Disappointment is an understatement. The Steelers left a stinker reminiscent of my youth in Pittsburgh when the Jones & Laughlin (J&L) Steel Mill was still blasting way in Pittsburgh. Some of you that are old enough may recall that sulfuric atmosphere. For you youngsters who want to replicate living history; eat about a dozen deviled eggs; a pan full of fried pierogi smothered in onions washed down with a six-pack of some stale Iron City beer that’s been rusting away in some cellar. That’s the “pale, stale ale with the foam on the bottom” also known as Olde Frothingslosh. Now after a good night’s sleep; go into your car roll up the windows and let go. Hours later when your clothing still has that eggy J& L odor; it’s no olfactory hallucination – that aroma becomes a spectral being of demon’s past following you around.
On Sunday morning, I was very tired due to just a wink or two of sleep the night before; apparently neither did the Steelers since a storm trooper disrupted their rest by rousing our Black & Gold heroes awake by pulling a fire alarm at 3AM prior to tonight’s AFC championship match-up. We all know the history, but this was a new day; could the stalwart 53 from the little Burgh in Pennsylvania save the world from the forces of the evil empire? A daunting task; with the field further tilted by the striped flying monkeys that always seem to aid the minions of doom whenever a favorable call is beckoned. Charge forth; into the arena be brave; no quarter to be given either way. Could the indomitable death star be tamed? Alas, not this day.
Prior to the game, I jotted down some scenarios that could be the most significant factor for the Steelers to win in Foxboro. Here they are with the results.
- Le’Veon Bell rushes for over 100 yards: only 20 since his groin injury kept him to a quarter of play. DeAngelo Williams played with heart but his age is showing in perhaps his final game.
- Ben Roethlisberger completes 68% of his passes with no interceptions: Was on track until desperation late left him at 66% completions and an interception.
- Antonio Brown 10 targets and gains 120 yards: 9 targets for 77 yards. Effectively shut down.
- Tom Brady sacked 4 times: Maybe 2. Javon Hargrave’s early sack gave a glimmer of hope; but Sean Davis’s was anticlimactic and more Brady taunting Steelers with game out of reach.
- Artie Burns or Sean Davis intercept Brady: Not even close. New England receivers were “college open” all night.
- LeGarrette Blount rushes for less than 60 yards: Held to 47 yards but made some key runs. The only scenario achieved but obviously insignificant to the outcome.
The wise Jedi Dave Bryan identified several areas in his article ‘Lessons Learned: 7 Things That Must Change in Steelers Rematch Against Patriots’. I have synopsized them along with how the Steelers measured up:
- “In the Week 7 game against the Patriots the Steelers defense allowed running back LeGarrette Blount to rush for 127 yards and if that’s not bad enough, exactly 50% of his 24 total carries were successful runs…. Blount’s successful run percentage was 36.3% so the Steelers defense needs to keep him to his average or lower on Sunday.” I calculate that 9 of Blount 16 attempts were “successful” for 56.25%. FAIL.
- “While the Steelers defense only allowed 222 passing yards to the Patriots offense … nearly half of those yards (101) came after the catch for an average of 5.32 (per catch). That average must be lowered some in the rematch.” Tom Brady had 384 yards passing. Don’t know what the yards after catch average was but it does not matter when receivers catching the ball with no defender in their vicinity. The secondary was an EPIC FAIL.
- “The Steelers were penalized 10 times for 85 yards … 8 of those 10 penalties by the Steelers came on offense and that can’t happen again Sunday in Foxboro.” Only 3. Improved but New England had only 2 both after the game was out of reach.
- “Brady converted three first downs (running) … the Steelers defense must make him do it with his arm and not his legs.” Brady converted a quarterback sneak into a first down. I still don’t understand the referee’s explanation of why it was not a fumble but the call stands and it is a FAIL.
- “The Steelers defense played … allowed the Patriots offense to convert 58% of their third down opportunities, they also allowed them to go 3-for-3 in the red zone. Holding the Patriots to field goals instead of giving up touchdowns will obviously play a big role in Sunday’s rematch.” New England converted 65% of their 3rd downs and were 3 for 5 in the red zone including 2/3 when having a 1st & goal compared to 0-2 for the Steelers. FAIL
- “The Steelers managed to force two turnovers (but failed to score) … should the (offense) be provided any turnovers, they absolutely must convert them into points.” No turnovers and they scored 10 points off the 2 turnovers we gave them. FAIL
- “The Steelers defense is likely to give up a few explosive plays on Sunday, it probably can’t be more than three with none of them border lining on double explosive plays…. Conversely, the Steelers offense … need five or more in Sunday’s rematch. Or at the very least, have three more than the Patriots offense.” 5 of New England’s 6 explosive plays (more than 20 yards) were passes to Chris Hogan. Hogan’s last one for 39 was almost a double explosive; the 41-yard pass to Julian Edelman in their first drive was a double explosive leading to 3 points to open the game. Ben Roethlisberger’s 30-yard pass to Sammie Coates did not come until the Steelers were already down 9-33. The 30-yard touchdown to Cobi Hamilton little more than a statistical gift with the game already decided. EPIC FAIL.
It is evident to me that Bill Belichick altered their strategy from the previous meeting. A deemphasis on Blount who had only 4 carries in the first half compared to 13 in week 7. Looked like he wanted to attack a young aggressive secondary and the flea flicker was perfect. On the Steelers side; execution by the players was poor. No number two receiver emerged for this game and it really showed. Jesse James showed some effectiveness but key drops by Sammie Coates & Cobi Hamilton hurt very bad. That along with going 0-2 with first and goal. Mike Tomlin and both coordinators Todd Haley & Keith Butler have some soul searching to do. Danny Smith gets a pass on this one. They will all will be back next year; but did we see the last of James Harrison?
A very disappointing game. Simply outplayed; loss of Le’Veon Bell so early in the game and then the fumble by Eli Rogers putting the game completely out of reach made it ridiculous. The defense never could really stop the Pats. An all-around substandard performance. Anything short of a Super Bowl berth would have left me disappointed but the putrid performance by the Steelers and the ease with which the Evil Empire swatted them away like so many flies made this very hard to take. There were no heroes for the Black & Gold in this game. The season is over; and while admirable that they made it to the conference championship; right now, can only look forward to the 2017 season.