The Pittsburgh Steelers defense played a lot of zone coverage Sunday against the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship game and that game plan failed miserably.
During his Monday interview on SiriusXM NFL Radio, Patriots wide receiver Chris Hogan, who caught nine passes against the Steelers for 180 yards and two touchdowns, talked about New England’s offensive game plan going into Sunday’s game.
“We knew that they were going to be playing a lot of zones and that just goes back to all the preparation that we put in during the week,” Hogan said. “We put in our game plan (which) was to beat zone. And (offensive coordinator) Josh (McDaniels) made some really good calls and Tom (Brady), and the offensive line gave him some time and he found the open guy.”
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady had open guys to choose from all night against the Steelers zone defense that included outside linebackers James Harrison and Bud Dupree both dropping into coverage quite extensively. Dupree talked about the defensive scheme used against the Patriots on Monday.
“We had a great game plan,” Dupree said, according to Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com. “It would have worked (if gotten third-down stops).”
Steelers rookie cornerback Artie Burns added on Monday that the Steelers defense wasn’t expecting Hogan to be the Patriots main offensive weapon.
“We knew he was one of the guys who could stretch you,” Burns said, according to Ray Fittipaldo of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “That’s why we played a lot of zone, to keep the top on the coverage. He was able to slip behind it. That’s why he had the game he had by slipping behind our deep coverage to make plays.”
During his post-game press conference, head coach Mike Tomlin was reminded about the Steelers game against the Patriots during the 2011 regular season in which his defense used a lot of press-man coverage to stifle Brady and the Patriots offensive passing attack. He was then asked if there was any thought of doing something similar to that Sunday night.
“Obviously, you know, you weigh those options in preparation. We stand by what we did in the game, we just didn’t do it well enough,” Tomlin said.
No, no you didn’t, Mike.
Tomlin and rest of the Steelers defensive coaches will now have an entire offseason to think about how they should have defended the Patriots offense Sunday night in Foxborough. We’ll see if they learned their lesson during the 2017 regular season as the Steelers are scheduled to play the Patriots at Heinz Field. Hopefully we see some man-coverage in that game.
Brady, by the way, has now completed 185 of his 258 total pass attempts for 2,273 yards and 21 touchdowns against the Steelers while Tomlin has been the head coach. He has zero interceptions in those seven games.