The New England Patriots defense was supposed to face their first challenge since hosting QB Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks back in week 9. The Pittsburgh Steelers were on a hot streak and they finally had their Three B’s of QB Ben Roethlisberger, RB Le’Veon Bell, and WR Antonio Brown.
After facing Colin Kaepernick, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Jared Goff, Joe Flacco, Trevor Siemian, Bryce Petty, Matt Moore, and Brock Osweiler in consecutive weeks, a veritable rotation of back-ups, nobodies, and has-beens, Roethlisberger was finally supposed to be the quarterback to expose the Patriots defense.
Not so fast.
While the Patriots limited Roethlisberger to 24 of 38 attempts for 249 yards and 1 interception for a rating of 71.1 prior to his final garbage time drive, the caveats started coming home to roost.
The Steelers lost RB Le’Veon Bell to a groin injury early in the game and back-up RB DeAngelo Williams is clearly a lesser talent (although Williams is a good back in his own right). WR Sammie Coates and WR Cobi Hamilton missed out on possible touchdown grabs. The Patriots barely touched Roethlisberger in the backfield, who isn’t very good on the road anyways.
The Steelers offense ranked 8th in DVOA in the overall rankings, as well as the passing and rushing rankings. The Patriots handled them with ease. The Falcons rank 1st in overall DVOA and passing DVOA, and a solid 7th in rushing DVOA. Atlanta’s offense has been incredibly consistent against one of the toughest slates of opposing defenses.
While the Patriots defense is better than both the Earl Thomas-less Seattle Seahawks defense and the injured Green Bay Packers defense, Falcons QB Matt Ryan has had success against the top passing defenses in the league. The Patriots defensive performance in the Super Bowl will be the only game that matters to critics of this year’s team.
(h/t to The Onion for the title influence)