Welcome to the BTSC statistical breakdown of the most recent Steelers game. In a game where they were given almost no shot of winning, the Steelers fought hard against the New England Patriots on the before some costly mistakes doomed Pittsburgh to a second straight loss. Below is a breakdown to see what we can learn from what the team did well and what areas they need to work on.
All stats are from the NFL, except for DYAR and DVOA rankings, which are from Football Outsiders.
Running Games: With Ben Roethlisberger out that meant the game plan was going to call for a healthy dose of Le’Veon Bell, and Bell was up to the task. Bell delivered 81 yards on the ground, which paired with his 68-yards receiving shows how dominant he can be. The Patriots had no answer for him all day. If there was a silver lining from the loss, it’s that Bell is in midseason form for the divisional battle with Baltimore in Week 9. With DeAngelo Williams out with a knee injury, it meant except for one 13-yard trick run by Antonio Brown, Bell was solely responsible for the Steelers rushing attack. Encouragingly, he showed no signs of fatigue.
Bell has only been active for four games, but he currently ranks in the top ten for both rushing and receiving DVOA as a running back.
Passing: Landry Jones was the Steelers starter on Sunday, and while Jones is a very divisive player in Steeler Nation it’s pretty clear he gave the Steelers a chance to win. Of course, there was a noticeable drop off from Ben Roethlisberger, and Jones made some mistakes, the interception in the end zone was a momentum killer, but at the end of the day when you replace a Hall of Fame caliber player with a backup and are still in the game in the fourth quarter, you’re getting your money’s worth. Jones threw for 281-yards while completing 61-percent of his passes for one touchdown and one interception. He had a DYAR of 0, meaning he played at league average level for the week.
The leading receiver for the Steelers was Antonio Brown, who had seven receptions for 106-yards. Darrius Heyward-Bey caught the Steelers only offensive touchdown on the day when he held on to a 14-yard pass in the corner of the end zone. Though the stats aren’t mind blowing Cobi Hamilton deserves some praise for his performance coming off the bench when Antonio Brown had to leave the game. In limited time Hamilton had three receptions for 36-yards. In total eight different Steelers caught a pass.
Defense: Tom Brady only completed 19 passes for 222-yards, but he was as efficient as ever against the Steelers. If it wasn’t for a couple inexplicable drops from normally sure handed receivers Brady could have had an even more efficient day against a weak Steelers defense. The leading receiver of the Patriots was Rob Gronkowski with 93-yards.
The reason Brady was content with only 26 pass attempts was because LeGarrette Blount, in his first rematch against the Steelers since they kicked him off the team in 2014, was a beast on the ground. The Steelers were gashed by Blount to the tune of 127 yards and two touchdowns. Blount averaged 5.3 yards per carry. Perhaps just as frustrating, Tom Brady, who isn’t exactly going to draw comparisons to Michael Vick in his prime, was able to rush for critical first down on several possessions against the Steelers.
The Pats scored four touchdowns Sunday afternoon. Blount ran for two scores, one from three yards out and one from five yards to seal the deal in the fourth quarter. James White scored on a 19-yard reception in the first quarter and Rob Gronkowski broke free for a 36-yard score in the third.
The Steelers had two passes defended (Ryan Shazier and Leterrius Walton), zero official sacks (Arthur Moats had one but a holding penalty wiped it out), and four quarterback hits. The Steelers defense was also able to recover two fumbles.
The Steelers leading tackler was Lawrence Timmons with 11 combined tackles.
Gronk: The Patriots dynamic tight end makes a lot of teams look silly, but number 87 particularly kills the Steelers and deserves his own section here. In five career games against the Steelers Gronk has scored eight touchdowns, including one on Sunday, the most he’s scored against any opponent, which is impressive considering the Steelers and Patriots don’t play every year. Gronk averages six receptions for 99 yards and one touchdown against Pittsburgh. The Steelers need to find a way to shut him down in future matchups because whatever they’ve been doing hasn’t worked.
Efficiency: The Steelers were 5/16 on third down while the patriots were 7/12. The Steelers were 1/2 on fourth down. The Steelers averaged 5.4 yards per play while the Pats averaged 6.6 yards.
The Red Zone: The Steelers were 1/4 in the red zone while the Patriots were a perfect 3/3.
Turnovers: Landry Jones threw one interception Sunday but unfortunately it came at time when the Steelers had all the momentum and were in the red zone with an opportunity to draw first blood. On third down from the 16-yard line Jones threw an ill-advised pass that Patriots cornerback Malcom Butler was able to step in front of for an easy interception. Jones had two other passes that came close to interceptions that were luckily dropped by Patriots defenders. Bell fumbled on his first run of the game, but was able to immediately fall on top of it to recover the ball.
The Steelers were able to force two turnovers of their own against the Patriots. In the first quarter Jarvis Jones forced and recovered a fumble while tackling Chris Hogan on the Patriots. In the fourth quarter the Steelers forced a fumble when Steven Johnson hit Julian Edelman on a punt and long snapper Greg Warren recovered. The Steelers squandered both opportunities to put points on the board after these plays thanks to the interception from Jones and a missed field goal by Boswell.
Penalties: The Steelers had eight penalties for 85 yards on Sunday, one of which wiped a touchdown off the board and led to another missed field goal and no points for the Steelers. There were a number of questionable calls by the officials, to put it mildly, but giving a team like the Patriots an additional 85 yards is inexcusable.
Under Pressure: The Steelers had zero official sacks on Sunday (Arthur Moats recorded one but a penalty on the Patriots wiped it out) and four quarterback hits. Jarvis Jones, Ricardo Matthews, Arthur Moats, and Daniel McCullers each had one hit.
The Steelers offensive line did a fine job keeping Landry Jones up right and with time to throw. He was hit only twice and never sacked. Antony Johnson and Chris Long of the Patriots each recorded a hit on Jones.
Kicking: Chris Boswell normally does his job very well for the Steelers and was an unsung hero that steadied the ship when they found him last season. That being said the missed 42-yard field goal was big play in the game as it would have allowed the Steelers to go into the half trailing only by one point. Boswell later missed a 54-yard field goal as well. Besides the fact that Boswell should never have been attempting that kick (more on that below), it would have been a career long for the young kicker and Heinz Field is a notoriously hard stadium to kick in so it’s hard to fault him too much for that miss. That being said Boswell didn’t even make the kick remotely close to the uprights, just ugly to watch.
Coaching: Mike Tomlin is a talented and beloved coach by most fans of the team, no doubt about it. That being said, he made some baffling choices on Sunday. In the second quarter Tomlin challenged the ruling of a catch on a Rob Gronkowski reception that was very obviously a completion in real time to the naked eye. The ruling was upheld and the Steelers were without a timeout that could have come in handy later in the half.
As mentioned above Chris Boswell missed a 54-yard field goal, but the choice to attempt the kick was worse than the miss. It was fourth and two with the Steelers trailing by 11 points with 9 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. According to Football outsiders, Bell had gained 2 or more yards on 15 of his 21 runs in the game. It’s not a forgone conclusion Bell would have picked up the first down, but when you consider how hard Heinz Field is to kick in, the distance Tomlin was asking Boswell to cover, and that the Patriots had been running almost at will on the Steelers defense it really doesn’t make sense to get conservative in that situation. After the Boswell kick the Patriots were able to run over two minutes off the clock and pin the Steelers deeper in their own territory, still needing two scores.
With a little over five minutes remaining in the game, still down two scores, Tomlin decided to punt the ball. He may as well as waved a white flag there.
The Steelers weren’t expected to beat the Patriots with such depleted a roster, but the fact they kept it close for the majority of the game makes the loss sting a little more. For the second year in a row mistake kept the Steelers from getting over probably their biggest obstacle in the AFC. The silver lining for the Steelers is that Ravens have lost to both New York teams the last two weeks and the Steelers have been able to stay atop the division standings. For now, the team has to hope the bye week gives the roster a chance to get healthy so the team can go on a run in the second half of the year and right the ship.