PITTSBURGH — New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick is considered a master of scheming against an opponent’s best playmaker, using his coaching wit to win four straight games against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Belichick has thrown safety help at Antonio Brown, whose 387 yards and two touchdowns during that span is modest, at least by his standards.
But Belichick hasn’t faced a fully stocked Steelers lineup quite like this. He’ll see a healthy Le’Veon Bell ready to touch the ball 25 times or more, with a talented supporting cast eager to win one-on-one matchups.
Considering Belichick’s resume, though, Ben Roethlisberger is ready for anything.
“Them taking away somebody — maybe two guys — we’ll see,” Roethlisberger said “(Belichick) is one of the best, and they have some of the best coaches in the world at making it tough on opposing offenses.”
Roethlisberger knows the Patriots can’t double-team everybody, which should leave plenty of players from the Steelers’ supporting cast facing single coverage. That’s when JuJu Smith-Schuster and Co. will be ready, especially on third down.
The Steelers are prepared to make in-game adjustments based on the Patriots’ coverages, but as offensive coordinator Todd Haley pointed out, these two teams know each other too well to be fooled.
“They don’t throw a lot of tricks at you,” Haley said. “They are going to play sound defense and you have to out-execute them, outplay them.”
The Steelers haven’t done that well enough in recent games against the Patriots, and they aim to change that.
Pittsburgh might just have the ammunition to do it. Haley has an offense that struggled early in the season but is averaging 33 points per game over the past month and currently ranks sixth in the NFL in total offense. Roethlisberger might be the hottest quarterback in the league right now.
The other side of the ball remains the biggest question mark for the Steelers, with linebacker Ryan Shazier out and rookie Cam Sutton possibly making his first career start against Tom Brady. Pittsburgh players and coaches were tight-lipped about their defensive plans this week, but don’t be surprised if the Steelers play more man coverage than they have in the past few games against Brady, who hasn’t thrown an interception against Pittsburgh in 278 attempts.
To some, however, the game plan against Brady is simple: get pressure, preferably up the middle.
“Brady has some of his best throws when he’s able to step up, so interior pressure is great and then force him out to the side and let our outside linebackers eat,” defensive end Cam Heyward said. “But you gotta do that throughout the entire game, and that means stopping the run as well because if you can make an offense one-dimensional then you can really get pressure.”