The Pittsburgh Steelers finally did it. They finally beat the bully. The bully obviously being Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. The Steelers’ defense put on a performance that Pittsburgh will not forget for a very, very long time. Keith Butler coached a unit that managed to limit Brady to just one touchdown, an 89.9 passer rating while holding the entire Patriots’ offense to just 10 points. Most surprising of all this is that the Steelers’ defense managed to cause all this chaos while only sacking Brady once.
The last time Brady was sacked once or less and lost was way back on December 28th 2014, a 17-9 loss to the Buffalo Bills, now nearly four years ago. Brady rarely loses when he is not taken down at least a couple of times, he has a record of 104-21 in starts when he is sacked once or not at all. That works out to an .832 winning percentage. The Patriots’ quarterback is usually a cerebral assassin when given a clean pocket to operate in. Brady averages a 108.1 passer rating in those 104 victories while averaging just a 78.6 passer rating in the 21 losses. Perhaps the fact that 15 of those 21 losses were on the road could be the missing link that draws a correlation between the two. The Steelers were at home Sunday when they beat the Patriots after all.
Truth be told, while playing on the road likely helped contribute to Brady’s seemingly poor play, it is not the direct correlation. Sunday’s victory is a textbook example of why box score scouting just sometimes does not add up. More times than not, it can help lead you in the right direction but in most occasions, nothing beats the film. If you were told that the Steelers would sack Brady just once, it is likely that only a few individuals would have expected the Steelers to win. While the Steelers recorded just one, lonesome sack, they sure did record an abundance of pressure.
The Steelers got seven quarterback hits on Brady and while they only finished one of them, it was enough to make an impact on the quarterback’s mojo. No player rattled Brady more than outside linebacker T.J. Watt. Watt led the team with three quarterback hits and one sack as he was a menace in Brady’s side all game. Cameron Heyward had two quarterback hits and Stephon Tuitt also chipped in two. Heyward was the one who got in Brady’s face on his fourth quarter interception, as he was forced to throw a sloppy jump ball that ended up in the hands of Steelers’ cornerback Joe Haden.
The pressure provided by the trio were a large reason why the Patriots struggled to find any success, especially on third down. Brady and the Patriots’ offense were just 3/10 on third down and struggled to find any rhythm or consistency on offense. With Watt, Heyward and Tuitt consistently crashing the pocket, Brady was either forced into making a check down short of the chains or saw his accuracy affected by the impending pressure.
The Steelers’ defense put together a game for the ages. The secondary did their part in coverage, limiting Rob Gronkowski to just two catches for 21 yards and Josh Gordon to just one catch for 19 yards. With the secondary holding their own, the pass rush was able to do their job and create chaos in the pocket. When the two groups work together, the results are spectacular to witness, none more spectacular than defeating the Patriots.