This week, we spoke with our neighboring Pittsburgh Steelers website to get their take on Sunday’s game between the two AFC heavyweights. First up, we analyzed how the Patriots offense and the Steelers defense match up and how we think it will play out.
BehindTheSteelCurtain.com’s Jeff Hartman
Keith Butler will have his hands full when trying to slow down Tom Brady and company, but the Steelers actually possess players to get the job done. What is truly sad for Steelers fans is if Ryan Shazier were healthy and available, this defense could actually match up well with the Patriots' offense. Many believe this defense has been built to stop New England, and why not? If you can beat the Patriots, you can probably slow down anyone in the AFC North. However, Shazier won't be back anytime soon, and this is a problem.
Rob Gronkowski has possibly owned the Steelers more than Tom Brady has over the years, and without an athletic inside linebacker, the team will have to throw safety Sean Davis, or Lord forbid, slot cornerback Mike Hilton, all 5-feet 9-inches of him, on the giant named Gronk.
It seems like an insurmountable task, but if Butler has any chance of slowing down Brady enough to win, it will be with the front 5. If Cam Heyward, Javon Hargrave, Stephon Tuitt and any combination of two linebackers can put pressure on Brady without sending blitzes, the Steelers secondary has been able to slow down passing attacks all season. The health of Joe Haden, who has returned to practice in a limited basis, will be paramount in the endeavor.
But that isn't it, Butler has to worry about those pesky running backs who are extremely versatile. Look for him to always have the running backs accounted for with athletic players like Bud Dupree and T.J. Watt to help prevent those screen passes, draws and zone running plays which have turned into splash plays against the Steelers defense since the midway point of the season.
If I am Butler, I know stopping this offense isn't in the cards without Shazier. Slowing them down might even be a stretch, but the focus for this defense in Week 15 should just be to cause some punts. Get some stops and force the Patriots to punt the ball back to the potent Steelers offense. If you can't force punts and are giving up time-consuming drives, holding the Patriots to field goals is your best chance at winning.
PatsPulpit.com’s Rich Hill
If I’m New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, I’m hoping for a much better outing against Pittsburgh than I had against the Miami Dolphins. Going 0 for 11 on third down was inexcusable and it was rooted in a mix of terrible execution by the players and poor play calling.
The return of Rob Gronkowski to the lineup certainly changes the Patriots offensive make-up and his presence creates a trickle down effect for everyone else. Last week, without Gronkowski, the Dolphins were happy to double cover both Brandin Cooks and Chris Hogan on the sidelines and to give up yards underneath to the Patriots running backs or to tight end Dwayne Allen.
With Gronkowski in the lineup and running up the seam, one of Cooks and Hogan should have a favorable match-up on the outside, or else Gronkowski will be open in the middle. He’s the engine that opens up opportunities and with the Steelers weaker at linebacker, there should be plenty of opportunities.
I would also do a better job establishing the run against the Steelers defense because there was no excuse for throwing the ball so much in the first half when it was still a one score game- it simply allowed the Dolphins pass rush to tee off on Tom Brady in the pocket. Instead, the Patriots need to do a better job using Dion Lewis and Rex Burkhead up the middle of the field to set up more favorable second- and third-down scenarios, soften the Steelers pass rush, set up the play action, and buy more time from Brady to throw the ball down the field.
How do you see the Patriots offense faring against the Steelers defense?