points, and forced two turnovers. The plan was to limit the effectiveness of the two best weapons on the Steelers, Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown. A groin injury suffered on the Steelers 2nd offensive drive took care of Bell, who had 20 yards on 6 carries, which allowed the Patriots to focus on forcing the Steelers to have to dink and dunk down the field. The Steelers needed big games from Eli Rogers, Jesse James, and one of Sammie Coates/Cobi Hamilton/Deangelo Williams to have a chance in the game. Brown caught 7 balls for 77 yards, but most of the damage was against the Patriots zone defense. When matched up against Malcolm Butler in man coverage, Butler stole Brown’s keys, pizza, and cell phone as he held the most prolific WR in the AFC to 24 yards on 2 catches out of 4 targets. Butler nearly came away with a INT on the first target.