The Pittsburgh Steelers were hit in the mouth by Tom Brady and the New England Patriots on Sunday, and it was that way from start to finish. The Patriots jumped out to a 3-0 lead on their first drive before pushing it to 10-0 on their third possession.
The Steelers looked unprepared on both sides of the ball, particularly on defense. That's probably because they weren't ready for what Brady was going to do to them, as hard as that is to believe:
"The first drive hit us by surprise," linebacker Bud Dupree said, via the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "They came out firing and they caught us off-guard. We were checking, and they were checking at the same time. Hats off to that team. They had a great preparation."
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What surprised the Steelers most was the Patriots' up-tempo offense. The Patriots came out firing with a fast-paced style of play, and the Steelers were essentially lost in their zone coverage.
"We didn't really anticipate it like that," Dupree said of the Patriots' no-huddle offense. "It was more in their approach to the no-huddle, the checks they made right away. It was a great job by Tom Brady."
Sure, it was a great job by Brady, who's a master of picking apart lackadaisical defenses, but the Steelers deserve a lot of blame for being unprepared for what the Patriots brought to the table.
What also shocked the Steelers was the emergence of Patriots wideout Chris Hogan, who put up the exact same numbers as Julio Jones did in the NFC Championship game: nine catches for 180 yards and two touchdowns.
"We knew he was one of the guys who could stretch you," cornerback Artie Burns said. "That's why we played a lot of zone, to keep the top on the coverage. He was able to slip behind it. That's why he had the game he had by slipping behind our deep coverage to make plays."
Burns said the Steelers thought "(Julian) Edelman was gonna be the guy," which clearly wasn't the case. The rookie corner also said he would have preferred to play man coverage, which he thrived in at Miami.
"Man probably would have worked just to limit the times that [receivers] had to run routes and the pressure would have hit home, things like that."
Just about everything the Steelers tried to do backfired, from dropping Dupree and James Harrison in coverage to playing more zone than man defense. The Patriots' offense is among the best in the league, but Pittsburgh's game plan was terrible, and that falls on Mike Tomlin and his coaching staff.