The 2018 Week 15 win over the New England Patriots was far from a perfect game for the Pittsburgh Steelers but in three areas the team excelled and needs to repeat those aspects tonight if they want to ensure an upset win on the road.
One aspect every NFL team knows is you cannot give Tom Brady time in the pocket — he has to be uncomfortable. The second aspect is the Steelers have to keep Brady off the field with their offense. Lastly, one thing which has haunted the Steelers early in the season is penalties.
NFL defensive coordinators know their defense cannot give Tom Brady time to sit back in the pocket and pick their squads apart. In 2018, the Steelers brought pressure and played man to man on almost every play. While Pittsburgh only brought Brady down once, He was hit seven times, according to Pro Football Reference. The pressure which was a game-changer was almost midway through the fourth quarter with the Patriots in the red-zone and down by four. Brady under heavy pressure threw arguably the worst pass of his career against the Steelers, which cornerback Joe Haden intercepted. The Steelers need to bring that heavy pressure with five and six men coming on every play.
Time of possession was almost equal last year, but this can be partly attributed to Ben Roethlisberger turning the ball over twice. Brady was efficient, completing 69% of his passes, but for only 279 yards. Besides the first drive, the defense bent but did not break the rest of the game. After the initial Patriots touchdown, the defense forced five straight punts while New England accumulated a meager 97 yards and did not cross the Steelers 45 yard line. That is the stifling defense Steelers Nation wants to see tonight and will need to see to secure the win on the road.
During the 2017 season opener against the Cleveland Browns, Pittsburgh tallied 13 penalties for 144 yards. Sloppy football led to a three-point win against a Browns team that did not secure a win during the season. The 2018 season opener against the Brown again saw a flurry of yellow flags on the field against the Steelers. Twelve penalties for 116 allowed the Browns to snap their losing streak and secure a tie at home.
The tide turned during the New England game in 2018 when Pittsburgh was only flagged four times for 40 yards while New England accumulated 14 penalties for 106 yards. That is the fundamental football Pittsburgh will need to harness to deal with the Patriots in what will be an energized Gillette Stadium.
Steelers Nation doesn’t want to see their team stumble out of the gate and look flat, yet again, to open the season. The Patriots and Brady have won many games for nearly two decades when teams come out flat and disorganized. Bending teams to their will, while not allowing another team to enact theirs.
Will the Steelers be able to keep Brady guessing for 60 minutes where the pressure will come and can the Steelers bring it effectively? If the pressure is effective, will the Steelers offense gel enough to jump out and keep a lead? Pittsburgh cannot be their own worst enemy and keep drives alive for Brady, or kill drives with a long down and distance for the Steelers offense.
However the game unfolds with its plots and subplots Steelers Nation, welcome to the 2019 season!