By: Jake Mackey
Going into the AFC Championship the sentiment across the Boston sports radio airwaves and on certain blogs was that the Patriots offense was exposed for detrimental weaknesses along the interior of their offensive line and that the defense had yet to perform against an elite quarterback. While those are accurate statements, the Patriots silenced all doubters (including myself) by making the Pittsburgh Steelers look like a regular AFC tomato can when the word all week was that they were the complete opposite. The Houston Texans played with far more passion and aggression than the Steelers did on Sunday.
So much was made of the vaunted, “killer B’s” on the Pittsburgh offense. Shame on me and others for not looking at the statistics. People were trembling just thinking of Ben Roethlisberger standing tall in the pocket and carving the Patriots defense apart. The same quarterback who threw for a staggering 197 yards and two touchdowns against the Miami Dolphins who barely showed up in Pittsburgh wild card weekend. The 2007 Patriots like Steelers offense that kicked six field goals and scored zero touchdowns in Kansas City last week was what was suppose to do the Patriots in on their home field where they have lost only three postseason games since 2002.
Then there was the unstoppable combination of Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown. Bell and his uncanny running style that is impossible to defend, until he taps out of he game for a, “groin” injury. Brown also ran rampant all over the Patriots secondary with nine receptions for 77 yards which led to a whopping 16-points for the Pittsburgh offense (Seven in garbage time).
Pittsburgh’s offense turtling is much in part due to the phenomenal play of the New England defense. They contested every play and made nothing easy for the Steelers offense. Pittsburgh lives off yards after catch, and the Patriots gave up none. Antonio Brown lives on yards after the catch, and the Patriots limited to about eight yards per catch total. There is a reason four of the top five leading tacklers on the Patriots defense are defensive backs.
Thinking back to the attitude from members of the Boston media and bloggers about the Steelers defense is laughable after the fact. James Harrison, Ryan Shazier, and Bud Durpree had helped Pittsburgh tally the second most sacks in the NFL over the course of the season. However, their secondary failed to cover Chris Hogan for the majority of the night leading to nine receptions, for 180 yards, and two touchdowns. You can see why Pittsburgh may have underestimated Hogan going into the night. He has had a decent season but certainly nothing earth shattering.
(GIF Credit: Giphy.com)
However, there is no excuse for Pittsburgh allowing eight receptions, for 118 yards, and a touchdown to Julian Edelman.
The Steelers were physical with the Kansas City offense last weekend, and all they had to do this week was get physical with Edelman and they could slow down the Patriots. Nevertheless, their defense stays as stubborn as a mule by playing that soft zone defense leaving the seams wide open for Brady to pick apart. In addition, when things went south Pittsburgh blitzed which is the worst possible thing you can do to Tom Brady. Brady’s stats against Pittsburgh continue to be astronomical even without Rob Gronkowski.
This game was a perfect example of coaching and team football rising above talent. While the Patriots have the best quarterback off all-time, they do not have the most talented team in the league. Their coaching and ability to get the defense to play as a true unit is what makes them the number one defense in the league. They will need to prove that even more next week when they face an even more talented Atlanta Falcons offense that will be the toughest test of the season in the game’s biggest spectacle.