We’re just 48 hours past Halloween, but it’s too soon to lose sight of trickeration.
When the Patriots host the 2-5 Steelers on Sunday, the defense must be ready for anything. Pittsburgh’s offense has worked through offensive line struggles this season, averaging less than 18 points per game.
Before quarterback Ben Roethlisberger takes the snap each play, the Steelers may motion and shift from one offensive look to another. Offensive coordinator Todd Haley has previously run systems that incorporated pre-snap shifts and motions, which, in part, can cause an opposing defense to be unsettled before the snap. (This is something the Patriots have done with great success over the years as well).
So the Patriots must be ready to move before the snap if they want to alter their defensive alignment based on the strength of the formation (i.e. to the side of the tight end), or make sure that all of their signals are easily communicated so that responsibilities can be transferred based on motion.
Additionally, any time a struggling offense takes the field, the defense must be ready for the unexpected. This includes trick plays, something that helped the Steelers get their first win of the season back in Week 6 against the Jets.
Wide receiver Antonio Brown not only leads the NFL in catches, but he also has four rushes in seven games and even attempted a pass (against the Jets). The Patriots need to have their eyes open for any sort of gimmick plays, as Brown or another non-quarterback could be counted upon to throw a pass again this weekend (note: Brown is a left-handed passer).
How does a defense account for the potential of trick plays? Well, it can’t just sit around and wait for one to come, but it starts with assignment integrity. Ends can’t come crashing down, safeties can’t take the bait on play action passes, etc. Discipline is the key, and the Patriots will need it on Sunday against the Steelers.