The New England Patriots have enjoyed a lot of success against the Pittsburgh Steelers ever since Bill Belichick took over as their head coach in 2000. Under Belichick, the Patriots won eleven of fourteen matchups thus far, including three in the playoffs. The last meeting between the two most successful clubs of the Super Bowl era, however, ended with the Steelers coming away victoriously: New England lost 17-10 last December.
One of the many reasons for the Patriots’ defeat that day was the club’s inability to get into an offensive rhythm. While the unit around quarterback Tom Brady did gain 368 yards compared to Pittsburgh’s 376, it was unable to string enough positive plays together to consistently put pressure on a Steelers defense that had been torched through the air by Brady and company during the last few matchups.
Why was that the case? Because, as Belichick acknowledged today, Pittsburgh’s coaching staff did a good job changing things up — going away from the zone defense the team ran unsuccessfully against Brady and company in the past to incorporate more man-on-man looks. While this new wrinkle proved to be a successful addition to the Steelers’ defensive game plan, it did not necessarily surprise Belichick despite his team being unable to counter.
“I mean I wouldn’t say they, when you watch them play, once you look at it you’d say like ‘oh, there’s a whole lot of new things, we have never seen those before,’” Belichick said during a press conference earlier today when discussing the Steelers’ system and how they used it last season. New England’s head coach followed this statement by going on to praise the team for how it uses its system, and how it adapts it to put the players in a favorable position.
“They have a lot of breadth in their system, they’ve been in their system for a long time,” said Belichick. “There’s a lot of breadth just built into it. They don’t do everything every week, they can pick the things that they feel are best for that week and match up against you. From that standpoint, they do plan for the matchups. I don’t think you come out of them and say ‘wow, they ran like twenty new plays, we never saw those plays before.’”
In Belichick’s eyes, the success of the Steelers’ system lies in its ability to be used to gain an advantage on opponents — something that the Patriots also do: both teams’ game plans are designed specifically for the teams they will face, bending their scheme in whichever way is necessary to achieve an edge. Last year, for example, this process worked out favorably for head coach Mike Tomlin and his squad.
“I think it’s dress them up, put their players in favorable positions, try to create matchups against the defense and exploit them,” Belichick said. “It could be anywhere from any personnel group you’re on... they can line guys up in different spots. They do a good job of that. It creates hard matchups for the defense; and they can still continue to keep the quarterback reads the same and keep the concepts the same and dress them up a little differently — makes it hard for the defense to defend.”