New England wins numbers game

A look at Patriots 27, Steelers 16 via the magic of the DVR:

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CALCULATED RISK:** Mike Tomlin acknowledged the Steelers "were willing to bleed a little bit in the run game in an effort to minimize big plays." But the Patriots still hit a couple of the latter when they needed to and the Steelers bled more than they could afford to in trying to defend the run.

The schematic trade-off Tomlin referenced involved when to play the base defense, with a run-stuffing nose tackle, and when to play the "nickel," with extra cornerback Artie Burns.

When the Patriots resorted to personnel groups wth three wide receivers, the Steelers repeatedly went with the nickel.

And often in those situations, New England ran the ball.

Running back LeGarrette Blount ended up with 127 yards and a couple of touchdowns on 24 carries.

The majority of those yards (79) came on 10 carries (7.9 per) against the Steelers' five-defensive backs package, including scampers of 11, 25 and 11 yards.  

Playing it as they did, the Steelers knew "we would have to come off blocks and make tackles," Tomlin said. "Not enough of that for us to be successful."

Blount's average dropped to 3.4 yards per carry against the base defense (48 on 14 attempts), but both of his touchdown runs (3 and 5 yards) came against the base.

The Patriots went with nothing but powerball after reaching the Steelers' 13-yard line in the second quarter. Operating out of a two-wide receivers, two-tight ends, one-back set from a formation that featured tight ends Martellus Bennett and Rob Gronkowski on the left side of an unbalanced line, Blount rumbled for 6, 4 and 3 yards and into the end zone on three consecutive snaps against the base.

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NEAR-MISSES, PIG PLAYS:** The Steelers were in extra-defensive backs sub-packages when the Patriots hit their two biggest plays of the game, a 36-yard TD pass from quarterback Tom Brady to Gronkowski and a 37-yard Brady-to-Gronkowski connection that set up Blount for a 5-yard touchdown run.

-Third-and-7, Steelers' 36, third quarter: Safety Sean Davis played three defensive snaps; this was one of them as Davis joined the five DBs normally deployed in the nickel. The Steelers rushed four and dropped seven into coverage against a five-man pattern.

Cornerback Stephon Tuitt had wide receiver Chris Hogan along the right sideline, which initially drew the attention of safety Mike Mitchell.
Burns ended up with wide receiver Danny Amendola along the left sideline, which eventually drew Davis' notice.

Cornerback William Gay wound up on wide receiver Julian Edelman on a crossing route.

And Ryan linebacker Ryan Shazier stayed in the middle, where he could get to running back James White coming out of the backfield if necessary.

That left safety Robert Golden on Gronkowski one-on-one down the seam.

Linebacker Arthur Moats, coming from the left of the defensive formation, rushed up the field initially and then cut under defensive end Stephon Tuitt and had a clear path to Brady but got there just after the ball had been released.

Gronkowski ran past Golden at the 25, caught the ball at the 12 and was gone.

Take a look at the best photos from the Week 7 matchup against the Patriots. The Patriots defeated the Steelers 27-16.

-First-and-10, Steelers' 42, fourth quarter: This time, Gronkowski ran down the hash marks, cut in on Golden and then cut out toward the sideline.

The Steelers rushed six against a seven-man protection and linebacker Anthony Chickillo, rushing from the left side of the defensive formation, beat Bennett on the edge but got to Brady just after the ball had been released.

Gronkowski hauled in the pass at the 23, turned up the field outside the numbers and was pushed out of bounds at the 5.

SNAP DECISIONS: Vince Williams started at inside linebacker for a third consecutive game but ended up playing 25 defensive snaps (44 percent) to Shazier's 32 (56 percent) … Wide receiver Antonio Brown, battling a quad injury in the second half, played 59 offensive snaps (81 percent).  Brown had played 100 percent of the offensive snaps three times, 97 percent on two other occasions and never less than 88 percent over the Steelers' first six games … Defensive end Stephon Tuitt and linebacker Ryan Shazier played 54 defensive snaps (95 percent).

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