Patriots: Light and crew wary of "Blitzburgh"
By Jon Scott, Patriots Insider
Offensive lineman Matt Light has a tough task against the aggressive Pittsburgh front seven. He knows, as does the rest of the Patriots offense, that things haven't changed much in the Steel City in the last ten years or more with how the Steelers play. Knowing what the other team does well doesn't make his job any easier for this game. He says he doesn't expect anything different this time than the Patriots saw in their last few matchups against the Steelers.
"Why would you change when you have a defense that ranks pretty high in most categories?" Light asked rhetorically. "Their players fit very well in that system. They're going to do what they do. We realize that."
Further explaining the point that the Patriots need to prepare just the same this week as they have in the past against the Steelers schemes, Light continued. "Just because they do what they do, that doesn't make it any easier," Light said. "It's going to come down to everybody playing a very physical game, knowing what their assignment is, no mental errors. All the things we talk about every week, but it gets magnified, especially when you play a team like this. And a team on the road."
In their last meeting during the regular season, the Steelers were able to suffocate the Patriots ground game. Once they built a two score lead, things just got worse for the Patriots offensive line. Light had trouble fending off a determined Steelers blitz from the outside, allowing Joey Porter to get pressure on Brady. Porter had 3 sacks with 2 forced fumbles in that game, one of which was on a play Porter got past Light to hit Brady.
If the running game doesn't get on track, the pass blocking and blitz schemes will come at a never-ending pace. The Panthers took a look at the film of the Patriots preseason games and found out that pressure up the middle can get to Brady if the front four have enough talent, but it's when they blitz that mismatches are created and guys can get to the quarterback a little easier.
Last week Light had trouble stopping the speed rush around the end by Carolina's Mike Rucker. Late in the third quarter Rucker beat the left tackle to get to Brady and force a fumble recovered by Panthers defensive end Julius Peppers. The play setup another Panthers touchdown giving Carolina the momentum by reestablishing a 10-point lead.
It's those types of plays that can keep the Patriots from mounting one of their patented late-game comebacks. Before that sack, the Patriots had just scored to close the lead to 3 points. Afterwards, the score was stretched back to 10 giving the momentum right back to Carolina. What followed next was predictable - more blitzes.
If the Patriots were able to at least run the ball more efficiently, they could have taken some of the pressure off the passing game and blitz pickups. But finding running room hasn't been easy for the Patriots.
Dan Koppen, who was upset at the unit's play after the Carolina loss, chimed in on what he felt was causing the Patriots woes. "It's just poor execution on our part," Koppen said. He went on to mention how the team was out-toughed and outplayed by the physical Panthers. There's not much more I can say."
Koppen realizes that teams like the Raiders, Panthers, and the Steelers have talented defensive fronts that make getting yardage on the ground game tough. Yet he also believes in the talent of the Patriots offensive line and they just need some time to gel.
"We're still coming together as a group and we know that, but if we can just keep going and keep throwing runs at them, hopefully those 2-yard runs will turn into 10-yard runs," Koppen said.
While the solution to solving the Patriots running woes may remain hidden, one thing is certain - the Patriots need to have better production out of their line, especially against the blitz. Just like Carolina, Pittsburgh can "bring it", which is enough reason to give the Patriots cause to worry.
Patriots tight end Daniel Graham knows about blocking and protections. He's usually the primary blocking tight end on inside trap plays and understands the protections required to slow down the blitz. If the tackles are going to get end help, it's Graham's responsibility.
"We always have to be aware of the blitzing," said Graham. "They're coming from all different angles, every which way, so it's something we're going to have to work on."
Light agrees. Whether it's Joey Porter or Troy Polamalu from the outside or James Farrior from the inside, the system to protect Brady remains the same basic rule get the guys rushing matched up with a lineman or a back.
"They're going to come after us, and for us it's just a matter of seeing that and getting a hat on a hat," Light said. "That's what it always comes down to in a Blitz game."
Results will tell
Not as farfetched as it sounds: Sunday's game at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh may have playoff implications considering both teams were among the preseason favorites to make the postseason. Although it's a bit early to talk about the playoffs, a head to head matchup counts as one of the tiebreakers when determining home field advantage. The Patriots loss to Pittsburgh early in the 2004 season could have been the tiebreaker had the two teams emerged from the regular season with the same overall, division and conference records. The Steelers played host to the Patriots because their 15-1 record bested the Patriots 14-2 score.
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