An awful lot of people have put forth an awful lot of opinions over the course of the past several days in explaining what the Pittsburgh Steelers should have done in order to beat the Patriots in the AFC Championship game.
The assumption that each suggestion takes is believing that the Steelers didn’t attempt to do these things. The reality is often that they tried to do these things and failed. I wrote earlier in the week that the coaching staff’s choice to shy away from man coverage through much of the game was a result of them getting burned when they tried it.
The defense also got burned when they tried to blitz Tom Brady. You can probably safely wager that their inability to find success getting through on the blitz had something to do with the fact that they didn’t try to do it too often during the game. They rather often favored dropping an extra player into coverage.
The Steelers tried to blitz Lawrence Timmons through the right-side B Gap early in the game on the opening drive. They shifted their three players to his right in that direction in the hopes of drawing the offensive linemen in that direction to create a gap in the protection. While they did accomplish that, it quickly closed and Brady fired the ball out very quickly for an easy five-yard gain.
Things only got worse for them in their efforts to get after the quarterback with extra rushers later in the first quarter. The Steelers tried to blitz on third down with the Patriots sitting on their 16-yard line. It did not work as planned. This time they sent both of their inside linebackers through the middle lanes in one of their staple blitzes. New England’s line picked it up well-credit to the running back—and Brady rolled out to hit Chris Hogan for a touchdown.
That was the lowlight of the game for me. But the futility of the Steelers’ blitz attempts did not relent there. They sent Mike Mitchell on a blitz off the edge early in the second quarter only to see him get picked up by the back. Brady once again rolled out of the pocket and found Hogan for another big play.
The Patriots converted a third and long late in the third quarter against a blitz from Ryan Shazier. It looked as though Sean Davis would come as well from a deep set until the running back moved out of the backfield. These pressure packages simply took too long to develop in order to threaten Brady.
That, or he already knew it was coming and thus knew to get the ball out quickly. The only times that they really got to him throughout the game were when the interior defenders were able to get pressure up the middle. Thank you, Javon Hargrave.