After going through the long list of weapons the New England Patriots have on offense, mapping out who the defense will need to account for, Coach Mike Tomlin summed up what the Steelers will need to do against Tom Brady and company in one simple sentence.
“We better be prepared to get off the field the hard way, and that’s simply by stopping them,” said Tomlin during his weekly press conference.
While the sentiment is simple, carrying out the task is another story. The Buffalo Bills were able to do something no team has done this year – force Brady into four interceptions en route to handing New England their only loss of the year. But Tomlin is realistic and knows frequent turnovers are the exception rather than the rule when you look at the Patriots offense.
“We are not anticipating Brady to throw us four footballs,” said Tomlin. “They do a great job, other than that Buffalo game, of taking care of the football. They really don’t turn the football over. There was a game with Buffalo where they got their hands on some footballs but let’s be honest, that probably happens once every five years. So we have about four years and nine months before we see that again.”
The Patriots offense starts with Brady, the NFL’s second-ranked passer with a 104.8 quarterback rating thanks to 160 completions for 2,163 yards and 16 touchdowns.
“He is just very good physically and mentally,” said Tomlin. “He is very talented in both areas. He is tough to trick, he makes quick decisions, he has pinpoint accuracy and he has the arm to do the things he desires to do.”
He also has the weapons to do that. The Patriots are loaded in the passing game with Deion Branch, Chad Ochocinco, Julian Edelman and Wes Welker. Welker leads the NFL with 51 receptions and is second in yardage in the league with 785 yards.
“There are two critical reasons why he is tough to disrupt,” said Tomlin of the shifty receiver. “First is his physical skill. He is extremely quick and elusive and very adept at getting away from jams along the line of scrimmage. Second is what they do schematically. They move him around quite a bit, through a variety of formations and motions and that makes it difficult as well.”
The defense will also have to contend with tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. The Patriots effectively use the two tight end set with both of them as pass catching threats.
“Their tight end crew is outstanding,” said Tomlin. “They have a couple of young guys who continue to emerge. What they did last year is well documented but they are taking off from where they left off, even moving forward in some areas. They have a great rapport with their quarterback, not only in open grass but in the red zone. Gronkowski lit us up for three touchdowns a year ago. Tom, I am sure, feels real comfortable throwing to that big target down there in those closed spaces.”
And while the Patriots passing game garners most of the attention, you can’t ignore their ground game or they will make you pay a stiff price.
“I love their stable of running backs and how they utilize them,” said Tomlin. “They have BenJarvus Green-Ellis. They have a young rookie from LSU in Stevan Ridley, who complements him well. They are both very one-cut, decisive and tough runners. Danny Woodhead distinguishes himself as a check-down guy and a screen guy. He’s pretty good at running the football as well. They utilize those three backs, and they are a very good stable. They do very good work there.”