Scouting Report: Expect The Patriots Offense To Bounce Back Sunday Vs Steelers

As we have been for several years now, we’ll break down the Pittsburgh Steelers’ opponent each week, telling you what to expect from a scheme and individual standpoint. Like last year, Josh Carney and I will cover the opposing team’s offense. I will focus on scheme, Josh on the players.

Today, revisiting the New England Patriots’ offense.

Alex’s Scheme Report

Patriots’ Run Offense

Make no mistake. Last week against Miami is unlikely to repeat itself Sunday afternoon vs Pittsburgh. The Patriots’ offense will function much better. While they’re a team that has no qualms about throwing it 50 times and running only ten, they can still run it effectively.

Mike Gillislee is second in carries but was been removed from the offense. It’s led by Dion Lewis and Rex Burkhead. Lewis is the much more efficient player but he also isn’t being used in the red zone as often, letting his YPC look healthier (5.2 vs 4.2). James White is still used pretty much exclusively as a receiver, only 43 carries the entire year and no more than five in a game since Week One.

Their scheme offers a good mix. One thing they do uniquely, and effectively, are wham blocks. A wham block is when an off ball player, either a tight end or fullback, angle/down blocks an interior defensive linemen, usually the nose tackle. I think it’s part of the Patriots “script” because when you wham that DL early, you get him thinking about it for the rest of the game.

Each of the last two weeks, they ran a wham block on the 7th play from scrimmage. One example of it.

Beyond that, they’ll run inside and outside zone, both out of one back and two back sets. #46 James Develin is their FB and a good one. You get power runs with the BS guard pulling and pin/pull schemes with the frontside guard pulling.

It isn’t the most talented bunch, and the right side of the line is a weakness but they’re well-coached and varied in how they attack in the run game. Lets them exploit your weakness because they can win any way possible.

Patriots Pass Game

Tom Brady. Still going strong. One thing I want to say about him before giving the overview on his stats. Of course you need to sack him. That’s pretty obvious and true of any QB. One thing about Brady is that he gives himself up more than any other QB in the NFL. His sack numbers are high but I bet half of those are just him flopping down. Which is fine, that’s how you’re not a pile of goo at 41 years old. But for Pittsburgh, you just have to get near the guy and you have the sack.

Now, the downside is Brady has the best pocket mobility in the NFL. But if he feels like he can’t get out of it, if you have a clear shot at him, you’re guaranteed a sack.

Anyway, to the stats. Terrific, as always. Completing over 67% of his passes, 27 TD, 6 INTs. Eight yards per attempt. Rob Gronkowski is the #1 weapon and rightfully so. 55 receptions lead the team and he’s averaging over 15 yards per catch. Brandin Cooks is the deep threat, more than 17 yards a grab, and White has 54 receptions.

Brady is spreading the wealth. Eight players have at least one TD, six have at least two, and five at least three. They have 54 completions of 20+ yards, that’s 2nd in the league, and nine of 40+. That’s tied for 7th.

On third down, it’s James White who leads the charge. 19 receptions, most on the team and a top 15 figure in the entire league. Gronk is right behind him with 18. Brady has looked for Cooks a lot but success has been fleeting. Only five receptions on 22 targets.

Their third down success is high, 41.9%. Top ten in the NFL. Red zone offense is good, not great, at 57.1% (13th overall). Turnover ratio is a +7, tied for 6th.

Two concepts. Expect to see a lot of empty set. Spread the field out, force Vince Williams, Sean Spence, and Arthur Moats to cover a lot of ground, and get their weapons in space. Here, the back gets motioned out, the defense doesn’t respond, and it’s an easy throw.

They’ll also use a “pin” route. Post/dig. Seam route carries the safeties and linebacker, the dig runs underneath.

Josh’s Individual Report 

The buildup to the biggest game of the season for the Pittsburgh Steelers is almost over. A Week 15 showdown against the New England Patriots on Sunday afternoon for the AFC No. 1 seed is up for grabs.

This is what the fans have been waiting for since the end of last season, so buckle up.

With the Patriots, it’s the same song and dance it’s always been since Bill Belichick and Tom Brady started to run through the NFL season after season. New England has a ball control offense that is mostly conservative and consistent, yet still has big-play ability all over the place.

Brady continues to be masterful at the ripe old age of 40 years old. He still has the same touch and anticipation as he did 10 years ago, but his arm strength has slightly declined.

He’s still a great mover in the pocket and knows how to take advantage of certain matchups created through the offensive scheme of Josh McDaniels.

Look at the masterful pocket movement by Brady. He never drops his eyes, works through traffic in front of him and releases the ball quickly to a wide-open Rob Gronkowski working across the middle of the field.

When Brady operates like this, the Patriots become a really tough offense to slow down.

However, the Pats’ offense has struggled in the last two weeks, putting up just 43 total points. It’s been a battle to move the ball the last two weeks against two struggling defenses.

In fact, Brady didn’t complete a single pass to a Patriot wide receiver in the first half on Monday night in Miami against the Dolphins. Against the Dolphins, New England tried to isolate their trio of running backs against Miami’s linebackers in space, but the Dolphins did a great job of tackling in space.

That’s not to say the Patriots’ running back trio of Dion Lewis, Rex Burkhead and James White were bad in the game; it’s more of a credit to Miami’s performance.

With a strong trio of running backs, the Pats can rotate in a new one on each play to take advantage of clear mismatches, whether that’s on the ground or in the pass game, where all three are accomplished receivers.

Lewis is clearly the best dual-threat of the three, as the University of Pittsburgh product was leading the NFL in rushing the last three weeks coming into Monday night’s game in Miami.

He’s an elusive back that can get lost behind the mammoth offensive linemen, but don’t overlook his size for a lack of power because he’ll run through defenders for extra yardage.

Lewis takes advantage of some great blocking early in the play to get into the second level of the Buffalo defense, but from there the New England back runs through a couple of tackles before finishing the run with style. In fact, this was Lewis’ longest rush of his career, as well as the Patriots’ longest run of the season.

With Lewis taking over in the run game between the 20’s and Burkhead serving as the goal line back, the Patriots are able to provide more balance to their offensive attack.

Where the running back trio really leaves its mark is in the passing game. Brady loves to target Burkhead and White in the passing game against linebackers, allowing the two backs to try and win their respective matchups in space. More often than not it works, but that hasn’t been the case the last two weeks.

Lewis hasn’t gotten much run in the passing game as of late, but when he does he has a flare for the dramatic.

Check out the one-handed catch by Lewis down the right sideline on a desperation throw by Brady to avoid the blitz. Not many running backs can make the grab.

Lewis isn’t anywhere close to Le’Veon Bell or other guys like Kareem Hunt, LeSean McCoy or Duke Johnson in terms of dual threat ability, but he’s vastly underrated in this league. He’s a major problem to deal with.

Aside from the stacked running backs room in New England, the receiving corps has been quiet as of late. I personally feel that at this point in the season, this is where the Patriots are desperately missing Julian Edelman.

As of late, the Patriots receivers are struggling to win one-on-one. Yes, Chris Hogan just came back from injury last week in Miami, but he rarely won on the outside, making it tough for Brady to find him on the boundary.

Brandin Cooks is the one receiver who can beat man coverage on the Patriots, but teams are starting to scheme to take him away, as evidenced by the Dolphins’ use of Xavien Howard on him.

Cooks is a game-breaker in terms of deep shots and working in the middle of the field, but by being able to place a corner and some safety help on him, Cooks has struggled to make a major impact in the last two weeks.

Danny Amendola has been the one Patriots receiver that has been productive all over the field, working open against zones while also being able to create separation across the middle against man coverage. He’s a tough guy to tackle in space as well, and runs very hard after the catch.

Kenny Britt was brought in this week to provide additional depth and physicality to the receiving corps in New England, but don’t expect him to provide much this week against the Steelers.

The Patriots really, really missed Gronkowski last week against the Dolphins in both the run and pass game. He gives the Patriots another weapon to move around in the passing game, but he might be one of the top blocking tight ends in the game, serving as an extra offensive lineman of sorts in the run game.

With Gronkowski back, expect the Patriots to be able to run the ball much better this week. Dwayne Allen has been mostly a disappointment this season for the Patriots, both in the pass and run game. He struggles to work open, doesn’t create much separation and rarely gets a good push as a blocker.

Offensively, the Patriots’ offensive line has fallen off a cliff in the last few weeks, exposing Brady to a number of big shots in the pocket.

Left to right, the Pats should line up like this up front:  Nate Solder, Joe Thuney, David Andrews, Shaq Mason and LaAdrian Waddle.

Waddle replaces Cameron Fleming, who was a sieve on the right side in the last two weeks, giving up a ton of pressures while missing numerous blocks in the run game.

Andrews really struggles against strong, stout defensive tackles that look to be active against the run and pass. That should be a good matchup for Javon Hargrave to exploit this week.

Solder has declined as a pass blocker in the last few years, struggling with speed and power rushers. TJ Watt should be licking his chops this week, while Mason and Thuney are solid run blockers, but both rarely succeed as pass blockers one-on-one.

Look for Keith Butler to try and match up Cam Heyward and Stephon Tuitt repeatedly in passing downs against the Patriots’ interior offensive line.

On special teams, New England continues to be solid. They have to have had the best kicking situation in football since the start of the century. Going from Adam Vinatieri to Stephen Gostkowski is laughably good.

Gostkowsi has missed just three field goals on the year. He can kick in any condition with tremendous success. Heinz Field shouldn’t be much of a problem this week.

Punter Ryan Allen has been quietly good over the years. His average yards per punt (43.3) this season isn’t great, but he is a solid directional punter and can pin teams deep consistently, setting up the Pats’ defense with clear field advantage throughout games.

In the return game, Lewis is an elite returner, but in the last few weeks he hasn’t had much of an opportunity due to the number of kicks out of the end zone by opposing kickers. He has a 103-yard return for a score this season, so it would be wise for the Steelers to kick away from him as much as possible on Sunday afternoon.

Amendola serves as the primary punt returner for the Pats, averaging 8.9 yards per return on the year. Bernard Reedy was getting a look as a punt returner for the Patriots in the last two weeks, but the addition of Britt this week caused Reedy to be a roster casualty for New England.

About the Author

Alex Kozora
Full-time blogger from mom's basement. Marrying tape and statistics. Chidi Iwuoma is my favorite Steeler of all-time.
  • Steel Realist PAul

    I think this game comes down to how many Ben and the offense can put up. I wouldn’t be surprised to see 30 points on the board by the Patriots by halftime.

    I hope the Steelers come out in no-huddle from the start.

  • disqus_WrRvUyG2DA

    The key will be defense and what the steelers can do differently against the pats. I know the personnel is not ideal right now with Shazier and haden but the steelers need to play man to man and get pressure on Brady and if they cant get there in time put your hands up to deflect the ball.

  • rdjmsr53

    In the first GIF the left guard for NE blocks and then tackles the defender, which opened up the running lane. I saw the same thing against Miami on Monday. That is sneaky, doesn’t get called and looks innocent. I wonder if any of the Steelers OL have tricks like that.

  • Sam Clonch

    I’m expecting a lot of bouncing alright….Brady bouncing off the turf, cause Cam, Steph and Javon are going to be beating the bag out of him!!

  • Steel Realist PAul

    On another note.. I wonder how many fans feel the Patriots are now playing by the rules and not cheating in some ways.

    For the record, I believe that if it ever comes out, how many ways Belichick is employing approaches that are outside of accepted rules, I firmly believe it will change how we think about him.

    Keep in mind, as of the spygate scandal, back around 2000, 17 teams had formally complained about cheating or some situation when playing in NE. By comparison, only 2 other teams had complaints and they were about poor turf.

    In 2015, reports surfaced of some of the extras that Goodell hid by destroying all of the evidence in Spygate, including the Patriots sending a cleaning person into the visitor locker room to look thru trash and find game plans, which they regularly did.

    Teams reported it was so prevalent that they began throwing away dummy game plans.

    And while deflating footballs may not be the biggest offense, it’s the second they’ve been caught publicly with.

    So… now they’re just playing fair??

  • NCSteel

    Ya know, watching the example
    of the wam block, it is peculiar to me that it is not used more around the NFL. The leverage/speed advantage seems to make it a no brainer.

    Another takeaway from your excellent report…It’s gonna be hard to take away any one element of their game when they spread the ball around like they do. Thats why this team does not boast many stars,
    each player truly has their role to play in that offense and with the skill players, it’s almost equal distribution.

    I don’t envy our defense, it’s gotta be consistent quick pressure or they’re just gonna be chasing around after whoever just made the play this time. Ugh

    I was not too thrilled when Miami beat them either. How often does Belichik lose two in a row ?
    I don’t have the stats but I’ll be the Christmas ham it’s none too often.

  • Ralph Wagner

    Brady will be Brady which means another Steeler loss to the New England Patriots. Such is life.

    Go Steelers

  • ilamarca

    Really hope the Steelers get the ball first this game.

    The team with 2 of the first 3 possessions has a good chance to be up by 2 scores before the other team touches the ball a second time. The Steelers need to keep Bell involved to run some clock and being down 10-14 at the end of the first takes them out of the gameplan and could spell disaster against the Pats.

  • nitrous12

    Odds are against many back to back losses when you are consistently a 12 win team. I think someone posted they did have 2 in a row back in 2015.

  • Sam Clonch

    Boooo, down vote for negative Nancy!!!

  • Chris92021

    Whatever we have been doing on defense conceptually, throw it out the window. No more pure zone coverage. No more rush 3 and drop 8 consistently, especially on 3rd and 7+. No more traditional attempts at edge pressure.

    I want to see more consistent man coverage. Burns to stay on Cooks with help from Mitchell. Sutton (if Haden can’t go) on Amendola. LJ Fort at ILB in coverage downs. Dupree as a blitzing ILB or inside twist stunts on 3rd downs to force Thuney, Andrews, and Mason to block him instead of Fleming or Solder forcing him to overrun his arc like he typically does. No, I want Brady to feel uncomfortable. The only thing I don’t want to change is Heyward-Tuitt-Hargrave playing a lot and trying to get up field, putting their arms up on those killer crossing patterns.

    This is not just another game. This is for home field advantage. In the last 10 years, the road team has won the AFC title game once (2012 by the magical Ravens). If those trends hold (and I believe it will), I want the Steelers to guarantee themselves to host the AFC title game if they win their divisional round game. Plus the added advantage of not having idiots pulling fire alarms at the team hotel at 4 am on game day is nice too.

  • ThatGuy

    I think we can hang 40 on them. Everybody was praising how improved their defense was during their winning streak. Here’s their opponents: Tampa, Jets, Falcons, Chargers, Broncos, Raiders, Dolphins, Bills. Other than the Chargers there’s no threatening offenses in there, ATL was still riding the struggle bus when they played them.

  • rystorm06

    Yeah the Patriots are not a team you defer against. I don’t know what the stats are, but it seems like every game they lose, the other team gets a lead on them quickly. Their defense can be exploited, but they have been avoiding that by getting early leads on teams. Can’t let these guys score first.

  • Michael Mosgrove

    i expect dupree to get blown out of at least 7 plays.

  • LucasY59

    The pats OL is definitely the weak link of their O so the Steelers DL needs to step up and have a great game, they have the talent to do it, and I think Cam especially will be extra motivated since he had to sit out the last game against the pats, they need to do well against the run game and make them one dimensional (the Steelers O getting a lead will help with that as well) and interior pressure on shady is also important (forcing them to pass makes is so the D can focus on getting pressure)

    Its a issue that the Steelers LBs (specifically ILBs) are struggling a bit right now, would be so much more confident if Shazier was still on the field, but they are forced to move on, and hopefully the pats RBs (who are good in space) dont make it to where its one on one with them and the ILBs

    I do think the Steelers OLBs (specifically Watt and Dupree) have the athleticism that could make them useful in helping to try and contain Gronk in the passing game, they should be rushing on shady most of the time, but on the times where they are disguising coverages and blitzing, dropping one of those two into coverage on Gronk could be effective

    Obviously Gronk cant be left alone and keeping him from making big plays is key, so I think they should always have help over the top on him, and I wouldnt be opposed to getting Allen some snaps in certain situations, he has the best size of anyone in the secondary (plus the CBs are a little banged up) so there is a chance he could help on Gronk (Davis could be somewhat effective as well, but will likely be the guy helping to make sure he doesnt break one on them)

    Cooks could give them trouble as well, but Burns has the size advantage on him and also the speed to match up on him fairly well, but if Brandin is going against the CB on the other side it could be bad (unless there is extra help over the top)

    I think some press man coverage would also be effective (but like any scheme against shady they cant stick with just one and need to switch things up and keep him guessing on what they are doing instead of running the same thing and letting him pick it apart) the other thing with press is that it should help with the short/quick throws and force shady to hold onto the ball a little longer which helps the pass rush get some pressure

    I think the D can be successful against the pats, but the Steelers O really needs to help them out, they cant give them the ball or good field position, and the other thing that can really help them is keeping them off the field as much as possible, the O needs to control the clock (and part of being able to do that is getting the lead early, cant play from behind or else it probably wont end well) two games in a row where they werent in charge of the game needs to change (and even though last week started out better than the previous week the let the ratbirds back in the game, this time they need to get their foot on the pats neck right from the start and never let up…on both O and D)

  • Ehrren Lee Phyzeque

    I’ve been saying it for at least 3 years. This game like all games really depends on our offense. We’ve got the Firepower and have had it for some time on offense to be carrying this team. We need to play defense through our offense and play keep away.

  • Steelers Deplorable

    1st GIF Buffalo LB#50 tackled by NE lineman
    2nd GIF NE#71 tackles Buffalo D-lineman
    6th GIF NE left end dives at legs and takes out whole side of Buffalo’s D-line
    Bellicheats coaching???

  • Conserv_58

    Maybe, just maybe, having the the most flag happy officiating crew in the league officiating this game might make a difference. Then again, it’s the Teflon patriots the Steelers are playing.

  • Conserv_58

    I expect that if he continues to get taken out of plays Chickillo will be inserted. I also expect to see Deebo inserted to help on run plays.

  • Conserv_58

    How’s that job as a motivational speaker going?

  • Conserv_58

    The patriots can try and bounce back, but they have not gone against an offense like the Steelers offense especially with having Le’Veon, JuJu and Martavis in the lineup. Furthermore, despite what some of the Steelers players have said about approaching this game as being just another game on their schedule there is no truth to it. They want that patriot monkey off of their backs, especially Ben. There’s no question that he’s sick and tired of losing to Brady. We all know very well that they’ve had this game on their minds since the day the schedule was announced. Given their records, what’s at stake and that the game is at Heinz Field, this game has taken on a playoff atmosphere. We won’t have to worry about the Steelers players being lazer focused for this game because they want this bad.