Tom Brady and the Patriots have dominated the league for sixteen plus years now. Typically we think to New England’s dominance over the AFC East division. A healthy Brady has led the Patriots to fourteen straight divisional titles. Yet despite stomping on the Dolphins, Jets, and Bills every year, there’s actually another team Brady has tortured along the way. The Pittsburgh Steelers. Much has been made of the success Brady and the Pats have had recently against Pittsburgh. New England has won the last three games comfortably, with the last meeting being a blowout in the AFC Championship game. The Patriots haven’t just had the Steelers number of late, but since all the way back when Brady’s career began.
Dating back to the 2001 season, with Tom Brady at quarterback the Patriots are 10-2 versus the Steelers. This includes records of 7-2 in the regular season, 3-0 in the playoffs, and 5-2 in Pittsburgh. In the full twelve games Brady’s numbers are as follows. He’s completed 70% of his passes, thrown for 3,532 yards, and has 29 touchdowns on only four turnovers. These numbers stretched into a full season would net 4,709 yards and 39 touchdowns. These numbers aren’t just ridiculous, they’re historic. Brady’s quarterback rating of 115.1 versus Pittsburgh is the highest rating by ANY quarterback vs ANY team since 1991. These numbers have gotten even better of late. In his last 9 games against the Steelers Brady has averages of 72.1% cmp, 317 yds, 2.7 td. This includes just one turnover and a passer rating of 123.2.
The Mike Tomlin Era
Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin likely has plenty nightmares featuring Tom Brady. Since he took over as coach in 2007 Tom Brady and the Pats are 6-1 against Pittsburgh. Brady’s numbers in this span are the best of them all. He averages 72.0% cmp, 324 yds, 3.14 TD, 127.5 QB rating. Things haven’t gotten any better for Pittsburgh either. Brady’s last game was arguably his best. In the AFC title last season Brady posted a line of 32/42 (76%), 383 yds, 3 td, 0 ints, 127.5 QBR. It’s safe to say Tomlin doesn’t have the answer.
Zone Coverage…touchdown Brady
The fact that Brady’s numbers continue to trend up is hard to believe. The root of all this success is largely contributed to the Steelers zone coverage scheme. Over the years the Steelers have played mainly just two types of defense; cover 2 and cover 3. These are the two most commonly used zone coverages in the NFL. And they typically work very well with the right personnel. Look no further than Seattle’s dominate defense over the last several years. They too have played almost all zone coverage, and it’s been extremely effective to say the least. It’s even worked for the Steelers this year. They rank sixth best in yards, and seventh best in points allowed. But unfortunately for Pittsburgh, much like Seattle these numbers are trending the wrong way of late. This is because both teams have lost major pieces to their defense. Zone coverage relies heavily on speed, discipline, and most importantly communication. Tragically, the Steelers lost their most important piece two weeks ago on defense for the season and maybe even for his career. Ryan Shazier is out with a spinal injury. He’s been the leader, and the main key at middle linebacker for the Steelers this season. In the seven quarters since Shazier has been out Pittsburgh has allowed 48 points and 654 yards to Andy Dalton and Joe Flacco. It’s safe to say the defense simply isn’t the same without his speed and communication in the middle.
Here he comes again
To put it simple, Brady has torched the Steelers zone defense game after game. Brady almost always finds success against a zone defense. He’s just too good. To make matters worse, Pittsburgh is now without their most important player on that side of the ball. As a result, the defense looks flat-out broken. Combine that with the fact that Brady’s numbers are literally the best by any quarterback against any team in the past 25 years… and you have trouble. You have to think the Steelers would finally consider changing up coverage and mix in some man-to-man defense, especially considering how important the game is Sunday. If so, maybe then will they finally slow down Brady and the Pats. That said, it’s more likely than not Tom Brady will haunt the Steelers yet again. Poor Pittsburgh.
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