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Insider Only Week 1 Steelers – Patriots: What We Learned

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Examining the Steelers Defense

Tom Brady carved the Steelers secondary up, going 25 of 32 for 288 yards and 4 touchdowns in the Patriots 28-21 win on Thursday night.

Brady and the Patriots put together scoring drives of 90, 80, 79 and 64 yards in the win. Brady completed 19 straight passes at one point as the Patriots exploited the Steelers with intermediate passes.

Brady averaged nine 9 yards per attempt. Last season Brady averaged 7 yards per attempt.

The Steelers secondary had a nightmare containing Julian Edelman who abused Antwon Blake and Cortez Allen for much of the night. Edelman worked the chains all game and went for 11 catches, 97 yards.

Blake started in place of Cortez Allen with Allen playing the nickle. Neither player gave up significant yards in coverage but both showed poor cover ability, Allen flagged for two penalties and tackling was below average from both.

Blake who the Steelers like better than Brandon Boykin because of his size and tackling ability, missed multiple tackles that kept drives going for the Patriots.

Boykin regarded by scouts as the Steelers best play making and cover corner, played ZERO SNAPS after starting the season in the coaches doghouse as the No. 4 cornerback. Boykin couldn’t stand Chip Kelly because Kelly felt the smallish corner couldn’t play the outside and Steelers coaches obviously feel the same way.

Blake was in for 56 snaps, Allen 32.

The cornerback group leaves little optimism that it’s going to be a position that gets better as the season goes on but the biggest issue for the Steelers now and moving forward is the safety play.

It is arguably  the worst safety group in football.

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The Steelers safety play was a disaster with miscommunication and coverage breakdowns.

Rob Gronkowski, who scored three touchdowns wasn’t just uncoverable, the Steelers didn’t even notice they weren’t covering him at times, highlighted by Gronk’s first touchdown of the game.

“Anytime they don’t cover Gronk, he usually gets it,” Brady told reporters with a smile.

Mike Mitchell coming off and on the field in the first half didn’t help things with the Steelers having only 10 players on the field during a red-zone play to go with the Steelers getting the Patriots radio feed in their headsets, what a shocker, but Keith Butler’s start as defensive coordinator could not have went worse in the first half when it came to breakdowns.

The Steelers talked all week about jamming Gronkowski at the line of scrimmage and the safety group was just too small and slow in having Will Allen, Robert Golden as the primary defenders against Gronk.

Allen got the start at strong safety and played 56 of 61 defensive snaps. Golden played 24 defensive snaps, while Shamarko Thomas who went into camp as the starter, played just 4 defensive snaps.

On Gronkowski’s second touchdown of the game, Allen’s eyes were in the backfield and whiffed at getting a body on Gronk at the line of scrimmage, creating a mismatch in the end zone as all Tom Brady had to do was put it up for Gronkowski to come down with the TD grab.

Gronkowski is special but the Steelers struggles to defend the middle of the field projects to be a season long problem against tight ends and they’re going to face some pretty good one’s.

Shamarko Thomas has major problems playing a cover-2 and Thomas was not drafted to be that type of safety. He’s the type of safety whose only chance for success is being a crasher in around the line of scrimmage.

When the Patriots needed, they got the match up they wanted with Gronk as Gronkowski’s third touchdown of the night had him matched up against Terence Garvin of all people.


The highlight for the Steelers defense was only giving up 28 points, something many would have taken coming in. As bad as they looked at times, they kept the game winnable for Pittsburgh.

For the Steelers to create sacks this season, they’re going to have get creative and a third down call in the second half saw Butler dial up a safety blitz with Will Allen coming in untouched for a sack of Brady.

Allen led the Steelers with 8 tackles.


— Going up against a rookie center and inexperienced offensive line, Steve McLendon graded out well in the loss.

Ryan Shazier showed some explosiveness/awareness in blowing up Want the Full Story? Get "Inside Access"

About The Author

William DePaoli

TIOPS Insider

William DePaoli is the President/Founder of Inside Pittsburgh Sports LLC and can be reached at

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