During last week’s press conference, Mike Tomlin told a room full of reporters that the Pittsburgh Steelers could not spot the New England Patriots any points. It remains to be confirmed whether Tomlin echoed the same statement to his team in the locker room because spotting points to the Patriots is exactly what the Steelers did on Sunday night.
Where to start? There was the 58-yard touchdown pass to Phillip Dorsett or the 44-yard pass up the seam to Josh Gordon but the one play I want to focus on came just before the Patriots’ first touchdown. Deadlocked in a scoreless game, the Patriots reached into their bag of trickery to give them a spark and that spark came in the form of a 32-yard pass from Julian Edelman to James White.
Throughout their rivalry, the Steelers have struggled to have an answer for the Patriots’ trickery and as a result, Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels keep dialling up the trick plays. The Steelers have struggled with communication and staying disciplined against the Patriots, leaving them extremely vulnerable to McDaniels’ gadget plays. The trick play above should look very familiar to any historians as McDaniels used a similar trick play against the Steelers 12 years ago but this time he added a new twist.
Just like last Sunday, Tom Brady throws a quick pass to the sideline, this time to Randy Moss, who throws it back to Brady. As the Steelers’ defense practically runs around with their heads cut off, Jabar Gaffney is able to get behind the safeties and Brady connects with him for a long touchdown pass.
Both plays featured a lateral to a receiver on the sideline though it seems that only one play had the potential for a deep ball into the endzone but here is the catch. The Patriots added a new wrinkle to this play concept, not only did Edelman have the option to throw it across the field but he still had to option to go for the killshot deep down the field.
Josh Gordon, lined up on the left side of the offense runs across the field and is wide open. The Steelers’ safeties fall for the bait once again and deja vu immediately sets in as Gordon would have almost definitely ended up in the end zone had the ball come his way.
Here is a better look.
Now, some may be asking how the Patriots planned to get Gordon the ball without Brady throwing it to him. The answer to that is Edelman. Lest we forget that Edelman spent his college career as a quarterback and has still shown the ability to throw a pretty deep ball at the NFL level. Had the Patriots’ receiver looked downfield instead of across the field, this play goes for seven points instead of just a 32-yard gain.
Essentially this play retained the potential for a deep shot just like in 2007, while also having the option to give the football back to another playmaker across the field. The only difference between Sunday and 12 years ago is that Brady did not have to be involved in the play, as Edelman served as the primary orchestrator. The play is also similar to the one the Patriots ran against the Green Bay Packers a number of years ago, which can be seen in the video above.
Why Belichick and McDaniels decided to try this play likely comes down to the who the Steelers started at safety. Twelve years ago, Anthony Smith started at free safety for the Steelers and Brady picked him apart all night long. Perhaps the Patriots felt they could have the same success going at Kameron Kelly, also making his first career start and Terrell Edmunds, who has just 17 games under his belt.
Whatever the case may be, the plan worked. The Patriots once again attacked the Steelers’ secondary, specifically their safeties and coasted to another dominating victory at home. For Belichick and McDaniels, this was just another example of their ability to find a weakness and exploit it – something that the Steelers have struggled to do in Foxborough.