Steelers Versus Patriots – First Half Notes And Observations

By Matthew Marczi

  • Returner Felix Jones got things rolling by taking the opening kickoff out to the 40-yard line, but that was courtesy of some quality blocking from Vince Williams, Al Woods, and Jonathan Dwyer. The man who made the tackle escaped from Antwon Blake on the opposite side of the field and traveled a fair bit to make the tackle.
  • Dwyer in general deserves a good deal of praise for his willingness to step up and take special teams seriously after returning to the Steelers. He’s done a nice job as the up back on kick returns, and has even had some solid, determined returns himself.
  • See that? A wide receiver screen to Emmanuel Sanders that went for about 30 yards. Of course, 22 of those yards were sideways, but hey, there’s nothing wrong with an eight-yard gain on first down.
  • On the following run, my impression is that the offensive line failed to shift its blocking responsibilities properly after the Patriots shifted their defensive line before the snap. As a result, Brandon Spikes was easily able to catch Le’Veon Bell one-on-one in the hole for no gain. It’s possible that he could have bounced that run outside around Heath Miller, but it was not too long before his block failed.
  • As a result, Ben Roethlisberger ended up being sacked and fumbled on third and two. So who’s to blame? My vote, primarily, is for Roethlisberger, because he had a chance to throw the ball away.
  • The truth is, however, that the Patriots had the right play call. The tackles both cut blocked, which just about always indicates a quick pass, and they would have been good blocks if not for smart defense. It seems as though the Steelers were looking for a quick slant to Jerricho Cotchery, and it would have worked flawlessly for a nice gain if Spikes hadn’t faked the blitz and dropped into coverage instead. His drop came directly in Roethlisberger’s passing lane and forced him to tuck the ball. Marcus Gilbert may technically be ‘at fault’ for this sack in the eyes of some, but it’s not as simple as that.
  • The Steelers haven’t been overly effective with defensive back blitzes this season, but it worked on third and four on the Patriots’ first drive. Both Troy Polamalu and Cortez Allen rushed, and their pressure flushed Tom Brady out of the pocket. With Jason Worilds sitting back in coverage, it was easy for him to come in and touch him down for the sack.
  • Heath Miller had a tough time blocking Rob Ninkovich.
  • Also worth noting was Michael Palmer playing over David Paulson.
  • It looks to me that Bell showed a little too much hesitation, too much wiggle on his first reception, and it might have cost the Steelers a first down, and thus a possession.
  • Soft coverage to start things off on Rob Gronkowski, with everybody’s favorite, William Gay in coverage. 11-yard reception on the first play of the series.
  • Inside pressure still works on Tom Brady. On the rare occasion the Steelers get a free rusher up the middle, Brady gives up and tosses a soft incompletion.
  • Somebody needs to keep outside contain, Cortez. He gets caught inside and allows an 11-yard run on second and 25. Why Polamalu releases Gronkowski on the ensuing third and 14, I’m not entirely sure. It doesn’t appear to be the appropriate move in the zone based on the placement of the other defensive backs. It seems that Polamalu got caught looking back in the pocket and couldn’t catch up. The first of many questionable decisions by the All-Pro.
  • Brady gives a strong play-action fake on the ensuing play to find Gronkowski over Gay down the middle.
  • Even excepting the two sacks, Worilds still had a pretty good day as a pass rusher. I haven’t put any work into it, but it was certainly one of his better games in that regard, if not the best. It looks like he got a hand on Brady to force a wobbly pass on first and goal.
  • I was impressed with the officiating at the goal line on that opening stand. It was the right call not to rule the Gronkowski reception a touchdown.
  • Credit Gay for not giving up on the play when Polamalu jumped offsides. He was the one that stopped the back just short of the goal line in a somewhat confusing situation where some seemed to not know whether or not to play on.
  • Steve McLendon was excellent on the fourth and one stop. He blew up the center and got a hand on Stevan Ridley tripping him up. Polamalu played the fullback perfectly, scooping underneath him, and made the tackle. Shamarko Thomas also deserves a mention.
  • Of course, in the end it didn’t matter. After the turnover on downs, Guy Whimper got beaten badly off the snap with a swim move that had him stumbling up the field. The defeat disrupted Gilbert’s help, and Bell didn’t take the best angle trying to pick up the pressure. Roethlisberger ended up tossing an awkward ball off his back foot in the back of the end zone that was easily intercepted.
  • The ensuing touchdown was completely on Polamalu. Gay had both Aaron Dobson and Danny Amendola running go had was forced to hedge between them with Polamalu bailing. It was a pick your poison situation for Gay with only wrong answers. If he didn’t throw it to Amendola, he would have thrown it to Dobson. As soon as Polamalu saw Amendola leaving Allen’s zone, he should have known to stay with him.
  • Sanders threw a nice block on a six-yard carry for Bell.
  • The Steelers actually ran the ball on third and three. You don’t see that too often. Bell somehow squeezed through for the conversion too.
  • The blocking flag on Bell was a tough one to take, but unfortunately technically correct by the rules. I seriously question if Bell was even aware that Fernando Velasco was about to put a hand on the rusher before he lowered his head to cut block him though.
  • It was a much better cut block than the one Kelvin Beachum tried on the following play on Chandler Jones, however. One of two sacks he allowed, but Antonio Brown stumbled on what should have been a quick pass. How many things can go wrong on these quick passes? The Patriots kill people with them.
  • I think Miller could have done more on second and 10 to get closer to the first down line. As it would turn out, the Steelers turned the ball over on downs two plays later.
  • Will Johnson got destroyed on that play. Not good.
  • LaMarr Woodley was the only player—other than perhaps McLendon—that was consistently solid against the run this game. He was even forced to make tackles down the field when others missed tackles on at least two occasions on gains of 13 and 11 yards that saved bigger gains.
  • Putting Thomas on Gronkowski for an extended stretch was no better an idea than Gay.
  • However, I have no issue with the call to have Jarvis Jones run with Gronkowski for a new look. It’s not as though Jones had bad coverage on the play. He had the wherewithal to watch Gronkowski and know when the play the ball and he nearly got a hand on the pass. Polamalu had a tough assignment: shade toward the All-Pro tight end or the side of the field with two receivers? He guessed right but was a step late.
  • Anybody who argues that Jones shouldn’t be in coverage took away from that play what they should have, in my opinion.
  • Sanders had two tough balls in this game that he did not come down with that helped shape the momentum of the game. The first one was in the end zone. They settled for a field goal.
  • Amendola got behind the defense for a 57-yard gain on a complicated pattern of routes that clearly confused the secondary. It is not clear-cut where the responsibility lies, but were I to guess, it would seem the onus would have been on Polamalu to stay with Amendola across the field.
  • When Dwyer has a hole, he hits it as well as any other back the Steelers have had in years.
  • The big run set up the pass for Brown in the end zone a play later to get within a touchdown before halftime.
  • Unfortunately, a pair of pass interference penalties helped the Patriots regain their two-touchdown lead just before the half.
  • Vince Williams did not ‘bring his feet’ at the goal line, which is part of why Ridley scored. Cameron Heyward misplayed a cut block and stumbled as well, and Polamalu and Lawrence Timmons got in each other’s way, causing the latter to be a step late to the hole.
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