Sunday, October 30, 2011

Steelers Game 8 Recap - Steelers 25, Patriots 17

I talked about it in the preview that the Patriots have owned the Steelers. Tom Brady, especially, knows what the Steelers do and he can mytotically pick apart the defense and pretty much do what he wants. That was not the case today as Tom Brady was confused, sacked three times and held under 200 yards passing in a 25-17 loss to the Steelers. While the offense could have been better this was a dominating performance from the defense. It was great to see and since the Steelers haven’t really beat a good team this season and that is no longer true. There is a lot to get into so let’s look at the game.

The first thing that was curious for me was the opening coin toss. The Patriots won the toss and deferred to the second half. Now I am sure you knew before the game that the Patriots defense was bad and I am sure that Bill Belichick knew that coming into the game so why the hell would you let the defense start the game? All the Steelers did was use 11 plays to go 68 yards and chew up 5:52 of clock. Mewelde Moore caught a five yard touchdown pass in traffic and the Steelers never looked back from there.

All was well and good after scoring a touchdown but we are talking about the Patriots and we figured this was going to be a high scoring game that was going to be back and forth. What happens next is Shaun Suisham kicks the ball out of bounds. Jesus. What does the terrible Steelers defense do? Three and out. Hmm. The Steelers go on another long drive. This one was 16 plays over almost eight minutes that resulted in a field goal. Damn.

All told in the first quarter the Steelers held the ball for over 13 minutes and the Steelers ran 26 play opposed to three plays for the Patriots. Just unreal job by the offense. Actually for the entire day it was long drive after long drive. Here are the number of plays in all the drives the Steelers had: 11, 16, 3, 10, 4 (end of half), 14, 11, 6, 6. Um, Yea, that is pretty good football right there on offense. It was all great, as I will get to later, but the Steelers held the ball for over 39 minutes. That is almost 67% of the game that the Steelers had the football. Unreal.

Ben Roethlisberger was just straight cash money today. You sort of figured in the first drive it was going to be a good day for him when he was on target but he attempted 50 passes today. 50. He completed 36 of those passes for 365 yards, two touchdowns and a pick. Just an unreal performance by Ben. He was a major part of the Steelers going 10-of-16 on third downs. The only real sour note was that Ben threw a pick and it was a pretty costly one. After the 10-0 lead the Steelers got the ball back and on a third and 12 or something like that he tried to get the ball over the head of the linebacker to Emmanuel Sanders, who was in front of the safety. The only problem was that Ben didn’t get it over the linebacker. Interception that the Pats ran back to the five yard line or some junk and scored two plays later. Really ugly pick. In the past that might have been the start of things going downhill for the Steelers but on the next drive Ben got back to work and put together a 10 play drive that ended with a seven yard touchdown pass. That is what great quarterbacks do after they throw a bad pick. Other than that pick it was all good for Ben. He did a great job of really taking what the defense gave him. For much of the game the Pats played not to get beat deep and all Ben did was pick apart the secondary underneath. Ben did not discriminate as he hit nine different receivers and utilized his backs out of the backfield. Typically Ben likes get the ball down field a lot but he really made smart throws all day and just ground the Patriots down and kept the ball in his hands and kept Tom Brady off the field. You could say that Ben played his best Brady impersonation in the way he played. I love it.

Is there anything more you can say about Heath Miller? He is truly a complete tight end and one of the most underrated in the game. If you remembered what I talked about in the recap I said I thought the Steelers could utilize Miller a lot in the middle of the field against the linebackers and that is exactly what they did early. With the deep safeties the middle of the field was wide open and in the first quarter alone Miller had six catches for 76 yards and was just shredding the Pats. He only ended the game with seven catches for 85 yards but what he did early really set up things nicely for the rest of the game. Miller was also excellent blocking in the running game and blocking down field when he wasn’t thrown too. Just an unreal complete game from Miller and he was a huge factor as he continues to evolve in this offense and get more touches.

In the same aspect as throwing the football how good has the Young Money group of receivers have been. Each of them had at least five catches and at least seven targets each. Mike Wallace was actually targeted the least amount of times with seven. Antonio Brown just did work today. He was targeted 15 (!) times and caught nine passes for 67 yards and a touchdown. Sanders also had a big game with five catches for 70 yards. Wallace had seven catches for 70 yards. I mean look at those numbers. When Hines Ward was ruled out I was kind of bummed but wanted to see what this group could do. They were outstanding and made a lot of people forget about Hines Ward and that he wasn’t in the game. Brown was also good on kickoff and punt returns and it is only a matter of time before he breaks one. Earlier in the year I was critical of those guys because they weren’t on the same page as Ben. They have come a long way and Ben trusts these guys a lot.

While the running game didn’t get a ton of carries the running backs did a great job all around. A lot of people have been on Rashard Mendenhall’s case lately but he had 13 carries for 70 yards and I can’t recall a carry that went for negative yards. He also caught three passes out of the backfield for 22 yards and was so clutch on blitz pickups, as were all the backs. Isaac Redman wasn’t as used as Mendenhall as he only had seven carries for 11 yards but he picked up some crucial blitzes late in the game and gave Ben some time. As a former running back I can tell you it isn’t easy to stand in there when a guy is running through an open gap full speed and you have to stop him dead in his tracks. I am going to talk about Moore but he is so crucial to this team. He is exactly what you want from a third down back. As good as Mendenhall and Redman were at picking up the blitz there isn’t anyone else I want out there than MeMo. He also got a carry for 16 yards and two catches for 29 yards including a really tough catch for the first touchdown. He can do it all and I don’t think enough people appreciate what he does for the team and the offense.

For all the flack that the offensive line gets this was far and away their best game. This is only the first time this season that the same five lineman have started in back-to-back games and they looked really good today. Max Starks was especially good on Ben’s backside as he wasn’t touched from that spot all day. Ben did get dropped five times but I kept count during the game and three of those sacks were on Ben, by which I mean he had ample time to throw but he held onto the ball to try and make something happen and he got sacked in doing so. The other two were on the offensive line. Honestly it looked like it was Tom Brady in games past getting all kinds of time to read the field and hit the open receivers and that is what the o-line gave Ben today. What that did is opened up the running game where the Steelers averaged 4.3 yards per rush as a team. Just a big shout out to the line, it was a great performance.

Bruce Arians gets a ton of praise. For as much as people hate him and want him gone he came up with a great game plan. The Steelers are still being looked at as a run first team but this is a passing team. With Brown, Sanders and Wallace this team can open it up and throw the football. He mixed in the no huddle and attacked the clear weakness on the Patriots, the secondary. BA gets a lot of criticism, and deservedly so sometimes, but give him credit for today.

The only problem I had with the offense today was that they left a ton of points on the field. If there is one thing you want to do against Tom Brady it is not give the Pats any hope late of winning and instead of scoring touchdowns to put the game away the Steelers were settling for field goals. It almost came back to cost them, luckily it didn’t. Overall the Steelers were 2-of-5 in the red zone. They killed a ton of clock in those drives and if you watched the entire game with no idea of score you would have thought the Steelers were up by three scores, but instead they were clinging on to a six point lead late. It worked out OK today but if they play in the playoffs you want to convert a few more of those.

If there was a player of the game I would give it to Dick LeBeau. I know he isn’t a player, but what he did to prepare this team for the game was POW worthy. The Steelers are known as a zone coverage team and they never deviate from that and that is the main reason that Brady and company have beat the Steelers before. LeBeau took note of Brady saying “leave it to me” when talking to teammates about playing the Steelers and gave Brady something he probably hasn’t seen before from the Steelers. Instead of zone the Steelers went with straight man-to-man press coverage on the receivers and rerouted them all day and brought pressure up the middle. That is the blueprint to beating Brady, and it worked. In all the games that the Patriots and Steelers have played with Brady starting I have watched all of them. I have never seen Brady confused and frustrated before, until today. He had no idea what was coming or where the open spots were going to be and it was refreshing to see. Brady only threw for 198 yards. A great game plan by LeBeau and nice to see that he was willing to get out of his bread and butter to earn the win. I know this is just one game but if they can show success in playing a defensive system like this against passing teams then this defense is going to be so much better.

On the same plane as LeBeau the defense was just out of its mind tonight. They gave up only 213 yards of total offense and only played 50 snaps. They got off the field and although they are ticketed with giving up 17 points how many of those were really on the defense? The first touchdown was off the interception and Brady only needed to go like five yards for the score and the other was off a missed field goal where the Pats only had to go about 55 yards to score. Outside of that the defense was outstanding and did a great job of executing the system, even without their top two defensive ends rushing the passer. The Pats were only 3-of-10 on third downs so the Steelers got off the field when they had to.

So when can we finally stop saying that the secondary “hasn’t played anyone” or that “the quarterback missed wide open targets” and finally say that they are pretty good? This is the best passing team in at least the AFC if not the league and all they did was limit Tom Brady to 198 passing yards. On top of great coverage they limitEd Brady to a 5.7 yard per attempt average. You know what that means? When the Patriots were catching the football they weren’t getting any yards after the catch, they were being tackled on the spot. To play defense for the Steelers you have to be able to tackle and I don’t think the Steelers secondary gets enough credit for how good they are at tackling in the open field. Guys like Keenan Lewis, Will Allen, Ryan Mundy and Will Gay were constantly getting crucified for poor play but I don’t hear that this year. Where has everyone gone? Maybe we can finally admit that the secondary isn’t that bad.

While he might not have any of the huge stats (interceptions) Ike Taylor is playing Pro Bowl football and there is no other way to go about it. He was matched up on Wes Welker all day, following him all around the field, and he made him basically disappear. Welker finished the day with six catches for 39 yards and a long of 10. 39 yards on six catches. This is the same guy who leads the league in receptions and is second in the league in receiving yards. Taylor just continues to dominate anyone he lines up against. Oh yea, he also had six tackles, all solo, a tackle for loss and a pass defended. There were some people who would have been OK with Taylor wasn’t resigned. He is worth every penny of that new contract.

Um, so, LaMarr Woodley, huh?



Two more sacks on the day. The two previous games against Brady the Steelers were not able to get to Brady once. Woodley was being single blocked and he was just having the lineman’s lunch and then going to take Brady’s. IT was really a dominating performance from Woodley who is having a Pro Bowl type year after a slow start. This all without James Harrison on the field. Things didn’t go all so well as Woodley went down with a hamstring injury. Not really sure on how bad it is. After the game Woodley said that he would be in against the Ravens but there was some speculation from beat reporters that he might not be ready. I hope he is as it looks lIke Harrison might be back. Whatever it is I hope he is healthy.

Brett Keisel continues to be great. When he isn’t getting to the quarterback and causing fumbles that result in safeties he is batting down passes at the line of scrimmage. He plays on the defensive line so he never will get his just due but he had a sack, a pass defended and two tackles. A really nice day from Keisel and even though he is one of those “old guys” he is having a really good year.

Shaun Suisham has been OK this season, but not great. He hits all the field goals he should hit but anything over 40 yards has been a real stretch this season. Tonight he went 3-of-4 but the fourth one would have really put the game away and gave the Pats a chance. I do not have a whole bunch of confidence in Suisham and I think that is why you saw the Steelers try to pass the ball on their last series rather than run the ball and play for the field goal. Passing for the ball caused them to drop out of field goal range but in my mind that was OK. With how SS has been kicking if he missed the field goal from about 45 yards out you give the Patriots the ball around the 40 yard line with 30 some odd seconds to go. Rather they took a chance and took a couple of sacks in order to keep the clock running and had to punt where they were able to get the ball to the Patriots at their own 21. I will take that tradeoff with some little time left. I am not sure if that had something to do with the faith in SS outside of 40 yards, but it could be.

Overall it was a really great win. It was a win in the AFC and it gives the Steelers the tiebreaker over the Patriots. They are now atop the AFC and a huge confidence boost going into a bigger game against the Ravens. It was nice to also see the staff being flexable and changing systems a little bit and it will help in the long run. At 2-2 some people were thinking that the Steelers might not make the playoffs and now I think it is pretty safe to say our sights are a little higher than just getting into the playoffs.

Take this one in and enjoy it tonight. Tomorrow morning starts Ravens week. Bring it.

What do you think? Leave it in the comments.

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