Q: What do the Steelers have to accomplish to beat the Patriots schematically?
Jon Scott: There are a lot of so-called
experts who have weighed in on this topic this year. Some make sense,
but I can't say it's any one thing in particular that can slow New
England down. For the Patriots, they morph their attack to what your
weaknesses are. The biggest need is to address the pass coverage down
the seam – which has been an issue in the past, a-hem Anthony Smith.
Whether that's rolling the coverage one way or the other will be tough
to decide. The Patriots have four legitimate quick-catch wideouts, so
blitzing (even exotically) tends to be counterproductive. Straight
pressure with maybe one blitzer and a solid defense down the seams
tends to work.
Q: What has been the biggest issue with the Patriots' defense?
JS: Short answer; just about everything.
Longer answer is that they can't get pressure on opposing QBs without
bringing extra bodies. When they do blitz, their defensive backs are
exposed. Another problem has been when the Patriots' DBs play soft
coverage. Typically they give up a first down even when it's
3rd-and-long just because they play too soft and don't guard the
markers. That has enabled teams to extend drives and hence gain more
yards. Lack of pressure from the front four has been the most obvious
Q: How does the Pats' defense and specifically the secondary
match up against Steelers WRs and TEs? Is this the biggest advantage
for the Steelers on offense?
JS: A solid running game – or threat of
one – usually opens things up for opposing receivers. Rashard
Mendendall may have his ups and downs, but the Steelers need to find
ways to get him on track or the wideouts will face blanket coverage all
day. It's important for Pittsburgh to remain balanced even if they fall
behind. Balance opens up play-action which is where Heath Miller can
come into play. The Patriots' secondary is full of no-names and new
faces. After cutting Leigh Bodden Friday, the Patriots corners are
almost completely revamped. Gone are Darius Butler, Brandon Meriweather, Bodden, James Sanders. Mike Wallace and Emmanuel Sanders
will see the likes of Devin McCourty (who's struggling this season),
Kyle Arrington, Patrick Chung and Josh Barrett. That's a win for
Pittsburgh nearly every time.
Q: Rex Ryan's team did well when it didn't blitz Brady. Is
blitzing him suicide?
JS: Ryan, like Dick LeBeau, likes to
disguise his blitzes. The key to getting Brady off target is to find a
way to overwhelm the middle. Center Dan Connolly has filled in for the
injured Dan Koppen and Connolly has struggled at times. In the Dallas
game, Marcus Spears had a field day on the inside abusing Connolly,
sometimes Logan Mankins and sometimes Brian Waters to get pressure on
Brady and disrupt the flow of the play. I wouldn't say blitzing Brady
is suicide -- unless you show single man coverage against a Rob Gronkowski or a healthy Aaron Hernandez. Don't forget, Danny Woodhead
has exposed teams that blitz by using his 4.33 speed after getting a
dump-off from Brady. In a spread formation, straight pressure is the
best bet -- at least if the DBs can cover.
Q: Which of the Patriots' front-seven defenders should worry
JS: The Patriots have morphed into a hybrid
4-3 front with the fourth DL typically being an outside backer in a
down position. Albert Haynesworth, Shaun Ellis, Andre Carter and Mark Anderson joined the Pats this offseason. Carter is showing promise on
the outside rush. Vince Wilfork tends to remain the big man in the
middle. Ellis is improving based upon the double teams Wilfork
receives. With All-Pro LB Jerod Mayo sidelined due to a knee issue,
Brandon Spikes has seen more time. None of those players should worry
Q: What is the strategy/secret behind the Pats' OL's ability
to provide Brady enough time to read the Sunday NY Times when he drops
back to pass? Is it OL talent, scheme, primarily using the 3-step
drop/quick passes to tire/frustrate the pass-rushers and then mixing in
something down field, something else?
JS: One thing Brady does, like Peyton Manning before him, is to adjust the protection on pass plays. OR,
Brady will check out of long pass to a short one when he reads
pressure. That's really been the key to the Patriots' success in
protecting Brady. When the Pats had 3 players go to the Pro Bowl in
2008, it was mildly surprising because none of them were particularly
dominant, but they excelled as a unit. But because Brady was able to
find time to pick defenses apart people assumed it was the
protection he was afforded. Often it was a three-man rush, or a
four-man rush with a back (Kevin Faulk) staying in to help pick up the
For more Steelers coverage from Jim Wexell and crew be sure to check out SteelCityInsider.net.
Behind Enemy Lines: Steelers Part 1
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