It happened. They did it again. The New England Patriots won their 5th Super Bowl and are now the undisputed kings of the NFL. Any offseason plan by the Pittsburgh Steelers has to include a strategy on how to beat the Patriots. There’s no getting around that fact anymore. It’s not good enough just to build a talented team. The Steelers need to build a team with one specific goal in mind……….dethroning New England. How do you do this? Well luckily there is a prototype out there by the only team who’s had any real success against the Patriots, and that team is the Denver Broncos. The key revolves around a few simple principles:
- Consistent, unrelenting pressure on Brady
- Getting that pressure with 4 or less
- Playing physical man coverage the majority of the time
- Winning the time of possession battle
- Scoring touchdowns, not settling for field goals
- Tackling the catch
Projecting forward to the 2017 roster, the Steelers are well positioned on offense to make some of these things happen. Adding Martavis Bryant back into this already talented group should make them the most dangerous offense in the league. Most of us underestimated how much the impact of losing Bryant would make on this team. A healthy season from Ladarius Green makes them out right scary on the offensive side of the ball.
Now here’s the rub. Defensively this team is nowhere near ready to beat New England. It starts with the coaching, and ends with the utter lack of a pass rush. Bill Belichick has proven time and again he knows how to pick apart Pittsburgh’s 3-4 defense. Whether it’s Bill Cowher or Mike Tomlin at head coach. Whether it’s Keith Butler or Dick Lebeau at coordinator, it makes no difference because the results are always the same. The only way to change this is to completely scrap the 3-4 and change the coordinator. I go into more detail about this in my post here: Time for Keith Butler to go and the 3-4 defense with him.
Personal wise, they need to get at least one legitimate pass rusher and possibly two. At this point going through the draft to fill this need will not work on it’s own. Drafting an edge rusher at number 30 will get you a project at best. A project that will take two years at minimum to see any real results. Not to mention Kevin Colbert’s record in drafting edge rushers is spotty at best. They need to sign a free agent or make a trade for a player who can help right away. Anytime you see Brady struggling, it’s because he’s being pressured constantly. The Broncos did it in the AFC championship two years ago, and it got them a ticket to the Super Bowl. Upgrading in the secondary is another must in order to compete against New England. Now this may be less difficult a task given what the Steelers already have in terms of personnel. It is possible that Artie Burns and Sean Davis continue to improve next season and become real factors. Maybe Senquez Golson can finally stay healthy and becomes a weapon at slot corner, and maybe Justin Gilbert finally realizes the expectations that comes with being a former top 10 pick. None of these things are crazy to assume. Safety Mike Mitchell is an issue though, especially against the Patriots. His pension for going for the big hit rather then going for a solid tackle is killer in that case. Tackling the receivers and limiting yards after catch are crucial parts of beating New England. The intimidation factor he’s known for doesn’t apply considering Brady doesn’t take many shots down the deep middle of the field. This is the position in the secondary that needs an upgrade to compete versus that offense.
It may seem crazy to structure your team in order to defeat just one opponent out of 30. Particularly when that team isn’t even in the same division. The Steelers though have proven good enough to beat anyone in the AFC besides New England. Until they deal with that, the results will continue to be the same because it doesn’t appear that Brady and Belichick are going anywhere anytime soon. So it comes down to this…. in order to be the king, you have to beat the king.