Steelers Week One Opponent Preview: The New England Patriots
Now that the regular NFL season is officially beginning it’s time to start looking at some game-related things. Although this site isn’t focused on breaking news, we will have two ongoing features looking at the weekly games—our post-game Round Robin and an opponent preview.
Without further ado, here is the Week One opponent.
The big news about the Patriots has naturally centered around their quarterback. It was quite uncertain until recently who said quarterback might be in Week One, but thanks to U.S. District Judge Richard M. Berman we now know it will be Tom Brady.
In some ways this is probably just as well. Although Brady is undoubtedly a more accomplished quarterback than his backup, Jimmie Garoppolo, nonetheless he is a familiar, if feared, opponent.
Why feared, other than that the Steelers generally lose to Patriots teams quarterbacked by him? Here are a few reasons:
If you eliminate Brady’s first year in the league, when he started as the No. 4 quarterback on the depth chart and worked his way up to No. 2, he has never had lower than a 60% completion percentage (career average is 63.5%) or an NFL QB rating of less than 83.9 (career average is 95.9.)
Brady and head coach Bill Belichick are the most successful quarterback/head coach tandem in the history of the league. They have combined for 160 regular season wins, 21 post-season wins, and four Super Bowl titles. (These are all NFL records.)
No team in the NFL has a winning record vs. Tom Brady. He is undefeated against seven teams. Let that soak in for a moment.
His record against the Steelers is five wins and two losses, a .714 win percentage.
What is it about Tom Brady that allows him to dissect defenses so effectively? Greg Bedard of MMQB decided last January to ask Brady’s long-time opponent and then teammate, Darrelle Revis. Here’s some of what he said. For the rest of the article click here.
What have you learned about…Tom Brady that you didn’t know before becoming a Patriot?
When you compete against elite players, you try to figure out everything possible about them, because you want to know how they operate all the time, on or off the field…Some of us great players, we have a sickness about just trying to be the best, trying to be the best at our craft and trying to do anything we can to just be awesome and be elite.
I think he has a sickness of just being very competitive and wanting that edge all the time and wanting to destroy his opponents. I think from the outside looking in, you know he’s competitive. But when you’re here every day with him and you see how he works, man, it’s like, Wow, I see why he’s so successful because of how he approaches the game every day.
In what ways did you first see Brady’s competitiveness manifest itself?
Just going the extra mile with certain things, whether it was laps, sprints, him spending time with his receivers after practice … it’s those little things that set players apart from others. You see that and how in tune he is, how focused he is, and it goes back to me and him having a sickness to be the best…
What Revis’ comments miss is the intelligence Brady brings to the position. It takes plain hard work and multiple repetitions to be as proficient as he is, but the ability to anticipate where the open receiver will be found and release the ball in rapid-fire fashion is what makes him so effective.
When the Seahawks were preparing for the Super Bowl, the coaches would blow the whistle 2.5 seconds after a play began, on the theory that the ball would certainly be out of Brady’s hand by then.
Tom Brady is the engine that drives the Patriots offense. But don’t underestimate head coach Bill Belichick either. After all, when Brady was injured in Week 1 of the 2008 season, the team won 10 more games with Matt Cassel, who hadn’t started a game since high school. This led to a nice contract for Cassel with Kansas City.
Only once has Cassel come even close to his numbers with New England. In 2010 the Chiefs won 10 games and lost five with Cassel at QB. (Cassel had an emergency appendectomy on December 8th and missed the next game.)
It is instructive to compare his stats in his two 10 – 5 seasons (all figures from Pro Football Reference🙂
New England: Completion %: 63.4 QBR: 61.7 Pro Football Reference AV*: 17
Kansas City: Completion %: 58.2 QBR: 49.61 Pro Football Reference AV*: 12
So at least in Pro Football Reference’s estimation Cassel played a good bit better under Bill Beilchick. After 2010 Cassel’s best season was 9 games played and a 4 – 5 record.
The impressive thing about the Belichick-led Patriots has always been that with a handful of marquee players at best and an assortment of rookies, cast-offs, and UDFAs Belichick manages to put a winning product on the field each year.
Part of this is probably his seeming total ruthlessness. He isn’t afraid to cast aside even a player who is doing well if he thinks someone else could be a better fit. I ran across an interesting article from Entrepreneur magazine titled “Why You Should Run Your Business Like Bill Belichick.” In the opinion of the author, Belichick’s success can be reduced to three elements: Passion, Intelligence, and Value. According to him, players who will work well in his system are filtered out by their selection process:
The biggest factor in the Patriots’ success is the use of a comprehensive, highly targeted screening mechanism to find players who are the right fit. The philosophy is that fit trumps talent for every position. And this process filters out the wrong prospects.
The article, written by a former lacrosse coach, is worth a read.
It is way too early in the season to start breaking down specifics about the team. I’m guessing it is fairly fluid at this point anyhow. But there are a few players of note to mention:
Rob Gronkowski, tight end:
As Homer J. said in “Afternoon of the Living Dead: A Discussion of the Steelers/Bills Preseason Game:
…if [Charles] Clay can make them look that bad, the name Gronkowski should give you night sweats.
This probably tells you all you need to know about the Woodland Hills (suburban Pittsburgh) product. I wouldn’t want him dating my daughter, but he would certainly add a certain je ne said quoi to one’s offense. He’s a nightmare to defend even for excellent defenses, and almost impossible to bring down.
LeGarrette Blount, RB:
Our old friend is notable only because he won’t be playing—he is suspended along with Le’Veon Bell for his part in the joyride last fall.
Stephen Gostkowski, K:
Gostkowski made 94.7% of field goal attempts in 2014 in the regular and post-season, including going 1 for 1 on attempts of 50 yards or longer. If the offense gets within field goal range you can assume the kick will be good.
Jabaal Sheard, defensive end:
An old friend from the Cleveland Browns defense, Sheard started all 16 games last season and ended the year with 44 combined tackles (25 solo, 19 assisted) and 2 sacks.
It probably isn’t ideal for a Steelers team with a highly suspect defense and a vitiated offense to begin the season with a game against the Patriots, in Foxborough, a venue in which the Steelers have beaten the Patriots only once in recent years (2008), but that’s the breaks.
If they should somehow manage it, though, I’m guessing the Super Bowl predictions will increase exponentially. If not, well, pretty much nobody expects them to win anyhow. (The current line shows the Steelers losing by about a touchdown.) So, in a weird way, you could look at it as a win-win situation for the Steelers. That’s about all the good news I’ve got about this game.