With the world watching Sunday, the Denver Broncos top ranked defense throttled Tom Brady and the New England Patriots offense. Von Miller became a one man wrecking crew against the Patriots and the defense smothered New England for nearly four quarters before a last second surge made the game interesting at the end.
What most fans of the Pittsburgh Steelers were likely thinking while watching the game was, "Boy, the Steelers offense sure looked better than the Patriots against this defense just a week ago." And that sentiment would be on point.
The Broncos defense surrendered over 300 yards to Brady, 310 to be exact, but Brady had to throw the ball an astounding 56 times for him to accomplish the feat only Ben Roethlisberger had achieved against Denver this season. In fact, Roethlisberger did it twice to the Denver defense, and it didn't take 50+ attempts when they faced off in the playoffs.
In the divisional round of the AFC Playoffs, Roethlisberger threw for 339 yards on just 37 attempts for a 94.3 passer rating. Compare that to Brady's 310 on 56 attempts for a passer rating 56.4 and you can clearly see who had the most success against the Broncos' tough defense.
However, the comparison goes deeper than just the quarterback stats on the surface. This isn't just about Brady and Roethlisberger, but the offense as a whole. Brady was harassed by the Broncos pass rush and was sacked 4 times for 18 yards, all while Denver tallied 20 quarterback hits on the future Hall of Fame QB. In fact, Brady admitted after the game he had a difficult time diagnosing the pass rush of the Broncos.
"There were definitely times where I had opportunities to hold the ball and didn't really have great awareness of where people were around me," Brady told the Boston Herald. "Maybe sometimes I had more time."
For a quarterback who has been tagged as one of the "cerebral" quarterbacks who can diagnose and defeat you with pre-snap reads, he certainly struggled in that environment Sunday afternoon. On the other hand, Roethlisberger never gets any credit for his mental approach to the game, but clearly had more success against the same pass rush just seven days prior as the offensive line allowed 3 sacks against Denver and only 3 quarterback hits in the game.
When talking about slowing down the Broncos' pass rush, the focus should also shift to the offensive line. The Patriots had injuries which decimated their line, and it showed against the Broncos Sunday.
"They're good rushers," Sebastian Vollmer said. "Ware's been doing this a long time. Von, same thing, not quite as long but probably as productive, so credit to those guys, and that's really all there is to say."
Nonetheless, although injuries have hampered the Patriots' offensive line, it isn't as if the Steelers hadn't dealt with their own injuries too.
In other words, the struggles of the Patriots offense against the Broncos defense show a direct correlation to the success the Steelers had against such a formidable unit. Unfortunately for both teams, the comparisons continue with the Steelers and Patriots now prepared to watch that same defense play in Super Bowl 50 against the Carolina Panthers.