Back at it, breaking down what the Pittsburgh Steelers have to do to win (or lose) in tonight’s game against the New England Patriots. My always unreliable prediction at the bottom.
The Steelers Will Win If…
– They don’t spot drop. Basically, see what I wrote Saturday morning. Moving away from pure zone coverage doesn’t guarantee success or a win but it gives them a shot. Like I said, sitting in spots as zone coverage is asking to get blown out by Tom Brady and company. Even if Joe Haden is out, man coverage and pattern matching are far superior options.
– The pass rush has lane integrity. Let’s take it a step beyond the blanket “get to Brady” which, while true, is essentially a nothing-burger. It’s the commencment speech at graduation. Might sound good but utterly cliche, totally irrelevant.
Here’s the better question. How do they get pressure? How do they convert that pressure into sacks? Rush lane integrity, something that completely failed in last year’s regular season matchup. Give even slow-footed Brady an escape lane and he’s going to take it. And no one has better mobility within the pocket, in the history of the game, than #12. Edge guys have to keep contain. Interior guys can’t overload to one side. A balanced pass rush is a successful one.
– Field position falls in their favor. Jordan Berry has to continue his strong performances. And the coverage units has to do their job. Again, sorta obvious, but don’t want to give New England any extra advantage by playing with a short field. The return guys don’t have to make any splash plays. It just can’t be a repeat of the debacle that went down last week. Devil is in the details to win these primetime matchups.
The Steelers Lose If…
– They can’t figure out an answer for Rob Gronkowski. And rest assured, there is no easy answer. Containing the largest frat boy in the league won’t come from one man or one scheme. It’ll be a mix and for me, I’ll be holding my breath the entire time. Even if you bottle him up for three quarters, or 95% of the plays, that remainder can still kick you in the keester.
– The inside linebackers can’t cover the perimeter. To a larger degree, it’s all about how the Steelers respond against New England’s empty sets, which I am expecting to see a lot Sunday afternoon. Spread the field and stress the inside guys. Can Vince Williams and Tyler Matakevich show their range? On paper, the matchup is scary.
The one plus side is the Patriots are lacking a strong #2 tight end like they have had in the past. So them going 12/22 personnel and then lining up in empty with two big receivers (Gronk/Hernandez, Gronk/Bennett) isn’t going to work as effectively. Still, these guys will be forced to cover perimeter runs, wheel routes, and RB motion. Expect the Pats to snap the ball as soon as possible, too.
– Pittsburgh’s offense can’t score enough points versus an improved Pats’ D. New England began the year ice cold but have really picked things up defensively. I think the Steelers can and will move the ball but will the recurring red zone troubles be their downfall again? Can they stay step for step with the Patriots? Getting down early changes the gameplan and digging out of a hole against this bunch is near impossible.
New England: 30