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Defense Makes Difference Against New England

By: Chris Gates
(Photo Credit: Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

(Photo Credit: Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

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PITTSBURGH (93-7 The FAN) — For all too long the script has been the same.

A ton of hype has led into nearly every Steelers-Patriots match up this decade and the result has seemingly always been New England quarterback Tom Brady picking apart the Pittsburgh defense for a win.

Look no farther than last year’s Sunday night game when Brady and the Pats blew out the Steelers by far more than even the 39-26 final score indicated. Brady threw for 350 yards and 3 touchdowns, embarrassing Pittsburgh at Heinz Field.

The Brady dominance against Pittsburgh dates back to the 2004 AFC title game when he threw for 207 yards and 2 touchdowns in a 41-27 Patriots win at Heinz Field. All told, the Steelers had beaten Brady just once in seven tries heading into Sunday.

Somehow, no matter how strong Pittsburgh’s defense looked entering the game, Brady would find a way to exploit it.

Not Sunday, though, as the Steelers held Brady and the Patriots offense to just 213 yards, 198 passing, in a 25-17 win. The big difference this time around was a change in scheme by defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, as he implemented man coverage with his defensive backs to disrupt New England.

“Like we said earlier in the week, we didn’t anticipate Tom Brady coming out and throwing four picks, like he did at Buffalo,” Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said. “So we focused our energy on playing man-to-man coverage, and being there to get off the field on third downs on defense, and of course, possessing the ball offensively and possessing it really through the passing game.”

While the Steelers offense controlled the clock, the Steelers defense jammed New England receivers at the line of scrimmage and allowed little room, if any, for Brady to develop a rhythm in the quick passing game. In turn, it allowed Pittsburgh’s pass rush to get to Brady, which had been an issue in past games against the Patriots.

Steelers linebacker Lamarr Woodley had two sacks on the day, both in the second quarter. His first came on a third-and-15 just as New England had crossed into Steelers territory and his second on a 1st-and-10 that ended up forcing New England into a field goal.

“Our secondary did a good job of holding (their) receivers,” Woodley said. “And then when you’ve got the interior guys putting pressure in the middle … guys like myself have the opportunity to go in and get a sack. That’s what I did on a few plays.”

Cornerback Ike Taylor had arguably the toughest test in trying to shut down New England No. 1 receiver Wes Welker. Taylor succeeded, as Welker managed just 39 yards on six catches.

The effort was by committee, though, as LeBeau implemented as many as six defensive backs at certain times.

Tomlin said after the game that he was pleased with guys like rookie Cortez Allen stepping in with Taylor, Keenan Lewis, Ryan Clark, Troy Polamalu and William Gay to shut down the Pats.

“They’ve done a nice job all year,” Tomlin said. “We talked about that group was going to be tested. They were tested tonight, and they passed the test.”

Maybe the most important stat of all was third downs where the Steelers were the clear winners, holding New England to just 3-of-10.

“We have some young guys that aren’t afraid to compete. I think that’s probably the biggest thing. I can’t say enough about the young guys that get up in people’s faces and challenge people, and play to win, which is good.”

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