PITTSBURGH — Sometimes, close just doesn’t cut it.
The Steelers knew going into their first regular-season game of 2018 against the New England Patriots that pressuring quarterback Tom Brady was going to be the key to once again limiting the Pats’ offense like the Steelers did in 2018.
That didn’t happen.
The Steelers sacked Brady just once — Bud Dupree got to him in the third quarter to force New England into a field goal that made it 30-3 — but maybe more importantly, they weren’t able to disrupt Brady’s rhythm or prevent him from getting the ball out on time.
Brady finished 24 of 36 for 341 yards, had a 124.9 passer rating and seemed almost completely unbothered by the Pittsburgh rushers.
It wasn’t because the Steelers’ defensive linemen and outside linebackers never beat their men. Here, nose tackle Javon Hargrave and defensive end Stephon Tuitt absolutely melted the right three-fifths of New England’s offensive line. Brady just stepped to his left and made the pass.
Javon Hargrave is a special player I'd hate to lose this offseason. Not many have his combination of quickness and power. Shaq Mason is a very good guard and Hargrave just runs him over. #Steelers pic.twitter.com/Czlp9A7N0p
— Alex Kozora (@Alex_Kozora) September 9, 2019
“I guess we didn’t win enough,” Hargrave said. “He was making plays down the field, he was making plays everywhere. … We had some good rushes, all of us. We won a lot of matchups. But in this game, it doesn’t really show for nothing when a team can do that to you.”
“Tom utilizes his talents and experience to make good and quick decisions, he feels the rush extremely well so often times even when you’re beating people the ball is out,” head coach Mike Tomlin said. “The speed in which the ball comes out is a challenge relative to him.”
This week, the Steelers will face a different challenge in athletic Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson. Wilson is capable of being the same kind of quick-throw passer Brady is, but he can also beat teams with his legs to the outside. It makes pass-rushing him a totally different job, because everything must be done with an eye toward containment.
“It’s challenging but it’s challenging in a different way,” Tomlin said. “He also brings a unique challenge of mobility and his ability to extend the play and also just get on the perimeter of your defense and get chunks of yards. So the containment of him is significant, but also we better not be so contain-conscious that we provide interior escape lanes. He’s got well-rounded game, well-rounded talents.”
Unlike Brady, Wilson will also run some designed runs, which can keep the defensive line from rushing headlong upfield to get after the quarterback.
“They go to it often, they went to it kind of at the end of the game last week to secure victory versus Cincinnati, but it’s always been the case,” Tomlin said. “They thoughtfully utilize his mobility. He also uses it in the improv sort of way to extend plays and to create big plays. He’s capable of running and breaking you down in the passing game and gaining yards, but he’s also capable of just extending, moving within the pocket and staying behind the line and having an opportunity to see the full field and get balls down the field”
What that adds up to is a Steelers pass rush that didn’t quite get the job done in Week 1, but with a completely different challenge to face in Week 2, there isn’t a lot to be taken away from the Steelers’ misfortunes against Brady that will apply against Wilson.