The team that has historically had the Steelers number over the last decade plus heads into town next Sunday, and Pittsburgh will be entering the game without Ben Roethlisberger. Given the position this team is in, with numerous injuries and a tough schedule ahead, one message should ring true: keep the football out of Tom Brady’s hands.
It’s become somewhat a theme over the past several article, but time of possession is paramount in today’s league, largely when facing a talent as revered as Brady. The Steelers were out possessed by the Dolphins by over ten minutes yesterday, and that was almost entirely due to their effectiveness running the football. And they did it with Jay Ayaji. Not that he’s a poor running back, but he’s certainly no Le’Veon Bell. So the Steelers would be smart to take some notes and utilize the running attack as much as possible versus New England.
On paper, the Patriots seem to be pretty solid against the run so far this year, and they have definitely had some games where they shut it down. But in those games, which are really only 2 this year that are significant outliers, the teams were already facing a large deficit and had to abandon the run early on to come back through the air. Here is the breakdown of how they have done against the run in 2016.
Patriots Run Defense
Week 1 @AZ: 18 carries 92 yards (5.1 avg)
Week 2 vs MIA: 11 carries 49 yards (4.5 avg)
Week 3 vs HOU: 27 carries 109 yards (4.0 avg)
Week 4 vs BUF: 32 carries 134 yards (4.1 avg)
Week 5 @CLE: 22 carries 27 yards (1.2 avg)
Week 6 vs CIN: 32 carries 120 yards (3.8 avg)
The average in the Miami game is obviously not very important as they only ran 11 times, six of which came from the quarterback position. The Dolphins were down three scores in the blink of an eye, having to battle back from being down 24-3 at the half.
The other outlier, the game in Cleveland, can almost go unexplained. But they too were down early and forced to throw. Their highest yardage allowed came against Buffalo in what remains New England’s only loss of the season. In that game, the Bills managed the clock extremely well, and ran the ball a heck of a lot. They ended up out-possessing the Patriots by just under 13 minutes.
And without those two aforementioned games, the Patriots have shown they can be gashed with the run, so why not go for it? The Steelers are 12th in the league with 638 yards rushing, and are averaging 4.5 yards per carry.
On top of that they’ve been dominant scoring touchdowns in the red zone and according to teamrankings.com, New England has the fourth worst red zone defense when it comes to touchdown efficiency. This is a prime opportunity for the Steelers to make the best out of a tough situation, and with game-defining playmakers in the backfield, they should be able to execute. As always, though, they will need excellent production out of the offensive line which has shown to be reliable.
Short, quick passes on various dig routes and slants, sprinkled with consistent runs from Deangelo Williams and Bell should hopefully be enough to march Pittsburgh downfield while draining time and avoiding higher risks of turnovers. This isn’t the time to test Landry Jones’ big play ability, even though it won’t be expected. If the Steelers can systematically manage the game flow, they have a much better chance of coming away with a win.