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.
Steelers Connections Abound in Chiefs-Buccaneers Super Bowl
While the Pittsburgh Steelers saw their Super Bowl LV hopes dashed two weeks ago, fans will recognize plenty of familiar faces when the Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers meet on Feb. 7.
Six players with Steelers ties are expected to take the field in either red or pewter on Super Bowl Sunday, with the two most notable examples being Tampa Bay wide receiver Antonio Brown and Kansas City running back Le’Veon Bell.
Both missed their respective championship games due to injury, but could return to health in time for the Super Bowl with two weeks to recover.
In addition, the Chiefs also boast guard Stefen Wisniewski and punter Dustin Colquitt, who both spent time in Pittsburgh earlier this season.
Wisniewski is in line to make his second-straight Super Bowl start in response to injuries along the Chiefs’ offensive line suffered Sunday, while Colquitt is on Kansas City’s practice squad.
Former Steelers defensive back Ross Cockrell and nose tackle Steve McLendon will take the field for the Buccaneers defensively.
But Tampa Bay’s Pittsburgh connections do not stop on the field, as the Buccaneers will also have six coaches with Steeler ties on the sideline for the big game, including head coach Bruce Arians.
Arians, who is in his second season in Tampa, spent eight years in Pittsburgh, serving as wide receivers coach (2004-06) before being elevated to offensive coordinator (2007-11).
Bucs offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich played under Arians in Pittsburgh, and had three separate stints with the Steelers as a backup quarterback to Ben Roethlisberger.
Tampa Bay also boasts assistant head coach and run game coordinator Harold Goodwin, outside linebackers coach Larry Foote, offensive assistant Antwaan Randle El and assistant coach Tom Moore.
Even with the Steelers at home watching along with the rest of the country, Pittsburgh should have no shortage of rooting interests when the Chiefs meet the Buccaneers in Tampa in two weeks time.
Report: Steelers OL Coach Candidate Hank Fraley Retained in Detroit
Former Pittsburgh Steelers offensive lineman Hank Fraley will reportedly be retained as the Detroit Lions’ offensive line coach, according to the Detroit Free Press’ Dave Birkett.
Some good news for Lions fans still coming to grips with the news Matthew Stafford likely will be playing elsewhere in 2021:— Dave Birkett (@davebirkett) January 24, 2021
Respected OL coach Hank Fraley will be back with the team, and Dave Fipp could be joining him as ST coach now that the Eagles are letting him interview.
Pittsburgh reportedly interviewed Fraley last Thursday for their offensive line coach vacancy, but he has opted to remain with Detroit under new head coach Dan Campbell.
Fraley was a standout at Robert Morris before signing with the Steelers as an undrafted free agent in 2000. He was waived prior to the season, but played ten seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles, Cleveland Browns and St. Louis Rams. Fraley has spent the last two seasons as Detroit’s offensive line coach.
Pittsburgh’s search for their next offensive coordinator and line coach continues. The Steelers chose not to retain Randy Fichtner and Shaun Sarrett earlier this month.
Report: Steelers C Maurkice Pouncey Has Told Teammates He’ll Retire
Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey has told teammates that he will retire, according to a report by Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Former Steelers guard Ramon Foster, now of DK Pittsburgh Sports, reported on Jan. 12 that Pouncey was “50-50” on whether he would return for the 2021 season.
The 31-year-old Pouncey just finished his 11th season in the NFL, all of which have been with the Pittsburgh Steelers. He has one year remaining on his contract, which would pay him $14.475 million if he returns. Just $6.475 million of that is guaranteed. The Steelers would save $8 million in cap space if he retires.
Pouncey made the Pro Bowl for the ninth time in 2020 and has also been a five-time Associated Press All-Pro. He was also a member of the NFL’s 2010s All-Decade Team, largely giving him Hall of Fame credentials.\