Steelers Week One Opponent Preview: The New England Patriots

via Boston Globe/Jim Davis photo

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

*Approximate Value

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.

13 comments

  • Great article. The most incisive comment is Revis’s description of the will to be the best as a “sickness.” As a general description for the drive of great players to win, it is a colorfully apt description. In the case of Brady and Bellichick, it is literal. In light of the latest allegations by ESPN of the breadth of Spygate, it is a sickness which threatens the league.

    Without being overdramatic, cheating of this sort much be addressed and eliminated now. I find it hard to gather the swirl of emotions and disgust churning within me I learn of the newest allegations. The dominant one right now is fear. Fear that the game I love will suffer irreparable damage if cheating is not stopped. The beauty of sport is the purity of the competition. Best man wins. The game is won on the field. The Patriots (ironic, no?) threaten that essential element of pro football.

    One thing I know is true . . . Goodell is not the man to deal with this and the owners best act quickly to preserve their league.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well said. I decided to leave the whole spygate thing alone for this article, but the fact is, there is always going to be an asterisk in the people’s minds when they think about Brady/Belichick. My husband sent me a link to an article several months ago showing the fumble rates for the Pats drop dramatically from about league average to well below, sustained over the course of years, after the rules about who provides the balls changed. As my son-in-law said, if football is a game of inches, it doesn’t take much to turn the tide…

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  • cold_old_steelers_fan

    There has been a lot of talk of the Pats using a 2 TE set and it makes a certain amount of sense. Chandler proved to be a decent receiving option during the preseason. I expect to see a lot of picks and rubs in an attempt to confuse the already shaky Steelers secondary. Even with the depleted offence playing their best, the front seven and Butler will have to be on top of their games if the Steelers are going win. Sadly we have no depth on the d-line. I expect to see big gains whenever Cam “roller skates” Thomas is on the field. McCullers has the potential to do well but he still needs to stay low. I do not have any idea what to expect from Mr Lyons (does he get a lot of prank calls referencing the zoo?). The optimist in me thinks we will stand a chance if we can limit Gronkowski to 200 yards and 2 tds.The pessimist thinks that will not be enough.

    Bryant’s suspension definitely hurts for this game, perhaps more than any other. He appears to have improved as a receiver from last season and he would have gone a long way towards keeping the offence strong enough to over come the defence’s growing pains.

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    • There’s no doubt Belichick has something up his sleeve. The question is, does Keith Butler have anything up his sleeve to counter it? My sole hope for the D is Lawrence Timmons supposedly being healthy. It seems that a lot of the problems have been communication, and having Timmons back (and Will Allen, the wily and experienced vet, instead of the inexperienced Shamarko Thomas) has, in my mind, the chance to make the D look a lot better than they did in the preseason. Of course, they weren’t playing Tom Brady, either. If they can somehow, some way, rattle Brady early, I think there’s a chance…

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  • Brady got the “sickness”. Swallow the pill that makes you ill, yea or something like that:) We got some people with the sickness too, both on offense and defense. Hello Mr. Harrison. Deebo has a whole medicine cabinet full of stuff to treat his “sickness”.

    Fit trumps talent. Yes, because success is all about “going deep”. I really dislike the Pat’s but I am glad to see a story not related to cheating. Thanks.

    Like

    • Nice : ) I think maybe Ben has more than a touch of that as well.

      And as for not mentioning the cheating, I figured, whatever they may or may not have done in the past (and may or may not figure out how to do in the future,) the Steelers’ problem this week is to play them as they are at the moment. Anything else is not really germane.

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  • It is that business attitude about Belichick that probably alienates fans the most. The cheating issues add substance to the aura, but it diverts attention from how the team is actually run. It is absolutely all a system in New England…one that is buoyed by having an elite QB.
    Even had the Patriots not cheated, I think fans would dislike Belichick and the Pats simply for how players are treated. For most fan bases, casually tossing aside core players is usually only called for by the fringe elements (ie. those wanting BR traded 3 years ago). In New England, that’s the expected MO. It’s a strange dichotomy that in a sport filled with so much emotion, passion, and attachment…there’s one rogue team cutting through all that on a regular basis.

    Like

  • Homer wouldn’t touch the Steelers in this game with a ten foot pole – or even if you gave him ten points. Like Krusty, he’s all business when it comes to investing in laundry…..and the guys with the black and gold laundry haven’t shown the ability to stop a first string offense in any pre-season action. Yes, we know it’s pre-season, but you still have to block, tackle, cover, and hit people.

    Homer can’t see NE scoring less than 34 points….and thinks 42 is more like it.

    The fact that so many guys were let go the last week – including draft picks you expected to stick around – is unsettling, to say the least. We were looking for answers on D, and the didn’t find them with the draft choices. AND, just as important, there was no time to wait to see if they might develop. Unsettling as hell. Tomlin and Butler haven’t pushed the panic button just yet, but they’ve pushed the one next to it. The one that says, “uh-oh. If this doesn’t work, try to red one next to this one.”

    42-24, Patriots. (Hope I’m wrong)

    Like

    • Just for fun, I thought I’d join in. I have NO CLUE. As a retired lawyer, that will no way deter me from offering an opinion. I’ll take the Steelers and the seven points (monopoly money, only). Satan’s Horde 31-Steelers 27.

      Like

    • Well, you should have picked the Steelers to beat the spread. lol 7.5 wasn’t it?

      Like

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