There’s been a lot of talk about how a win over the New England Patriots would be a significant milestone for Steelers’ Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. While there is most definitely some truth to that, the bigger statement that needs to be made is by Mike Tomlin and his coaching staff.
Tomlin’s Steelers have lost four straight games against “Team Hoodie” and have been outscored 146-85 in that span. That’s an average score of 36.5 to 21.2. Those are not competitive games and to think otherwise is wrong. Even the 28-21 loss to open the 2015 season was misleading because the Steelers scored a touchdown on the game’s final play.
What Tomlin has going for him this time around is that it will be the first time that he will have his full compliment of offensive weapons. Besides Big Ben, Le’Veon Bell, Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant are all available. This Patriots’ defense has been sub-par compared to Belicheck defenses of the past but they have gotten better over the last several weeks. Still, this offense should find success.
Where Mike Tomlin could be in real trouble is with his defense. Over the last four weeks, Keith Butler’s unit has ranked in the bottom ten of the NFL’s pass defense rankings. That’s not exactly good news with Tom Brady, who has made the Steelers his personal whipping boy during his career, coming to town. In 12 career games (nine regular season and three postseason), Brady has thrown 28 touchdown passes to just three interceptions.
Brady will also be getting his biggest target and fellow Steeler-killer Rob Gronkowski back as well. To make matters worse, the Steelers’ secondary could once again be a form of patchwork. Mike Mitchell is not 100%. Joe Haden is practicing but his status is very much up in the air and Coty Sensabaugh has a banged up shoulder. Can Butler and Tomlin rely on Rob Golden, Artie Burns, Cam Sutton and Sean Davis to accomplish what much better groups have been unable to?
If they can, it will be in fact one of Tomlin’s finest coaching moments. There are already rumors of Sean Davis “locking on Gronk” and stories of using more four-man fronts, but the proof will be in the pudding. Like last week, can the defense get stops at key times to give the offense a chance?
I thoroughly expect the Steelers’ offense to put up points. It would be a major disappointment if they can’t score more than the 21 points they’ve averaged in the last four games against New England. But… Will that be enough?
Mike Tomlin has proven he’s a good coach. He has warts like any other NFL head coach but he’s in desperate need of a signature win. It will be up to his defense this weekend to provide it.