It was a slow, painful march to triple zeros on the clock Sunday afternoon at Acrisure Stadium for the Pittsburgh Steelers defense.
After already being on the field a majority of the game to that point having been left out to dry by the offense throughout much of the game, the Steelers’ defense couldn’t get one final stop when it needed to the most. New England marched right down the field in the final 6:33 of game action after the second straight three-and-out by the Steelers, running the clock out on the 17-14 win.
In the fourth quarter the Steelers defense was very clearly gassed. New England ran 23 offensive plays in the fourth quarter to seven from the Steelers in the final 15 minutes. Time of possession in those final 15 minutes?
Eight designed runs in the fourth quarter from the Patriots on the final drive really hammered home just how tired the Steelers defense was, and just how juiced up New England’s offensive line was in the final minutes. They could smell blood and got after it in the run game, silencing the crowd and taking the Steelers’ will.
It was painful to watch, but hearing head coach Mike Tomlin speak Monday during his weekly press conference, the Patriots didn’t do anything profound or ground breaking on the final drive. Instead, it was the Steelers not being able to get off blocks and make tackles.
“It’s about making plays it’s about coming off blocks and making tackles. It wasn’t like we had inappropriate number of people, you know, distributed to the run game,” Tomlin stated to reporters Monday, according to video via the Steelers official YouTube page. “They blocked, they broke tackles. They got yards after contact. Those are the things that determine, really, a lot of run game success and it has nothing to do with broad sweeping things that might be a Eureka moment.
“It’s about getting off blocks or sustaining them. It’s about creating yards after contact. If you’re a runner it’s about minimizing them. If you’re tackler…things of that nature.”
That’s all it is. The Patriots ran between the tackles and downhill with a lot of pins and pulls to create movement and take over the game late. There’s nothing profound about it. That’s how football has been played for a long, long time. The Patriots were just better at it on Sunday than the Steelers, especially in the weighty moments, as Tomlin likes to say.
Those moments late in the game were about determination, showing some heart and making plays again when called upon. The Steelers couldn’t. The Patriots did. It goes that way sometimes.
Still, it leaves some questions about the run defense moving forward, which is understandable. They’ll have to get it right — and quickly — this week with a matchup in Cleveland on the horizon.