Student assistant Mike Rodak takes a look at the television copy of Sunday night’s game against the Steelers and offers some of his first-quarter observations:
1. The Steelers, who started the game in a two tight end set, quickly moved to a shotgun, five-receiver package on the second play of the game. The Patriots countered by forcing the issue, bringing LB Gary Guyton on a blitz and on third down, blitzing Guyton and safety James Sanders. Guyton and CB Kyle Arrington were both able to make solid individual plays on the ball to end the drive.
2. When the Patriots went to a similar spread formation on their first drive, the Steelers did not move to a sub package, opting instead to keep their strong linebacker unit intact. The Patriots lined up WR Deion Branch wide left and WR Wes Welker in the left slot, while the Steelers had OLB James Harrison lined up over Welker. At the snap, Harrison broke for Branch and knocked him down. It was a move designed to help out RCB Ike Taylor, but it left Welker room underneath for a 10-yard gain and a first down.
3. The Steelers continued to show an awareness of Branch on the third-and-9 that ended up being TE Rob Gronkowski’s 19-yard touchdown catch. On the play, the Steelers had two deep safeties, but FS Ryan Clark shifted outside of the numbers at the snap, shading over Branch. Gronkowski, who was lined up in the slot, broke towards the open inside of the field, and Brady delivered one of the most accurate throws of the game into the tight window.
4. As the Steelers continued to use a multiple-receiver, passing-based offense, the Patriots continued to tear a page out of the Steelers’ playbook, blitzing frequently on the Steelers’ second possession. In a break from convention, but in a Steeler-like fashion, the Patriots stood up their rush ends – Shawn Crable and Tully Banta-Cain – and then zone-blitzed, with Crable dropping into coverage on one side and safety Patrick Chung and Guyton blitzing on the other. Guyton blew through a weak pick-up effort by RB Rashard Mendenhall to sack QB Ben Roethlisberger.
5. On the next play, third-and-30, the Steelers used an initial seven-man protection against a three-man Patriots sub rush, with Roethlisberger unable to find one of his downfield receivers open. Roethlisberger began to panic and left the pocket, allowing DT Mike Wright and Crable to come off their blockers and split another sack.
6. In contrast, the Steelers brought little pressure in the first quarter. One of their few early blitzes came on an 11-yard Wes Welker catch on third down. On the play, RB Danny Woodhead did a solid job in blitz pickup, taking out ILB Lawrence Timmons’ knees to keep the pocket clear for Brady to find Welker near the sideline.
7. One critical penalty for the Patriots was a chop block call against RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis that stalled the Patriots’ second drive and ultimately forced a field goal. It was a tough call for Green-Ellis, as he already began to dive at Timmons’ knees to take him out before LT Matt Light even made contact as a second blocker. It wasn’t a textbook example of a chop block, where the blocker would be already engaged with the defender when the second low block came in. This one could have gone either way.