Paul Zeise: Patriots outplayed and out-coached the Steelers yet again
January 23, 2017 12:44 PM
Steelers safety Sean Davis hangs his head during the final seconds of his team's loss to the Patriots in the AFC championship Sunday night.
By Paul Zeise / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The definition of insanity is doing the same things over and over and expecting different results.
If that is truly the definition, then my diagnosis for the Steelers today is that they are officially certifiably insane.
At least that is the case when they play against the Patriots, who crushed them yet again Sunday night in the AFC championship and mostly because the Steelers did the same things they always do in these games against Tom Brady and Bill Belichick.
I understand Mike Tomlin’s rallying call of “we’ve got to be who we are” and it works out for the most part when the Steelers are the superior team.
But against a machine like the Patriots, he better get creative and do some things differently, and he better become much more prepared for some things he may not have seen on film from them. Like, say, a flea flicker…
The Patriots don’t beat the Steelers every time because they have better players or more talent; they beat the Steelers because they are much smarter, much more disciplined, tougher and far better coached.
That is especially true at the quarterback position, by the way, as I don’t believe Tom Brady is more physically talented than Ben Roethlisberger (I’m talking pure tools, arm strength, size, athleticism, scrambling ability), but he is smarter, more disciplined, mentally tougher and yeah, coached better.
Brady doesn’t try to be a hero, he just tries to win games. He is willing to “settle” for making winning plays and he isn’t worried about anything other than winning football games. I don’t know that I can say the same thing about Roethlisberger, who sometimes seems enamored with padding his statistics and that leads him into making bad decisions.
I have heard “well there is no shame in losing to the Patriots, everyone does, they are superior to everyone” from many different people since the game ended Sunday and that is a cop-out and a crock of, well, you know what.
Here is the thing — John Harbaugh and Joe Flacco figured out how to beat the Patriots twice in the playoffs and almost got them a third time. Tony Dungy and Peyton Manning figured it out too, as did Manning and John Fox and Manning and Gary Kubiak.
I bring that up because I keep hearing some people trying to put Roethlisberger in that category among all-time greats, but until he beats Brady in the playoffs — like Manning did three times and Flacco did twice — his resume has a huge hole in it. And when people ask me why I rate Harbaugh over Tomlin, I point to his ability to beat the Patriots with an inferior quarterback to Roethlisberger.
And then there is Tomlin and defensive coordinator Keith Butler, whose defensive game plans against Brady always ensure one thing — that Brady is going to have his way with the Steelers defense.
How else do you explain the fact Brady has thrown 22 touchdown passes and 0 interceptions against Tomlin-coached teams?
That doesn’t even seem possible, but it is reality. And the Steelers are never really in position to intercept Brady because they play these passive defenses against him and never force the action.
Brady drops back against the Steelers, stands around in a clean pocket for as long as he needs and figures out which receiver is running into a hole in the zone and plays pitch and catch all night.
I know you can’t survive blitzing Brady every down, as his numbers against the blitz are ridiculous, but how much worse could it be if the Steelers mixed it up some and took a few more chances?
“We do what we do” is silly — it worked against the Dolphins and Chiefs because the Steelers are better than those teams, but against the Patriots, you better have more than just empty cliches and chest-pounding nonsense.
I think there were a couple of plays early in the game that showed me the difference between these two teams and why one team owns the other and wins a heckuva lot more in the playoffs.
The Patriots marched right down the field on their first drive, but stalled on third-and-1 and, without hesitation, Belichick sent out the field-goal unit to take the three points and get an early lead.
There was no “let’s set the tone and not live in our fears” and all that macho “we want to be aggressive” stuff that the Steelers get caught up in all the time. It was “we play smart football in the playoffs and that means take every point you can get.”
On the next series, the Steelers had a third-and-1 and instead of quarterback sneaking or handing the ball to Le’Veon Bell, they took a deep shot to Sammie Coates that went through his hands. They then had to punt.
The cost of “being aggressive” there was killing momentum and giving the ball right back to Brady.
And even if the thinking was good in your book, please justify throwing the ball in that spot to Sammie “Edward Scissorhands” Coates, as his specialty has become either running the wrong routes or dropping the ball when he gets his hands on it.
That was third down. The Patriots don’t throw the ball to guys who can’t catch on third down, and neither should the Steelers.
It seems like a little thing; it isn’t, not in a playoff game, not when every possession matters and not when you are trying to slay the beast at the beast’s home field.
I could go through the entire game and point to a number of little things like this and they always seem to add up to the same big thing: That is the Patriots beating the Steelers.
The Steelers had an excellent season, they improved in a number of ways that should give fans hope for the future and they still have a relatively young core to continue to build around.
Next year should really be their year, but it won’t be if Tomlin, Butler and Todd Haley don’t spend the offseason taking a look at what they’ve done against the Patriots and then scrapping it and devising something different.
Brady isn’t going anywhere — at least it doesn’t look like it — so the road to the Super Bowl will probably go through the Patriots again.
That means the Steelers path is blocked unless they learn from their past mistakes against the Patriots and make some changes in the way they choose to attack them on both sides of the ball.
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