First off, what I hope will become a weekly series, I’m going to look at five plays that stood out to me as epitomizing the story of each week’s game.
Starting off on the right foot is already out of question, so take a drink to stabilize your nerves, and let’s dig into the mess that was Pittsburgh Steelers vs. New England Patriots in Week 1:
First up: James Conner on 3rd and 1 in the second quarter.
No. 71 for New England is Danny Shelton, their nose tackle (NT). He is lined up over Steelers right tackle (RT) Matt Feiler. Conner runs right at Danny Shelton and a ton of Patriot defenders. Look at David DeCastro and Ramon Foster, that’s a hole. But of course it’s easy to point out holes after the play ends, so look at this shot from before the snap.
I added the yellow line. My MS Paint skills are fetch. Above that yellow line you have Maurkice Pouncey, Foster, Alejandro Villanueva and 3 Patriot defenders. That’s a pretty good sign it’s the right way to go to get 1 yard. Below the line is Feiler, Vance McDonald, JuJu Smith-Schuster, RyanSwitzer and 5 Patriot defenders, 4 of which are on the line.
And again, Their NT is lined up over Feiler. On the line is DeCastro and the linebacker he’s about to pancake.
As long as Conner takes the ball and heads straight forward, or to his left, the odds of gaining a yard is very high, and there’s only 2 defenders not on screen, could have easily been a big play.
Conner didn’t play much in the pre-season, and you can see he’s not in mid-season form at all. Much like the rest of the offense.
Speaking of the rest of the offense. . .
3rd and goal at the one, Donte Moncrief is the WR on the line, top of the formation.
Moncrief does a great job here of creating space for the ball, and Ben Roethlisberger does a great job of placing the ball. The only problem is Moncrief needs to use that space. This is a play Ben’s used to throwing to Antonio Brown. Moncrief needs to learn how to run it with Roethlisberger. Maybe a bit of in-game experience will fix this. Otherwise, expect Moncrief to lose snaps progressively to James Washington and Diontae Johnson. Although Roethlisberger’s passes to James Washington were often overthrown. One of the problems with James Washington is he doesn’t have deep speed, so those long passes are going to be tighter windows, because you can’t just throw it and let him go get it. When he has a step on the defender he isn’t likely to gain a second one. You have to hit his window, and it isn’t going to be big.
Overall, the offense played like they were still in preseason and weren’t at all in sync.
How about the defense?
1st and 10, every year.
Seriously, it isn’t Steelers - Patriots until the Steelers leave the Patriots’ best player wide open for a big gain. They got it out of the way on the Pats’ second drive of the game this year, leaving Josh Gordon uncovered, because why not? Last year the Steelers gave up a big play by triple covering Josh Gordon, so I guess this balances it out right?
Anyway, fans want to blame someone, so check out the following GIF: Look at the top of the line, No. 22.
That’s Steven Nelson telling Kameron Kelly to cover his man, because he’s blitzing, a few seconds before the snap. Don’t worry Mr. Nelson, Kam’s going to do a great job of not being on the screen at any point in the play.
Aside from the usual trick play and Steelers miscommunication, a lot of the success of the Patriots’ offense was based on running the ball and then using play-action. Devin Bush acted like a rookie in his first game facing Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, and bit on every single play action, of course the other LBs did too...
Zone defense, play action, toss to Julian Edelman right where the LBs should be covering.
Bush still almost got a hand on that ball. He got a solid amount of tackles, but Belichick went after the youngster with play action and running at him, making sure to get blockers on Bush and forcing Mark Barron to be the linebacker (LB) tasked with finding the running back (RB).
If you read my last film room post (I understand if you were absorbed in the AB saga) I pointed out when Barron and Bush are on the field together Barron needs to play the Buck role and let Bush go get the ball. The Patriots ran at Bush to keep that from happening. Because that is how Bill Belichick rolls.
Okay, last one.
Zone defense. Because they were killing the defense in man, so you have to change it up at some point.
Kameron Kelly is not the free safety (FS) of the future. He did very well in preseason playing in the box, in shorter zone assignments and playing man on short routes, and looked great when plays didn’t get to him. Sean Davis doesn’t get beat like this. He would have at least been in position to make a tackle.
Belichick and Brady went after Bush to take away his strengths, ran blatant man-beaters until the Steelers stopped using man defense, and attacked Kameron Kelly’s speed in zone. That’s the stuff Belichick is going to do, and you have to expect it. But what really hurts is miscommunication leading to the first touchdown of the game, and the offense being ineffective and not on the same page for the entire game.
The bad news is this game happened. It showed some serious flaws in the team and it was flat out demoralizing and embarrassing.The curse of Foxborough remains unvanquished.
The good news is this is the best team the Steelers will face all year, and 6 of the next 8 games are at the friendly confines of Heinz Field. The Steelers have plenty of time to turn this around.