While the New England Patriots are not necessarily a pass-happy offense even with Tom Brady under center—they have always been adaptable to their opponents and have been able to run the ball liberally if it’s what worked best—facing the Seattle Seahawks will be a different challenge for the Pittsburgh Steelers defense.
The Seahawks may have Russell Wilson, but they still run the ball. In fact, they had more touches on the ground than in the passing game during their victory over the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday. And that is not even including four runs by Wilson, including kneeldowns.
The Bengals controlled the ball, so the Seahawks only ran about 50 or so plays, but that included only 20 Russell Wilson pass attempts. Chris Carson was the lead back with 15 carries and Rashad Penny also chipped in with six.
The passing game obviously has to be keyed on—Wilson averaged just under 10 yards per pass attempt with two touchdowns and no interceptions—but Steelers defensive coordinator Keith Butler understands that their priority is to stop the run.
“They have the team built for controlling the ball and stuff like that, keeping the offense off the field”, he said via a transcript from the team’s media department, although that’s not actually how it played out on Sunday. Over 11 true possessions, they had just two drives last over two and a half minutes, only one longer than 3:01, and that one was 4:36. “Everything you think about old-school football, which is eat up the clock and stuff like that, time of possession, turnovers and all that stuff that usually works out positive in the past and that is what they are trying to do”, Butler said.
The defense did record two fumble recoveries against the Bengals, and also forced a turnover on downs. They did allow two extended drives of more than seven minutes, but both of them netted Cincinnati just a pair of field goals.
“What we have to do, number one, is stop them running the ball and number two, be effective when they go play action”, Butler concluded. “Because how effective they are in play action is determined by how effective they are running the football, we have to be able to do both. Get them in third down, get them in third and long and stuff like that. And ultimately win out in third down”.
Five of Wilson’s 20 pass attempts on Sunday came off of play action, a full 25 percent. He completed four of them for 68 yards and a touchdown, averaging 13.6 yards per attempt with a perfect passer rating of 158.3. Only he and Dak Prescott had a perfect passer rating on play-action passes in the opener.
Where they would like to do better is on third down, as they only converted four of 12 on the day. That did include a third and 17 and third and 22 to open the game, so they obviously have work to do in keeping themselves ahead of the chains.