With the Pittsburgh Steelers Week 15 game against the New England Patriots now just a few days away, quite a few fans and analysts are curious as to how the team’s defense will ultimately try to defend the pass this time around. Several want and expect the Steelers to play a lot more man-coverage than they did during last year’s AFC Championship game.
On Thursday, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was asked during his press conference if he’s seen the Steelers mix up their coverages throughout the season and specifically if he’s observed them playing more man-coverages.
“Yes. I mean, I think they definitely do that,” Brady said. “Within their zones, there’s always man elements. So, it looks like the Steelers to me. I mean, they’ve had the same defense for a long time. Whatever they decide to do, we’ll be prepared for. I mean, we prepare for everything. We’ll go out there and cut it loose on Sunday.”
So, are the Steelers really pretty similar defensively this year to what they were last year?
“Yeah, basically,” Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said on Thursday.
Belichick, did note, however that he has seen a few things change personnel group wise since inside linebacker Ryan Shazier went down injured a few weeks ago.
“They’ve played more dime defense with him [Shazier] out,” Belichick said Thursday. “They’re primarily a nickel team going back to last year when it was [Lawrence] Timmons and Shazier. A lot of nickel this year. They’ve played a little more dime this year and in the last couple of weeks in third down situations; not on early downs. I’d say that would be the biggest change. That’s not really a change, but that has shown up.”
So, will the Steelers defense break out several things Sunday at Heinz Field that we and Brady haven’t seen so far this season? That’s very unlikely to happen this late in the season, according to Brady.
“I think at this point in the year, it’s not like you’re going to go reinvent your whole defense in Week 15,” Brady said. “They’re ranked pretty high. They do a lot of things well. I’m sure they’re going to want to continue to do those things well. They rush good, they’re tight in coverage, they mix their schemes in – zone and man and blitzes – and they do it on all three downs. They don’t make it easy on you.
“Now, for us, it’s just being on alert. We’re going to try to go out and play the way we play, too, and that’s what makes for a good game. They’ve had a lot of good teams over the years. These are always pretty big matchups and this is a big one for both of us.
It goes without saying that the game plan that Steelers defensive coordinator Keith Butler uses Sunday against the Patriots will certainly be dissected after the game has ended and especially if it ends in another loss to New England. On Thursday, Butler was asked if his defense is now more capable of playing man coverage than it was last year.
“We’ll see,” Butler said.
We shall see, indeed.