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The good, the bad and the ugly for the Steelers vs. the Patriots in Week 7

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A look into what worked and what didn’t work in a week 7 loss to New England

NFL: New England Patriots at Pittsburgh Steelers Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Another season, another loss to the Patriots. From where I was sitting, there was plenty of reason to believe the Steelers could have come out with a win on Sunday afternoon. Alas, the Steelers did what they too often do against the Patriots and New England took advantage and pulled out an 11-point win at Heinz Field. I’ll walk you through what seemed to be working for the Steelers and what lead to a second straight loss.

What worked: Le’Veon Bell worked hard. I haven’t tallied snap counts, but I’m not sure if he came off the field for more than a couple offensive plays the entire game, and the snaps I saw him miss were for a shoe malfunction. The plan to use him early and often worked well, but they should’ve started that earlier. More on that below. Antonio Brown worked very hard as well, moving the sticks and keeping drives alive. The offensive line played pretty well. Despite a couple holding penalties, the big men held their own, sometimes having to maintain blocks a long time for pass plays or a bottled up Bell changing course multiple times on a single run play. DHB also played a pretty solid game, at least early on. Jarvis Jones worked really hard too, recording a forced fumble and recovery, 5 solo tackles and hit on Brady. He won’t live up to my lofty goals for him, but nice to see him show up on Sunday.

What didn’t work: TACKLING! LeGarrette Blount is the second back in two weeks to have his way with this Pittsburgh defense, and Rob Gronkowski broke a number of tackles on his way to a 90 yard, one touchdown afternoon. Speaking of Gronkowski, for the second time in two seasons, the secondary did not have answer for the big guy. The touchdown pass with Robert Golden in coverage should never have been completed, but Golden got beat from the first step and wasn’t aware of the separation until it was too late. From there it was a couple missed tackles and a quick six points for the Patriots. I am aware that Gronk is a tough cover and a tough guy to tackle, but the effort and execution by the Steelers’ secondary was practically non-existent.

Pass rush. The Steelers may have the scheme in place, but it would seem they don’t have the talent to execute the scheme. James Harrison is still a great player, but no longer a dominant pass rusher. Jarvis Jones, as mentioned, is just not going to turn into a pass rushing force. Bud Dupree is on the shelf along with Cam Heyward. Other than occasional flashes from Arthur Moats and Stephon Tuitt, the front seven at this juncture cannot get pressure and generate sacks consistently. Tom Brady not only had a fairly clean jersey at the end of the day, he ran for three first downs. This guy will never be mistaken for Aaron Rodgers or Cam Newton, but he was able to elude pressure gain positive yards way too often on Sunday. Something that is missing from the scheme are blitzes from defensive backs. Will Allen may not have been the best safety in coverage, but he had four sacks for the Steelers under Keith Butler in 2015.

Coaching decisions. Second-guessing the coaches is a slippery slope, but opting for along field goal on fourth and short instead of trying to get the ball in the hands of Bell or Brown is a head-scratcher to be sure. Timeouts were also used like the Steelers thought they had four per half. I put this on the coaching staff because even though Landry Jones had to burn a couple early in each half, the problem to me is on preparation and timing of substitutions. That falls clearly in the wheelhouse of the coaches. Would the extra timeouts have helped the Steelers win on Sunday? Probably not, but we’ll never know what the team could’ve done with more time and less to worry about in terms of the game clock.

To sum it all up, I’m disappointed in this loss. The Steelers looked like they had found aw ay to hang around and possibly win this game until the fourth quarter. Landry Jones was not great, but effective after his early mistakes. Bell was grinding out yards and Brown was, well, Antonio Brown. The defense settled in for a while, but they just didn’t have enough to hold the Patriots down for 60 minutes. I believe that with a healthy Ben Roethlisberger and Cam Heyward, the Steelers win this game.

I’ve given you what I thought was the good and the bad. Now for the ugly: Officiating. Am I the only one who thinks that the refs treated this like it was Steelers-Bengals, January 2016. Yes the Steelers committed some holding and false start penalties, and maybe Artie Burns shouldn’t have slammed the Patriots receiver on his head, but the refs seemed to have yellow laundry to spare in this game. The Steelers and Patriots don’t like each other, but these two teams have never come to the boiling point. I’m extremely frustrated with officiating this year, and I don’t see it changing any time soon. The Steelers need to be more disciplined, but the refs need to let these guy play football. As of this week, they haven’t changed it to the National Flag Football League. It’s still football for crying out loud.