The Pittsburgh Steelers have a terrible record against the New England Patriots. This is pretty common knowledge by now, and the biggest issue has tended to be the defense’s performance against New England’s potent offense, which is almost always a top-five performer in the NFL.
But while that may be the case, it hasn’t always been so bad from beginning to end. In fact, of the eight games that the two teams have played in the regular season since 2007 when Mike Tomlin became the head coach, the Patriots only had a halftime score of more than 14 points only twice, never in their past three meetings.
It’s one thing to keep the game close by halftime and another to take it all the way through to the end. This has been a problem for the Steelers in the second half against the Patriots in the past, and defensive coordinator Keith Butler is well aware, as he told reporters Thursday via the team’s communications department.
“You can’t play them with the same stuff in the first half or the second half, you can’t do it”, he said. “He sees it, they do a good job of looking it up on the sidelines and they do a good job going in at halftime and see what you’ve done defensively and usually come out and adjust to what you’ve done that’s them a little bit. So, we have to make sure we are in good position to play them in the second half also”.
When the Steelers narrowly lost to New England last season, the Patriots only had 10 points on the board by halftime. But they would put up 17 in the second half and go on to win, albeit in controversial fashion after Pittsburgh had a touchdown overturned in the final minute of a three-point loss.
During the meeting of the two teams during the regular season in 2016 and 2015, the Patriots had 14 points at halftime in either case. That’s not great, but it’s far from terrible either when you’re playing a team that typically averages over 28 points per game. They would finish with 27 and 28 points, respectively.
You can go all the way back to 2010 and find a 29-point second half in a 39-26 Patriots win. In the postseason defeat a couple of years ago, New England did have 17 points at halftime, but finished with 36, scoring 19 points in the second half.
Basically, the Steelers need to plan to have halftime adjustments built into their defensive gameplan while facing the Patriots. They have already seen how the Los Angeles Chargers made adjustments in the second half to defeat them a couple of weeks ago, and obviously Tom Brady is as capable of doing that to them as Philip Rivers is.