PASSING OFFENSE: B -- Tom Brady was fine. He just didn't have the ball enough. Against a defense ranked among the best in the league, Brady completed 24 of 35 passes for 198 yards and two touchdowns. He did everything he could considering his lack of a running game and defense. The lost fumble at the end hurt, but the Patriots' chances of scoring at that point were slim.
RUSHING OFFENSE: C -- You could almost get away with scoring this is an "incomplete," because the Patriots never had much time to operate offensively, and when they did, they trailed by too many points to focus on establishing the run. Nonetheless, BenJarvus Green-Ellis was a non-factor with 9 yards on five carries. Kevin Faulk was decent in his return to the lineup, but the team really didn't have a chance to establish its identity considering how poorly the defense played.
PASS DEFENSE: D -- Aside from Gary Guyton's interception, the defense did nothing well. The Steelers threw at will, with Ben Roethlisberger completing 36 of 50 passes for 365 yards with two touchdowns. The worst part was on third down, where the Patriots couldn't make any plays to get Pittsburgh off the field. The lack of a physical presence in the secondary allowed Heath Miller to eat the defense alive; he had seven catches, with five coming on the game's opening drive.
RUSH DEFENSE: C -- The Steelers mixed up the run and the pass nicely, and while no one had a monster game (Rashard Mendenhall led the way with 70 yards on 13 carries), the Steelers dominated the battle up front and were strong up the middle, which is supposed to be one of New England's strengths.
SPECIAL TEAMS: C -- Stephen Gostkowski missed a field goal, and the kicking team botched two onside kicks, albeit at long odds. Zoltan Mesko did his job punting, but that's about all you could say from a positive standpoint, unless Danny Woodhead's four kickoff returns struck a chord.
COACHING: C -- The coaching staff rarely comes under fire, but the decision to try the first onside kick in the fourth quarter seemed a bit premature considering there was 2:35 remaining and the team had timeouts to spare. If anything, it shows how little Bill Belichick trusted his defense to make a stop, which is a reasonable stance given the unit's performance Sunday. Not challenging Rob Gronkowski's touchdown, which should've counted, didn't hurt since the Patriots ultimately scored on that drive, but it showed a surprising lack of perception from a coaching staff that usually spots errors before the officials do.
|Patriots Wes Welker vs Troy Polamalu Steelers Oct 30, 2011 (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)|
STEELERS REPORT CARD VS. PATRIOTS
PASSING OFFENSE: A -- Ben Roethlisberger's offense looked more like Tom Brady's. With the Patriots playing their safeties deep, the Steelers were content to take the short stuff, and Roethlisberger completed 36 of 50 for 365 yards and two touchdowns. He did throw an interception that set up New England's first TD, and he was sacked five times. Roethlisberger had a 97.5 passer rating and distributed the ball to nine receivers, with four of them having at least five receptions and 67 yards.
RUSHING OFFENSE: B -- The Steelers did not ask their ground game to do much Sunday, but the running backs produced when called upon. Rashard Mendenhall ran 13 times for 70 yards, and overall the Steelers had 98 yards on 23 tries, a 4.3-yard average.
PASS DEFENSE: B-plus -- You can't ask for much more against Tom Brady than to limit him to 198 yards and sack him three times. Maybe an interception or two, but the Steelers came up with nothing there. Still, they harassed Brady and maybe surprised him by playing mostly man-to-man defense rather than the zone blitz they like to play. They got to him without many blitzes.
RUSH DEFENSE: A -- The Patriots showed little inclination to run the ball. They managed only 43 yards on 12 tries, a 3.6-yard average, with a long of 9. Kevin Faulk, just activated from the physically unable to perform list, led New England with 32 yards on six carries.
SPECIAL TEAMS: C -- Shaun Suisham kicked three field goals, but he also missed one from 43 yards that would have iced the game, and he knocked his first kickoff out of bounds, giving the Patriots the ball at the 40 for their first series. There were no big returns either way, and Daniel Sepulveda did not punt until there were only 28 seconds left. He hit a high one that helped eat more seconds before New England could get the ball for one last try. The Patriots also could not execute an onside kick in the final minutes.
COACHING: A -- Coordinator Bruce Arians promised to open up his offense, and he put it in the hands of his passing game, a decision that worked to near-perfection. Arians has taken a lot of criticism for not running the ball more through the years, but the payoff may be the improvement of his offense overall. On defense, Dick LeBeau changed things up by having his corners play man-to-man and not running as much zone blitz. Perhaps it confounded Brady and his offense because they were not effective against it.
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