Student assistant Mike Rodak takes a look at the television copy of Sunday night’s game against the Steelers and offers some of his fourth-quarter observations:
1. Patriots CB Devin McCourty had a rough start to the fourth quarter, after his softer coverage allowed some bigger Steelers gains earlier in the game. On a first down on the opening drive of the quarter, McCourty played back in coverage, coming up to tackle WR Emmanuel Sanders for an 11-yard gain. Two plays later, McCourty was in press coverage on WR Mike Wallace, but could not bump Wallace at the line and trailed on the slant route, which went for a 20-yard gain. McCourty then trailed Sanders by two steps on a corner end zone pattern that went for a 6-yard touchdown.
2. The Steelers brought an inside blitz on the second-and-10 play-action where QB Tom Brady was called for intentional grounding. FB Alge Crumpler was late to break off the snap, causing RB Sammy Morris to run into him off the play-action and both of them missed the block on ILB Larry Foote. Brady was also pressured up the middle by ILB James Farrior, who beat RG Dan Connolly inside, and by DE Ziggy Hood, who beat RT Sebastian Vollmer around the edge.
3. Even with a 19-point lead on the Steelers’ third series of the fourth quarter, the Patriots defense maintained its blitzing and press coverage scheme, but made more use of its dime package, using safety Sergio Brown. However, on five passes, the Steelers were able to move 53 yards and score on a 15-yard Wallace touchdown reception. On the play, CB Jonathan Wilhite (who entered the game for an injured safety Patrick Chung) took the shallow route out of the two-man receiver bunch, leaving safety Brandon Meriweather to come up to cover the deep route, as RCB Kyle Arrington was in an outside zone. Meriweather, who was lined up in the end zone, could not reach Wallace in time to make a play on the ball.
4. Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski’s 25-yard touchdown catch came against a Steelers defense with no deep safeties despite the Patriots not even being in the red zone. OLB James Harrison blitzed initially as part of a six-man rush, but stopped and covered RB Danny Woodhead out of the flat, along with safety Troy Polamalu. That left CB William Gay to cover Gronkowski on a flag pattern to the near pylon. Gronkowski gained separation from Gay on the second leg of his route, and without a deep safety, Brady was able to loft the ball without fearing someone like Polamalu coming over the top and disrupting the pass.
5. The Steelers’ quick scoring drive late in the fourth quarter that ended on a 33-yard Wallace touchdown reception came against a Patriots dime defense largely playing zone coverage. On the touchdown catch, Brown bumped Wallace at the line and released him across the middle, where safety James Sanders picked up his route but did not nearly have the speed to match Wallace as he ran along the goal line towards the pylon.