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Week 15 Patriots vs Steelers advanced stats: Pittsburgh did not want to challenge Trey Flowers in the running game

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Let’s dig into the advanced stats from Sunday’s game.

Super Bowl LII - Philadelphia Eagles v New England Patriots Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

While the New England Patriots were able to keep their week 15 game against the Pittsburgh Steelers close for four quarters, they ultimately did not make enough plays to come away victoriously. In the end, the visitors fell 17-10 and suffered its fifth defeat of the year. Let’s dig a little deeper into the game and analyze some advanced statistics from the game.

Pass distribution

NFL Next Gen Stats

Despite having two players at his disposal that have made big plays in the past against the Pittsburgh-style defense in Josh Gordon and Rob Gronkowski, quarterback Tom Brady primarily targeted the underneath areas on Sunday. The plan mostly worked, though, as the 41-year old had plenty of success throwing the ball in this direction. The deep passing game, on the other hand, never fully materialized despite a 63-yard touchdown to Chris Hogan coming on the Patriots’ third offensive play of the day.

The Steelers played a similar game: the deep passing rarely found success as quarterback Ben Roethlisberger went 1 for 6 on throws targeting areas more than 20 yards downfield. However, just like Brady and the Patriots, Pittsburgh found success in the underneath portions of the field as Roethlisberger completed 15 of 19 passes between the line of scrimmage and the 10 yards out.

Offensive rush direction

NFL Next Gen Stats

The Patriots attempted just 19 runs all day long, with Sony Michel receiving the bulk of the workload. The rookie, as usual, fared relatively well and averaged 4.5 yards per carry with the most success coming behind the left side of the line. Rex Burkhead and James White, meanwhile, did gain positive yardage when given the opportunity. However, they combined to carry the football only six times all day long as New England was clearly trying to move the football via the pass — and the pass-run-ratio of 37:19 illustrates this.

Receiver separation

NFL Next Gen Stats

Chris Hogan’s average separation of 8.82 yards on his two catches obviously stands out: the Steelers were nowhere near him on one of his catches and allowed him to take it 63 yards to the end zone. Besides that one outlier, however, Pittsburgh’s secondary played tight generally tight coverage when giving up receptions as none of the Patriots’ top pass catchers was more than 2.6 yards open on average at the time of a catch.

The Patriots defense also competed well when it comes to pass coverage. While they allowed the team’s top receiving duo Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster to combine for eight catches, 89 receiving yards and a touchdown, the receptions were generally into tight windows and on contested throws. In short: New England was mostly covering well against a talented group of pass catchers.

Pass protection

Pass protection statistics

Player Snaps Sacks QB Hits Hurries
Player Snaps Sacks QB Hits Hurries
Marcus Cannon 62 1.0 2 3
Shaq Mason 62 0.0 0 0
Trent Brown 62 0.0 1 1
Joe Thuney 62 0.0 2 0
David Andrews 62 0.0 0 1
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The Patriots’ offensive line had an inconsistent day — not just because four of its five members (all but center David Andrews) were penalized at least once. The unit also had some issues in pass protection, especially at the right tackle position: Marcus Cannon had a forgettable day and surrendered six total pressures against the Steelers. The rest of the unit was solid but not without blemish either, with the exception of right guard Shaq Mason who did however have a costly holding call late in the game.

Pass rush/run defense

Pass rush/run defense statistics

Player Snaps Sacks QB Hits Hurries Run stops
Player Snaps Sacks QB Hits Hurries Run stops
Kyle Van Noy 64 1.0 0 1 0
Patrick Chung 59 0.0 0 0 1
Trey Flowers 55 0.0 2 0 0
Dont'a Hightower 52 0.0 0 1 0
Lawrence Guy 33 0.0 2 1 0
Jonathan Jones 26 1.0 0 0 0
Adrian Clayborn 20 0.0 1 2 0
Deatrich Wise Jr. 12 0.0 0 1 0
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Despite Pittsburgh respecting the impact Trey Flowers can have on a game, the Patriots’ best front-seven defender still registered a pair of quarterback hits. All in all, he produced one of the team’s better pass rushing performances on Sunday — being part of a unit that was inconsistent on the day: New England pressured Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger on just 13 of his 36 drop-backs. While it is not necessarily a bad number, it also was enough to have a profound impact on the opponent’s offensive rhythm.

Defensive rush direction

NFL Next Gen Stats

The Steelers had tremendous success on the ground and the chart above reveals one reason for that: Pittsburgh generally did not want to challenge one of the NFL’s best run defenders, Trey Flowers. Flowers started the game on the defensive right side but was moved over to the left once the Steelers found success there. However, when he switched sides, Pittsburgh exploited the opposite side again. Wherever Flowers was, the Steelers tried to run away from — and in turn attacked the defensive tackles and the non-Flowers defensive edge.

Pass rush separation

NFL Next Gen Stats

As noted above, the Patriots’ pass rushers were not necessarily bad when it came to pressuring Ben Roethlisberger but they also did not have too big of an impact on the Steelers’ overall offensive momentum. The average distance between the pass rushers and the quarterback illustrates this well: New England was oftentimes relatively far away from Roethlisberger. The Steelers’ pass rush, on the other hand, came closer to Tom Brady. And even though none of the numbers stands out, it was still enough to mess with the Patriots’ offensive rhythm at times.

Pass coverage

Pass coverage statistics

Player Snaps Targets Completions Yards Touchdowns Interceptions Rating Pass Breakups
Player Snaps Targets Completions Yards Touchdowns Interceptions Rating Pass Breakups
Jason McCourty 64 5 4 97 1 0 158.3 0
Stephon Gilmore 62 7 4 21 0 0 62.2 2
Devin McCourty 62 1 1 10 0 0 108.3 0
Patrick Chung 59 3 2 13 1 0 115.3 0
J.C. Jackson 56 9 3 39 0 0 47.9 1
Duron Harmon 39 2 0 0 0 2 0.0 0
Jonathan Jones 26 3 3 13 0 0 84.7 0
John Simon 19 1 1 20 0 0 118.8 0
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The Patriots’ coverage players had a solid overall game against the Steelers, especially when it comes to limiting the team’s dangerous receiving duo of Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster. The two players primarily responsible for guarding the two wideouts — Stephon Gilmore and rookie J.C. Jackson — fared well despite being regularly targeted. Both allowed a below-average completion rate against their difficult assignments.

The rest of the Patriots’ secondary was a bit inconsistent, however. Jason McCourty surrendered a perfect 158.3 passer rating for the second week in a row (albeit in a limited sample size), while safety Patrick Chung also gave up a touchdown. Still, holding Pittsburgh’s offense to 218 net passing yards has to be considered a successful day for the entire defense.