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Scattered Thoughts on the Patriots/Steelers Game

Here are my thoughts, takeaways, and notes from the Patriots-Steelers game and the Patriots team this season in general. I will warn you beforehand that I did write A LOT so read at your own risk or just skim through it if that makes it easier.

-Steelers receivers made a few nice catches on their first drive. RB Jaylen Samuels made a great catch in the red zone while being covered well by Devin McCourty.

-Vance McDonald completely destroyed Patrick Chung for the first Steelers touchdown. Awful coverage by Chung who has been bad all year. Ben Roethlisberger looked very comfortable and accurate.

-Great block by RB Rex Burkhead on the Patriots long touchdown pass to Chris Hogan. Allowed Brady to get a clean pocket and throw an accurate pass. Great play call by Josh McDaniels as well

-Impressive blitz by Kyle Van Noy reading the snap count perfectly and easily sacking Roethlisberger. That and a solid coverage sack by CB Jonathan Jones staled the Steelers second possession

-Play action pass was working for the Patriots early in the game.

-Two awful wide-open drops by Julian Edelman and James White in Steelers territory killed the Patriots second drive and their momentum. After these drops, the Patriots offense was subpar for the rest of the game.

-DE Adrian Clayborn was able to put pressure on Roethlisberger throughout the game but his lack of speed and pursuit makes him pretty much useless to the defense. His inability to get sacks has made him one of the Patriots’ worst performing players on the year.

A phantom pass interference penalty on Jonathan Jones who was nowhere near the play puts the Steelers inside the red zone

-Jones was burned on the very next play by Antonio Brown who caught an easy TD pass.

-Sony Michel is a much better RB than Burkhead. Better field awareness, speed, and makes quicker, cleaner cuts

-Jones and Burkhead both save the ball from going into the end zone for a touchback and pin the Steelers at the one-yard line on a punt. Great hustle play.

-Roethlisberger doing surprisingly well at moving around in the pocket, extending plays and finding open receivers

-Throughout the entire game, Jaylen Samuels and even the Fumble King, Stevan Ridley, were able to run all over the Patriots defense. Defensive tackles, mainly Malcolm Brown (I’m counting down the days until he leaves in free agency this off-season), were terrible. Very slow and weak. Couldn’t penetrate the inside or shed any blocks. Very lazy football. I know Danny Shelton has been bad too but Belichick should give him another chance. He can’t be worse than what we saw today.

-Elandon Roberts and Donta Hightower did nothing of substance all game. Bad in the run and pass. Very disappointing performances.

-Promising Steelers drive was cut short when Roethlisberger overshot his receiver and threw a pick right into the hands of safety Duran Harmon. His first missed throw of the game.

-Poor pass protection by OTs Marcus Cannon and Trent Brown force Brady into a bad throw and a three and out for the Patriots. Exterior pass protection was horrendous all game.

-Undrafted rookie CB J.C. Jackson with great coverage on JuJu Smith-Schuster forcing the Steelers to punt and giving the Patriots another chance to score before halftime.

-Cordarrelle Patterson did decent when he played receiver. He was stopped short of the first down on a questionable call after a great effort picking up a few extra yards after getting hit

-Patriots got the ball to start the second half but another bad open drop by Josh Gordon forced them into another punt. Poor game overall for Gordon who only had one catch (in the first quarter) on two targets

-Rookie WR James Washington made a great leaping catch over Jason McCourty for a big gain. Good coverage by McCourty but bad read on the ball.  Followed it with another good catch and run breaking out of a weak tackle attempt by J-Mac. Washington ended up leading the Steelers in receiving yards with 65

-Vance McDonald almost makes another amazing TD catch on a third down but couldn’t get both feet inbounds. Really big missed opportunity for the Steelers as kicker Chris Boswell (in typical Steelers fashion) shanked an easy field goal bailing out the Patriots defense and shifting momentum back in the Pats’ favor. Boswell might actually be a less clutch kicker than Stephen Gostkowski which is really saying something.

-A questionable pass interference call on Joe Haden gives the Patriots a lucky first down on a 3rd & 16. Definitely illegal contact present but the ball could’ve been considered uncatchable.

-Patriots continued to move the ball deep into Steelers territory with some tough runs by Michel and Burkhead.

-Screen pass to Edelman gets blown up by the Steelers defense on a third down causing the Patriots to kick an easy field goal. They ran this play a couple of times during the game and it didn’t work once. Bad on McDaniels there.

-Good coverage by Stephon Gilmore on Antonio Brown leads to a deflected interception by Harmon (his second of the game). Harmon must be the all-time NFL leader in tipped interceptions. Although he had two picks, he didn’t have that great of the game. Very average performance overall from Harmon which is decent considering how badly he’s played the majority of the year.

-Gilmore, on the other hand, had another solid game and is turning into one of the top corners in the NFL. He was matched up with Brown for the majority of the game and locked him down well. Brown finished the game with four catches for 49 yards and a TD but Gilmore wasn’t covering him on his 17 yard TD catch.

-Rob Gronkowski finally catches his first pass of the game early in the fourth quarter. The Steelers defense was finally able to slow Gronk down who has tortured them over the past few meetings between the two teams. He was doubled for the majority of the game. Good job by the Steelers coaching and secondary hereby finally making changes.

-Another catch by Gronk on a third down gives the Patriots a first down inside the five after Gronk fought past two defenders to get past the marker.

-An utterly pathetic and useless holding penalty on Cannon puts the Patriots back 10 yards. (I’ll get more into Cannon and penalties later on). This was followed by a two-yard loss on a screen to James White in which OG Joe Thunder and Trent Brown missed their blocks.

-Probably the worst play of the game here. Brady throws an unbelievably stupid interception after getting a bit of pressure. He had Gronk open on the play but instead threw a moonshot off his back foot to Edelman. Great play by Haden hanging onto the ball. Brady has to do better there. At the very least take a sack and pick up a field goal on the drive. You can’t be coming up empty-handed after being inside the five. This play turned out to be very costly. Second dumb and irresponsible play by Brady in the red zone in the past two weeks.

-Patriots had a good chance to make Pittsburgh punt from inside their 10 but another piece of poor coverage by Chung results in a third-down conversion catch for McDonald

-Roethlisberger with an amazing play on a 3rd & 9 with three minutes left. Very cool in the pocket, rolled out to extend the play and made a good throw to Samuels who broke off his route for a clutch conversion. The Patriots defense has to be quicker and more disciplined here. Brilliant job by Big Ben.

-Steelers then went on a five-minute drive forcing the Patriots to use all three timeouts. Running game was still working and the Patriots front seven had no answer for it.

-Steelers needed a first down to clinch the game with just over two and a half minutes left. On third and seven, J.C. Jackson made a fantastic play on a ball thrown to Smith-Schuster ripping the ball out of his hands in the end zone and giving the Patriots life. Jackson was the best player on the Patriots by far this game holding Smith-Schuster one of the most promising and in-from receivers in the league to 40 yards on four catches. His coverage saved the Patriots many times. Arguably the best rookie on the team and will hopefully become a mainstay for many years.

-Boswell made me eat my words and made up for his previous miss with a perfect clutch 48 yard field goal to put the Steelers up by seven.

-Tom Brady would have another chance to work the two-minute drill and tie the game up for the Patriots, something he’s done successfully countless times, including at Heinz Field against the Steelers almost exactly one year ago.

-Brady provided the Patriots with some life with a good 34-yard pass to Edelman. Edelman finished the game with seven receptions for 90 yards, a good game stats wise. However, the only thing he’ll be remembered for in this game is the momentum killing drop in the first quarter, something he acknowledged postgame claiming he let the team down.

-A few more positive plays put the Patriots at the Steelers 11 yard line with 37 seconds left but a horrendous and costly hold by OG Shaq Mason pushed the Patriots to the 21-yard line. Despite this awful penalty, Mason and the rest of the interior line (Thuney and center David Andrews) didn’t play that badly.

-Two inaccurate and forced throws to a doubled Gronk in the end zone resulted in a 4th & 15 from the 21 with 20 seconds left. On the fourth down play, Brady threw an incomplete pass in the end zone near Gronk and Edelman. Cordarrelle Patterson was WIDE open in the back of the end zone on the play. Another poor read and missed opportunity by Brady.

-Massive credit to the Steelers defense who held firm when it counted and took advantage of the Patriots’ penalties. Credit also goes to  Steelers Coach Mike Tomlin who finally didn’t choke in a late-game scenario. He and the Pittsburgh staff outcoached Belichick and the Patriots staff. Belichick needs to let go of his ego and start coaching the way he used to.

-This is the second week in a row where the Patriots gave away a win. The team (players and coaches) have to be smarter and better top to bottom

-Ben Roethlisberger outplayed Tom Brady today. Much more confident, accurate, and smart than Brady today. Brady hasn’t been himself all year. He’s had a poor pocket presence and inconsistently accurate arm and has made many bonehead plays which is very uncharacteristic of him. Brady’s reads, field perception, and general football IQ hasn’t been anywhere near to what it usually is. Also, Roethlisberger played much tougher than Brady this game. While Brady was weak in the pocket, going down on any sort of contact, Roethlisberger was breaking tackles and trying to stay on his feet and extend plays. Strength and physicality is another thing that Brady has shown a lot less of this year. I don’t want to say this is the cliff but I think it’s evident that Brady is past his prime.

-Penalties mainly holdings and false starts by the offensive line, was a big reason for the Patriots loss. How hard is it to move when the ball moves? Seemingly every time the Patriots had a big gain or got close to scoring a hold or false start brought the ball back. 14 penalties for 106 yards is unacceptable. This team has an alarmingly large lack of discipline and attention to detail which isn’t like Belichick’s teams. Undisciplined and stupid teams never get far (look at the Steelers for the past seven or eight years) and this team is no exception if they don’t change things fast.

-The referees were awful in this game. In addition to the phantom pass interference calls, Pittsburgh’s offensive line held on numerous plays but was rarely called for it. However, this in NO WAY takes away from the Steelers win or is an excuse for the Patriots loss.

-Patriots were 30% on third down conversion. This isn’t good enough and they have to execute better here. Steelers were 44% on third downs.

-Marcus Cannon had his worst game of the year by far and hasn’t looked great this year. It might not be the worst idea to trade him in the off-season. Cannon still possesses some trade value as he was an All-Pro tackle two seasons ago, is locked up until after the 2021 season and has successful experience in big games. If the Patriots do trade him, this opens up a spot for Isaiah Wynn, the rookie first-round tackle from Georgia who tore his Achilles in the preseason and is out this year, at the RT position.

-Although Burkhead made some good plays today, I’m concerned that he’s taking away too many touches from James White. He doesn’t look that good running the ball and White is much better in the passing game as well. After the Lions loss when Burkhead went on the IR, White started to get more touches and this was vital in the Patriots going on a seven-game winning streak. White even put himself into the MVP running during this stretch. The Patriots are 2-4 with Burkhead playing this year and I think this has a lot to do with White not being used as much. It may not be the best idea to re-sign Burkhead.

-Trey Flowers was nonexistent today. I didn’t hear his name called once. His inconsistency makes me wonder how much he’ll get during free agency this off-season or whether the Patriots should bother overpaying him. I still think they should. Flowers at his worst is still better than Wise or Clayborn at their best.

-Second round rookie CB Duke Dawson was a healthy scratch again. He hasn’t played all year. Belichick had an awful draft class this year with only Michel, fifth round LB Ja’Whaun Bentley (who only played three games), and seventh round CB Keion Crossen playing this year. Is it too soon to add these rookies to the other bums Belichick has drafted recently? Cyrus Jones, Tony Garcia, Derek Rivers, Malcolm Brown, Vincent Valentine, Dominique Easley, Jordan Richards, Geneo Grissom, etc. (I could go on for days).

-The fact that the terrible Patriots defense who had one of their worst games of the year only gave up 17 points to a solid Steelers offense and they still lost shows that offense of more important than defense in this NFL. Good offensive teams will always find ways to score against good defensive teams. Look at the Chiefs, Rams, and Saints too. The three best teams in the league have great offenses and not the best defenses.

-The undeniable GOAT player, Tom Brady, and the arguably GOAT coach, Bill Belichick, (Don Shula is up there too) seem to be declining fast and out of nowhere. Brady has been subpar in arm accuracy pocket presence, field awareness, clock awareness, toughness, and general football IQ this year. Belichick continues to be too stubborn to make any adjustments and seemingly doesn’t touch his game plan at all. With the game of football changing, it might not be the stupidest thing to move on from Brady and Belichick at the end of the year (if they continue to regress) and start the rebuilding process. This makes me and I’m sure a lot of Patriots fans really sad but all great things come to an end and again this is no exception.

-The Patriots need to get younger, faster and more dynamic on both sides of the ball. The defense (Hightower being the prime example) is too slow and this hurts the team greatly. The Patriots have struggled to match up against the faster, quicker players ever since Jamie Collins was traded in 2016. I’d love to see the Patriots get on work two dynamic and young receivers this off-season. Good wide receivers have been becoming more and more valuable as of recent. Big play potential and offensive star power would boost the Patriots majorly

-Two players that I’d love to see the Patriots target in next year’s draft are West Virginia QB Will Grier and Oklahoma WR (*insert Gus Johnson’s voice) HOLLYWOOD Brown. I can see both being the most talented offensive skill players in this draft class. Both have star power and would make up a great partnership in the years to come. Grier reminds me a little bit of Drew Brees and Brown is very similar to his cousin Antonio. Also, it would be nice for Grier to learn from Brady if Brady is with the team next year.

-The Patriots can still get a first-round bye if they win out and if the Texans lose one of their last two games. Since the Patriots end the year against the Bills and Jets at home and the Texans play the Eagles away next week with the Eagles desperately needing a win to keep their playoff hopes alive, I could see this happening (maybe a 50% chance). Either way, next Sunday will be the first time ever that I’ll be rooting for a Philly sports team.

-Enjoy this win Pittsburgh. You earned it. Don’t write off the Patriots though. There’s a decent possibility that you’ll meet again in the Playoffs, but this time most likely in Foxboro. And we all know how hard it is to win there.

Thanks to everyone who finished reading this. Let me know what you agree with or disagree with here.


Photo: Pittsburgh Steelers

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