The dead horse that is the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2016 season was served many blunt kicks by various members of the New England Patriots last Sunday, no kick more impactful than the one served by quarterback Tom Brady. While many in the Steelers fan base would like to move on and never speak of the beating laid upon them by their perpetrators again, many others want answers to why the season was put down so mercilessly. With that said, the case will re-open in an attempt to find more answers to what went wrong.
Brady finished with 384 yards in the air and 3 touchdowns on route to his best performance in post season action. Beneath those numbers is a set of equations leading to the success that Brady was able to demonstrate last Sunday. The most important was perhaps Brady’s release time compared to the amount of pass rushers the Steelers’ deployed.
The first point to consider is Brady’s snap to release time. Brady held an average of 2.53 seconds until his release Sunday, consistent with 2.52 seconds in his earlier Week 7 matchup against the Steelers and close to his season average of 2.57 seconds. The second point is the Steelers pass rush, 21 times the Steelers sent only three rushers, 18 times they sent four and just six times did the Steelers send five or more. Comparing Brady’s release to the specific number of rushers sent his way shows a few interesting observations.
What stands out the most are Brady’s release times on the six occasions that the Steelers did decide to send five or more rushers. Brady was releasing the ball a third of a second earlier but did not seem fazed at all by the pressure. Brady’s perfect passer rating in this scenario speaks for itself, showing a quarterback who knew exactly where to distribute the ball in the scenario of a blitz.
The window of opportunity to effectively blitz Brady is incredibly small and craves perfection. With a release of just over two seconds, perfect play would be required from both the secondary and pass rushers. The Steelers’ failure to achieve perfection would not be more evident than on first downs, as Brady proceeded to make the field his personal canvas.
The Steelers failed greatly at applying any pressure at all on Brady when faced with 1st and 10. When the Steelers sent four, Brady had a release time of almost three seconds and still was ultimately perfect. With just 2 incompletions and over 230 yards on respective first down plays, Brady was able to quickly move into more manageable territory or re-start the 1st and 10 process again.
The Steelers came into New England believing they had the answers in order to stop Brady and company. But just like we have learned over the years, the Patriots are always ready to adjust quickly and with the adjustments coming in just over two seconds, the Patriots were actually the team with all the answers. For Brady and his Patriots, the game of football is more than a matter of inches – it is also a matter of seconds.