By: Steve Balestrieri
“When Tom’s on fire, it doesn’t really matter who’s out there,” Troy Polamalu of the Steelers said. “He did everything great quarterbacks do.”
Through the first eight games the Patriots offense has largely been stuck in neutral, resembling little of the offensive juggernaut from the past few years, having to deal with an entire new core of wide receivers and missing both its tight ends from a year ago.
Lack of timing, inconsistent play, poor decision-making and injuries to the starters have all played significant roles in an offense that hasn’t been able to get untracked.
All of that changed, for at least one week on Sunday. Tom Brady dissected the #2 pass defense in the NFL, picking apart the Pittsburgh Steelers secondary with ease passing for 432 yards, 4 touchdowns and zero interceptions for a quarterback rating of 151.8 and averaging over 13 yards per attempt.
Health/Timing Keys: With the return to health for both Danny Amendola and more importantly Rob Gronkowski, the timing, so important in the Patriots passing offense was on full display Sunday, giving a glimpse of how potent this unit can be when clicking on all cylinders.
The timing, play-calling and route running was much sharper on Sunday. But Brady more than everyone was focused, making correct decisions and used his head to beat the Steelers.
Steelers safety Ryan Clark said, “We just say, ‘It’s Tom Brady.’ He did nothing we haven’t seen him do, ever. He stood tall, stared down rushers, stared down blitzers, got the ball to the open man repeatedly, that’s what you expect from him.”
“He was special today. He was that guy that’s going to get that (Hall of Fame) jacket five years after he retires.”
Brady Always Tough Against Pittsburgh: Brady and the Patriots have always fared well against Pittsburgh and Dick LeBeau’s defense going 7-2 overall and consistently having their way with them. In the last few meetings, Brady has thrown 13 touchdowns against zero interceptions.
On Sunday, the Patriots had three 100 yard receivers in a game with Gronkowski (143), Amendola (122) and rookie Aaron Dobson (130) for the first time in their history while rolling up points (55) and yardage (610) that were the most given up by Pittsburgh in their history. The 55 points also represent an NFL high in 2013.
We’ve picked a couple of plays off the NFL Game Rewind’s All-22 Coach’s film to highlight how Brady was indeed on top of his game. The Patriots are hoping this type of play from the offense marks the beginning of a trend down the stretch.
Amendola’s 34 Yard Touchdown: On the Patriots first score, they had Aaron Dobson split wide left with Danny Amendola inside, Julian Edelman split wide right and the sole back was Stevan Ridley beside Brady in the backfield. The Steelers were in a one-deep safety look with Troy Polamalu deep and fellow safety Ryan Clark up close to the line covering TE Michael Hoomanawanui.
At the snap, both Amendola and Dobson went deep straight down the left side of the field. Edelman ran a Sluggo route and had Ike Taylor in coverage.
Here Brady stared down Edelman, drawing Polamalu to drift over to the right. Brady pump faked to Edelman and Polamalu bit hard on the fake. Ridley drifted out of the backfield and three defenders closed on him underneath.
This left cornerback William Gay in an unwinnable position, playing between both Amendola and Dobson, he tried to slide over but Amendola, unblocked at the line was running free down the seam. Brady then turned and fired an easy touchdown pass as Polamalu, reacting too late was unable to close the distance in time.
It was a fantastic play by Brady, and the timing of it to work correctly has to be pin-point. Otherwise Polamalu can react in time and influence the play or one of the other defenders on Ridley can move back into position.
Gronkowski 19 Yard Touchdown: Brady again manipulated the defense and deep safety Polamalu on another score in the first half. On the play, TE Rob Gronkowski is lined up close to the line on the left hand side and has rookie LB Jarvis Jones on top of him. Ridley again is the lone running back.
At the snap, Brady does a nice play-action fake to Ridley freezing both the Mike and Polamalu just long enough for Gronkowski to shake free of Jones.
With the mismatch of Jones on Gronkowski, Brady hits Gronkowski with the pass just prior to Polamalu being able to come over and give support. He tried to jar the ball loose and was flagged 15 yards for leading with his helmet.
This play was also timed perfectly, something that the Patriots offense has been missing thus far this season, as well as having the running game being a viable option, with Ridley giving the Patriots the tough yardage between the tackles all game.
This was a great job of play-calling by Josh McDaniels and execution from Brady. Once Shane Vereen is back, it will make the passing offense even more potent as he’s a much better receiver than Ridley or LeGarrette Blount.