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Patriots vs. Steelers: Fan Notes from the Game

Notes, musings, and observations from the New England Patriots’ 33-3 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Pittsburgh Steelers v New England Patriots Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Happy Overreaction Monday, everyone!

We all know the drill by now; all of one game of the NFL season is in the books, and we’ve all already come to ironclad conclusions that in no way will blow up in our faces in about a month. The Cleveland Browns are done. Lamar Jackson is a shoo-in for NFL MVP. The Dolphins aren’t going to win a game all year. The Lions will always find a way to screw it up.

Well...that last one isn’t all that much of an overreaction. But my point is that it’s very easy to get sucked up into the post-Week 1 madness, and it’s always a good idea to temper expectations one way or another until the season starts to unfold in earnest.

Which will be tough for Patriots fans to do, given all that has unfolded over the last 48 hours or so. A team that was already a Super Bowl contender became the Super Bowl contender with the addition of Antonio Brown, and they then followed that news up with a Sunday Night shellacking of the Pittsburgh Steelers in what was as close to a perfect game as you’re going to see this early on in the year. Of course there are still some areas for improvement - there always are - but it’s tough to ask for much more than that after a long offseason of wondering whether all those championship banners will look crowded and off-kilter when the team hoists their latest.

Answer to that particular question: no.

  • Speaking of banners, You’d think that, after six of these, the banner unveiling ceremony would get old. And yet, watching Drew Bledsoe and Rob Ninkovich and Willie McGinest and Ty Law out there with all of those trophies...I think I’d be OK with a few more of them. Especially if they keep trotting Marty Bennett out there to represent the 2016 win.
  • I usually go through a large range of emotions on the first Patriots game of the season. There’s excitement, nerves, a fair degree of impatience. Then I get hungry and probably take a nap. By the time the game actually rolls around, I’m likely completely spent before the captains even take the field. But this year was different for some reason. I didn’t watch any of the day games, and other than a few highlights I saw on my phone, wasn’t paying attention at all. It just kind of felt like regular summer Sunday to me. Not sure if it’s just the weather, or total and utter contentment from getting everything I ever could have asked for as a fan, or what...but if this is the new normal for me on game days, I certainly won’t complain, and neither will my gastrointestinal tract.
  • As for the game itself - I don’t want to say it was over right away, because it took a whole drive for the team to settle. Then it was over.
  • You’re going to have a hard time convincing me that the Patriots kept Gunner Olszewski on the final 53 strictly as a punt returner. Brandon Bolden is fine for kickoffs if you want to keep last year’s theme of fast dudes with deadlocks going, but Gunner is an explosive, one-cut runner that I’d love to see attack a wedge at full speed.
  • And for the record...attacking a wedge at full speed is, unfortunately, something I was on the receiving end quite often in grade school.
  • I may already have to resign myself to the fact that I’m never, ever going to be able to spell Olszewski’s name right the first time. It has happened before; I was never able to get Michael Hoomanawanui right. I’m still trying to get Demaryius Thomas’s first name down. I’ve never once spelled Roethlisberger’s name right. What can you do.
  • Speaking of Big Ben - one thing the Boston media can’t get enough of is analyzing Tommy B’s body language. If those folks grilled Tommy B any harder Chris Hansen would come out from behind a curtain and ask them to take a seat. I’d love to know what they’d have to say about Roethlisberger last night, because that was the look and demeanor of a guy who didn’t want to be there.
  • Not that I can really blame him; three of Pitt’s five first half possessions were three and outs. Receivers dropped passes. Coverage was stellar. DBs were batting balls away and stripping it out of hands. The pass rush, while it didn’t get home, was disruptive, and Big Ben has to be looking at his receiving corps this morning and wondering where Antonio Brown is.
  • Don’t worry, Ben! We’ll take real good care of him, and make sure he gets plenty of exercise.
  • I say this every year: when the season starts, I have this grand vision of an entire campaign in which the Patriots don’t punt once. That dream always gets crushed in Week 1, of course, sometimes much quicker than others. This year, my no-punt season lasted exactly three minutes. Oh well.
  • On the plus side, my equally delusional dream of an entire season without surrendering a single defensive touchdown is still alive and well.
  • I found myself concerned in the game for all of one Pittsburgh drive, as they didn’t do anything flashy to start the game and it worked. They ran a lot of draw plays, created mismatches by going five wide, and took a deep shot when the Patriots started inching up to the line. Great coverage by Jonathan Jones to force the Steelers punt.
  • I initially thought that Michael Bennett asked “who got da flava?” during the starting defense announcement. Then I realized it was a Black Panther reference, which makes me very, very excited for his future press conferences.
  • I couldn’t help but notice that Tommy B looked off on the first two series. Overthrowing open guys, shuffling in the pocket, misreading zones. But then a very good friend of mine who played guard at URI sent me a text, pointing out that Ted Karras’s release on the shotgun snap was slow and high. He’s 100% right; that ball should come fast and right to the numbers. It was disrupting the timing. That will come with practice.
  • Hopefully. Because that was an issue all night. The ball seemed to float to him like a well-blown bubble in the bathtub, and Brady had to reach for it on more than one occasion. On a precision route-based offense like New England’s, where everyone is expected to be exactly where they’re supposed to be at the exact right moment, that half a second can blow up the whole thing.
  • My friend also said that it’s a very fixable issue; Karras is hitting the top part of his thigh with his forearm, not his wrist, at the release, which is causing the ball to sail high. He needs to bring his hand in much closer to his...well, to his junk. If only there was a fun way to practice that...
  • I’m not sure if it was the shotgun snap issues or whether it will be a legit part of the offense, but more than once Tommy B lined up under center with an empty backfield, motioning a receiver across the line in a fake Jet Sweep before trying to hit a receiver on a quick slant. I don’t remember the last time the Patriots did that, and it wasn’t overly successful. Something to monitor.
  • We already have a leading candidate for thing the Patriots do that will be against the rules come this time next year: the one-yard mesh route where the TE rubs the crossing defender at the line. Ryan Izzo got Josh Gordon open on New England’s first TD of the year and I can’t imagine that John Harbaugh like that.
  • And I think we can all leave the rubbing jokes right here and leave them here all season, than you very much.
  • I really thought that Jake Bailey would be kicking off, leaving Ghost to focus solely on his field goals. He still might, who knows.
  • When Jakobi Meyers made his first official catch, a 22-yard skinny post in traffic in which he took a huge hit, bounced off two defenders, and dove for six extra yards, I thought it was Josh Gordon making the catch until he stood up and I saw the jersey number. What a great mistake to make. It was his only target of the day and he made the most of it.
  • What’s really crazy, though, was that I had completely forgotten that Meyers even existed until he made that catch. Everyone’s favorite preseason receiver and secret weapon is now an afterthought in this offense.
  • Al Michaels with an All-Time Dad Joke mentioning how lucky Antonio Brown is that he didn’t have to go through baggage claim because he has a ton of baggage. Atta boy, Al - that’s why you’re the best in the business.
  • If 2019 turns into a season-long battle between The Voice and the NFL for which night we’re supposed to do laundry, I’m officially tendering my resignation from the human race. Especially on a night where virtually nobody on the Patriots even needs to do laundry after the game.
  • The Patriots faced a 1st and goal from the 10 yard line just as the 2nd quarter was getting underway. They threw two quick screens and then Brady had to throw it away to settle for three. 1st and goal from the 10 is the toughest four downs in football, and I’m very, very excited for that down and distance when it’s Demaryius Thomas and Josh Gordon and Antonio Brown and Julian Edelman and James White.
  • Speaking of White, he was my Underrated Player of the Week for Week 1. He had five catches for 56 yards to go along with 26 yards on four rushing attempts, which isn’t world-altering...but he picked up first downs, created mismatches as a receiving threat, blocked well in blitz pickup, and may end up being the lynchpin of a very potent offense with his Swiss Army knife capabilities. Pittsburgh had no choice but to assign a linebacker to him with the other weapons on the field, especially when New England went no-huddle when they got the defense they wanted.
  • Early in the game, the Patriots were burning the Steelers with quick crossers and pick plays. Pittsburgh adjusted, so New England went big, ran just enough to make the play action effective, and deepened the crosses a bit into the void between where the linebackers bit and where the safeties were forced to respect Josh Gordon’s deep threat ability. The result? a six play, 80 yard drive that took just over three minutes and ended with Dorsett in the end zone up the seam.
  • Along those lines: has Dorsett ever not caught a pass thrown his way?
  • And in case you’re confused... I mean Philip Dorsett, number 13, the guy with 95 yards and 2 TDs last night. You know, the 5th receiving option on this offense.
  • This note was intially a criticism of the fans last night, because I could 100% hear Roethlisberger’s cadence at the line. But I’m now starting to wonder if that’s just the way the games are miked up for TV and that maybe the crowd was a factor. Anybody who was actually at the game, feel free to chime in here. Were y’all loud and rowdy?
  • As every team in the league continues to try and figure out how to emulate the Patriots’ success, it’s remarkable to me how quickly GMs are to dump coaches and shuffle around their staff. Consistency is such a huge factor in any kind of success, and the Patriots have been blessed to have that at more positions than any team may have ever had. But by all means, keep firing coaches every two years and reaching for QBs.
  • It also helps that the Patriots have had two QBs, two kickers, four left tackles, and one head coach this century.
  • I’m going to see if I can ask the wife if she’s willing to do a running count of the number of times I chuckle to myself and say “this offense...this offense...” I think I’m up to ten already.
  • Of course, that assumes she’ll actually be watching the games with me every week. I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy.
  • I’ve gotten this far and haven’t even talked about the defense yet. Am I crazy to think that the WR corps is the second most impressive unit on this team behind the secondary? In a game where Big Ben had time to throw, he put up less than 300 yards, was kept out of the end zone for the first time since October of 2017, and only completed four passes over 10 yards.
  • Not only that, but the secondary was phenomenal in run support. The bulk of the credit for Pittsburgh’s 32 combined rushing yards goes to the linebackers - Jamie Collins and Dont’a Hightower were running around the field from whistle to whistle - but seeing how fast the secondary attacked the line after the handoff speaks volumes about their aggressiveness and instincts.
  • What a great game from Pat Chung last night. Phenomenal in run support, fast to break to the screen, and had huge pass breakup on 4th down that gave the Patriots the ball back at the 48 before halftime to set up the FG that put them up 20-0. I’d like to take a minute to thank the expediency of the United States legal system for the assist.
  • I want to make sure all credit goes to, and stays on, the defense...but the Steeler playcalling didn’t do themselves any favors. Punting on 4th and inches with a QB like Roethislberger ready and able to sneak. Kicking a FG at the goal line down 20-0. Little to no adjustments.
  • How about the 2 back shotgun set with James Devlin as one of the deep backs? What a great formation to run draw plays out of.
  • When Marcus Cannon went down with an arm injury, the Patriots moved Joe Thuney to RT and brought in Jermaine Eluemunor at LG. The next two plays were runs for positive yards. Not sure how severe Cannon’s injury is, but the line will be fine.
  • Little known trivia fact: “Eluemunor” is also the spell you cast at Hogwarts when you’re dominating your wizarding duel and are just looking to go for the killshot.
  • This offense is fluid, and will be fluid the way they always are...but based on the bulk of what I saw last night, this will be a 3WR, 2RB offense that can do multiple things. Look for this formation to run a lot when defenses go small to stop the pass, then motion everyone out to 5 wide if they go big.
  • I’m not remotely worried about Sony Michel’s lack of production; he just wasn’t the game plan focus this week. Look for a big bouceback from him next week against Miami.
  • The false start in the 4th quarter where the entire offense went except for the center, who straight up forgot to snap the ball, was the Steelers offense in a nutshell.
  • The Patriots absolutely dismantled the Steelers, in primetime, on the same night they hung their sixth Super Bowl Banner, meaning that the Steelers no longer sit alone as the winningest NFL franchise of all time. They did all of that the day before they signed Pittsburgh’s best player and one of the best WRs in the game. Live look at Steelers fans right now.

Can’t ask for a much better start than that. New England’s next seven games are against teams that missed the playoffs last year. They’re about to play a team that lost by seven touchdowns yesterday.

The only problem is, that team is the Miami Dolphins, and it’s in Miami. We all know what happens down there.