Point: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Counterpoint: if it IS broke, then, maybe, I don’t know, fix it?
When this year’s edition of “3 Games to Glory” came out a few weeks ago, like any fan, the first thought is “Shut up and take my money, I can drink whatever regular Starbucks coffee is called instead of lattes for a week or two for this.”
(clicks “Place Order”)
Second thought, though, was “Wait, both of those playoff games weren’t even close.”
New England played like trash against the Houston Texans, with Brady throwing two picks and getting rocked all game by the Texans’ blitz-heavy defense (which is still a nice change from the end of the 2015 season where Brady got demolished by Denver’s mostly 3 and 4-man rushes), and they still won 34-16.
The AFC Championship against the Pittsburgh Steelers didn’t fare much better for the visiting team, with the scoreboard reading 36-17 as the clock hit 0:00. Brady and the Patriots offense, though, were in a different galaxy compared to the week before, turning in a performance that even 2007 Tom Brady would be proud of: 384 passing yards, 3 touchdowns, and no picks. Ben Roethlisberger didn’t throw a touchdown until garbage time.
The Steelers have been throwing draft picks and money at their defensive situation for a few years now, trying to recreate the oh-god-these-guys lights-out defense from the glory years of, well, the last time they won a Super Bowl. Problem is, a lot of those draft picks have been front-seven type pieces, with only the last two (2015, 2016) of Pittsburgh’s drafts featuring a defensive back in the first three rounds. And if you want to get fussy, from 2011 until 2015 they didn’t spend a pick in the top four rounds on a defensive back, except for Shamarko Thomas, Cortez Allen, Doran Grant, and Curtis Brown, none of whom are on the team anymore. Yikes.
They’ve struck some absolute gold on offense in the past few seasons, but any Patriots fan that watched the 2011 team can tell you a rockstar offense can only take you so far.
Back to the AFC Championship Game: Brady was able to roast and toast the Steelers’ secondary because they played the majority of their snaps that game in a zone coverage scheme, which is already not an ideal matchup for a quick-pass offense like the Patriots. And when the Steelers did try to switch over to more man-to-man coverage schemes, that didn’t go too well for them either.
This year, though, according to cornerback Artie Burns, the cornerback that the Steelers took in Round 1 of the draft at pick 25 last year - this year, is going to be different.
"Every team that's won Super Bowls the last couple of years has been able to play man," Burns said from the Steelers' organized team activities. "We want to be a team to play man, get the pressure on the quarterback and attack coverage downfield."
Defensive backs coach Carnell Lake said during draft week that the Steelers wanted to play less zone.
When asked what the great quarterbacks can do against a zone, Burns said they find the soft spots. After the title game, Steelers players admitted to being caught off-guard by Brady's no-huddle attack and his ability to find receiver Chris Hogan, who wasn't central to the game plan but caught two touchdowns.
"It's always some opening in a zone defense," Burns said. "It's someone who missed a drop, or it's always some group in a zone defense. To be able to play man, to get a guy right in someone's chest with the pressure, it affects the quarterback a little bit."
Hmmm, I wonder what the 2013 Seattle Seahawks think about that? Someone ask them, I’m sure they’d be happy to tell you. At length.
You do have to give the Steelers a lot of credit, though - when you get wrecked in a conference championship, the right way to do it is you re-load and try to get better, not hang an “AFC Finalist” banner and then...well, you know how that turned out.