What we saw yesterday was confirmation of the tidal change of the Steelers offense in their game versus the Patriots. The Patriots championship defense is long gone, while the Steelers offense is now the high-powered unit which can strike from all over the field. And if that wasn't dramatic enough, it was the Pittsburgh defense which confused and rattled the Belichick-led Pats, not the other way around.
There are numerous other posts today regarding the play on both sides of the ball. My main point here is that the personnel changes on offense have led to a new approach. While it's early yet to say that the Steelers defensive philosophy has changed, the style of play was a significant departure from what we have seen in the recent past against New England.
Now, before we get too drunk on the sweet wine of victory, please note that New England's defense is the worst in the league against the pass. The match-ups that so favored New England a few years ago have completely flipped in favor of the Steelers when they have the ball. The Pats were the team in a soft zone, trying to defend against the speed of the Steelers receivers. This opened up the middle of the field, especially when LBs were brought to apply pressure. All credit to Bruce Arians in predicting and exploiting what New England tried to do. I think Belichick tried to bait Roethlisberger and BA into throwing deep, testing their patience and forcing them to execute play after play. Well, they did that and continued to kill New England with the short pass game for 4 quarters. This is significant in my mind - the way they did it without making the big mistakes as in the past. New England's defense is not very good but we didn't make them look good, in fact they looked anemic most of the day. This may signal the maturation of Big Ben. He did take a few unnecessary sacks yesterday which had my blood pressure rising, but his decision making combined with the play designs really looked to me like a watershed moment for the offense. We glimpsed this a few weeks ago when Ben had the steel plate in his shoe and couldn't really move. It would be a great thing to see Ben beat the opposition with his mind more consistently as his body inevitably ages.
On defense, the Steelers challenged the Pats receivers at the LOS and won the down repeatedly. That Pittsburgh played press man coverage was one thing, but their success in doing so was the real victory. Carnell Lake moved from safety and played a whole season at corner due to injuries as part of the Steelers awesome defense of the 1990s. The personnel in the secondary played a great man-to-man yesterday and credit to Lake and LeBeau for getting them to that point. Perhaps there has been a slight change in personnel there too - less of the zone and run support DB and more toward the coverage side of the equation. Hard to say when you are not in the meeting rooms and practice field. I think if they try this last year it simply doesn't work - the personnel group wouldn't allow for it. That, or LeBeau just wasn't ready to risk it. Now, the DBs look competent in playing man coverage. And finally, great game for Ike Taylor !! They down-played him matching up with Welker in the slot but then came out and did it very effectively.
Probably the best-coached game of the year - except for the last possession which ended pretty ugly. Not sure why they didn't run twice after the 1st down pass and then kick the FG. That FG puts the game out of reach. Perhaps they were afraid of a block or even a miss giving NE the ball in better field position. This was the only part of the game that bothered me. After a gutsy 1st down completion, you have to believe you can run the ball to get the first down - don't you? A great win and on to Baltimore for more press coverage !!