By Glenn Pratt
When the next opponent on the schedule is the New England Patriots, I find it safe to say, there is one game plan and one game plan only: CONTAIN 4-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady!
The Pittsburgh Steelers fell short to the New England Patriots on Sunday, 27-16. The Steelers, at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, were without defensive anchor Cameron Hayward, and gun slinger Ben Roethlisberger. This was the call for backup Landry Jones, who came into his first start of the season missing the likes of backup RB DeAngelo Williams, offensive linemen Cody Wallace and Marcus Gilbert. Jones came into the game with 32 connections on 55 attempts totaling 513 yards, with 3 TD and 4 INT on 3 starts, adding 29 completions on 47 tries for 281 yards, 1 TD and 1 INT to his career in yesterday’s loss.
While 47 pass attempts may have certainly been out of the young QBs wheelhouse and the Steelers game plan, 2 missed FGs (42, 54 yards) by Steelers kicker Chris Boswell certainly didn’t contribute to the success, or lack thereof, for Jones and the Steelers offense. After a rough start, Jones did everything he could to shake away the butterflies and find his assumed favorite target, Antonio Brown for a 51 yard strike. Brown finished the day with 7 catches for 106 yards on 11 targets, as Jones found 8 different receivers, with only Brown and running back LeVeon Bell amassing more than 40 yards.
The game of catch up, as the Steelers found themselves trailing early 0-14, and the Patriots’ young up-and-coming defense, made it a challenge for Tomlin and the Steelers to establish the run game. Bell compiled 81 yards on 21 carries, adding 68 yards on 10 catches out of the backfield.
However, this match up was not a match up of playmakers vs playmakers, this was a classic chess match clash of the coaching staff. Studs Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman were what many would call “held” to a combined 13 catches for 153 yards 1 TD. However, former Steelers RB LeGarrette Blount, seemed to be the standout of the evening, totaling 127 yards on 24 carries, twice finding the end zone.
Simply out coached, Tomlin particularly made a questionable, what many may call “one of the worst” challenges on a Gronk (not a) fumble, and what had to be a reluctant, however mathematically logical decision, to punt the ball trailing 2 possessions with 5:30 left to go. Tomlin didn’t seem to be on his best game, understandably so, having to have made quite a few adjustments coming into the game.
The takeaways for Mike Tomlin and the Steelers, who will be without Pro Bowl QB Ben Roethlisberger for 3-6 weeks recovering from meniscus surgery, the 255 yards from scrimmage amassed by Bell and Brown are a reminder for the New England Patriots and the rest of the NFL, that fully loaded, this Pittsburgh Steelers offense may be a challenge in the postseason.
Tomlin’s defense, albeit allowing 140 yards on the ground, held Tom Brady to his one of his most forgettable, yet most importantly, successful performances in recent years, falling short of 225 passing yards but only 13 times in his last 83 games, dating back to the very start of the 2011 season. Brady finished the day with 19 completions on 26 tries for 222 yards and 2 TDs.
A slow and late start for LeVeon Bell, who missed the 2016 season’s first 3 games due to an NFL suspension for violating the leagues substance abuse policy, is one thing the Steelers should look to revive. That will require the third year QB Landry Jones to get comfortable and embrace the role as the Steelers quarterback.
The New England Patriots are beatable. The challenge of stopping Tom Brady and his favorite target Rob Gronkowski, seemed to be a matter of “keep in front and tackle.” It will be interesting to see if upcoming Patriots opponents employ this strategy, as it kept a depleted Steelers team in position to mount a comeback, that ultimately wasn’t enough, and left Tom Brady and the New England Patriots yet again, victorious, moving on to 6-1, 2 game lead a top the AFC East.
“You knew the margin of error was going to be minimal,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said.
But the game must go on. The Steelers were provided opportunities to capitalize on 2 New England Patriot fumbles, but, to no avail.
“Self-inflicted wounds,” said Brady, is what allowed the Steelers to close the early deficit and fill the stadium with hope, that was most likely all but absent coming into the afternoon.
“Honestly, you never know,” Patriots safety Devin McCourty said. “Sometimes we feel like we played well and we still get ripped.”
McCourty understand the downside to defending the Steelers with Roethlisberger under center, who’s notable ability to extend plays is something you can’t practice.
Said McCourty, “He makes plays that are not normal.”
The Steelers head into the bye week at a seemingly good time, allowing for the recovery of a few players who saw limited to no action yesterday.
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