Patriots Broken Down
By CK Stiller
This article will take a long look at each Patriots starter and key role players. I�ll go over what I see as their strengths and weaknesses.
Tom Brady, QB - For my money, he�s hands down the best in the league right now. He makes quick, smart decisions and is generally going to find the open man. His ability to move around in the pocket around pressure is outstanding. Because of this, you are either going to need someone to win their match-up cleanly or to come free. This doesn�t happen all that often. The Steelers will need to push the pocket to give their edge rushers any chance to get to him. Prevent him from stepping up. He�s a mechanical thrower. He�s not going to deliver an accurate ball if he can�t square himself to the line or get his feet set.
Randy Moss, WR - I don�t know if too many reasonable people would argue if I called him the most physically dominating receiver ever to play the game. What really separates him from guys who are big and fast is his ability to play the ball in the air. Moss is a natural. A guy like Mike Jones doesn�t know how to go up and fight for a football. Moss has made a career of it. There are corners who can run with him at this point. There is no one who can play the ball in the air with him. He looks back for the ball early. A good corner needs to react to this. It�s important to get physical with him, like every receiver. Jam him. I always double him with a safety and a corner. Play tight coverage on this guy and always challenge him.
Donte Stallworth, WR - Stallworth has good speed and size. He�s not Randy Moss, but threatening in his own right. I think he�s a guy I want to press on the line. He�s not as fast as #81, so you have less concern there. It�s more important, though, because the Pats are doing their best to get the ball to him in space. He�s great after the catch and has made several big plays for them in this respect.
Wes Welker, WR - This man was born to play the slot. He�s not that fast, but he�s quick. The Pats love to send him in motion to throw a quick pass to him. It gives him a clean release and a running start. Much like with the two guys above, I think it�s important to play man on him. He makes his living in the zone. The Steelers are one of the few teams with the depth on defense to do this. Whether they do it with Polamalu (who may be just as quick), or Townsend seems irrelevant to me. Get a jam on him whenever possible, to limit his initial explosiveness and take away his one advantage. After that, he shouldn�t be running away from who the Steelers put on him. Fans overrate his top speed. I fear him only when he gets the ball in space.
I can�t stress this enough. Hit, hit, and hit these receivers all day. Punish them on running plays and pass plays. Take any opportunity to hit them and Brady you can get.
Jabar Gaffney, WR - A forgotten man, yet still dangerous. He�s a mismatch on who he is usually going to face. Brady trusts him. He has good hands and focus to make some tough catches.
Laurence Maroney, RB - Maroney is a very physical runner. He�s a lot like Marion Barber physically, and they have a lot similarities in their running style. Maroney, however, dances more. He doesn�t always hit the hole, and instead tries to cut, which can limit his effectiveness. When he just runs vertically and doesn�t hit the hole, he�s a very good runner. If he�s decisive, he may have surprising success on the Steelers. If the DL stays disciplined and everyone fills their gaps, he�ll do nothing.
Kevin Faulk, RB - This is the guy I wish Najeh Davenport was. He�s a great role player for this team. Great in blitz pick-up and always a threat to drop out of the backfield to serve as a reliable outlet for Brady.
Matt Light, LT - Light isn�t a great LT. He relies on his technique almost entirely. He doesn�t have a great punch, and he doesn�t have the quickest feet. Good pass rushers are able to get underneath him and get pressure off the edge. Harrison can do it. Keisel has the ability to lock out on him and control him in the run game while driving him back on the bull rush.
The strength of the Pats OL lies not outside at the tackles (though they aren�t too shabby), but inside with the guards and center. Their ability to hold their ground in pass pro allows Brady to step up, and that gives the tackles more time and better angles.
Logan Mankins, LG - One of the most best guards in the league. Strong is how I would describe him. Mankins on the Steelers DE�s in the pass game is a key match-up in this game. Mankins holds up very well on the bull rushes when he�s covered. I think I stunt him some and blitz him. A few delays even. Once he�s stood up, and waiting to take a hit he�s vulnerable. Is a great heads up blocker and at his best while attacking. He�s not a puller like Faneca, and that�s the weakest aspect of his game. He gets more push and is stronger at this point, though.
Dan Koppen, OC - He�s not dominating in the run game. He�s a guy who relies on sealing his man and movement. He should be dominated in the run game if they leave him one on one. His strength is movement. He�s the best the Pats have at the second level. He plays low and with good technique in pass pro.
Stephen Neal, RG - I think Neal is my favorite member of this OL. I would say he�s the most consistent member on a very good unit. He�s just a monster in the run game, as strong as Mankins. He�s more mobile than his counterpart, however. He�s a good puller, and good at the second level. Smith and Neal is going to be a war. Again, great technique in pass pro. He knows hot to sit back, and use his hands to keep DT�s from getting inside of him.
Nick Kaczur, RT - He�s built a lot like Light, and he plays a lot like him. He has some of the same weaknesses. The Pats like to grab these guys and coach them up while they lack some of the physical tools. They can only do so much. Kaczur doesn�t have the best feet or the best hands/reach. He�ll frequently get caught cheating too much on the outside rush, and leave himself vulnerable to a cut back inside. Haggans, and hopefully Woodley, should have success getting underneath him at times. If they get their arms locked out on him, they should be able to cut across his face a few times.
Benjamin Watson, TE - Patriots TE�s block and catch. They aren�t one trick ponies. Watson is no exception. He�s very athletic, and is a mismatch on Steelers LB�s in space. They�ll come to him a lot in the seam. If there�s a complaint, it�s his hands. Most of you probably saw him drop some passes against the Ravens on Monday night. That�s not an isolated incident.
Kyle Brady, TE - A great run blocker still. Lacks the speed to threaten anyone as a receiver. Reliable hands.
Ty Warren, DE - One of the quiet contributors on this team. He�s solid in the ground game. Commands double teams consistently while still holding his ground. I have a ton of respect for him. Teams are rarely able to get on the backers when Warren is in front of them. He�s still pretty athletic, and does a great job pushing the pocket. Has a monster bull rush. I don�t think the Steelers can handle him in either aspect of the game.
Vince Wilfork, NT - Not a consistently dominant force in the run game, but a very good player. He�s a notch below Hampton in my book. Does not always hold his ground, and does get turned. Once and a while he�ll get himself caught up field and sealed out of a play. For his size, he�s pretty athletic. If he has an edge over Hampton, it�s that he�s probably lighter and gets pushes the pocket more. He�s persistent and strong. Has a great bull rush. Again, I think the Steelers will struggle with him. Mahan and Simmons aren�t the guys who can turn him. What I like best about him is his hustle. He doesn�t stop on a play or get lazy as the game goes on.
Richard Seymour, DE - I�m of the opinion that Seymour is either still hurt, or simply not in game shape. They are still rotating him heavily with Green. Before the Ravens game, he held up nicely against the run. He wore down as the game went on. He�s a quick DE, and is the best pass rusher of the starting front 3. He is great with his hands. Very long arms and gets locked out. Has enough speed to threaten the outside shoulder of a tackle.
Jarvis Green, DE - Green is a liability in the run game. Teams have been targeting him all year. Tackles are able to get their hands on him, keep him locked out and control him in the ground game. I think it�s a height issue more than anything else. Of the Pats lineman, he�s their best and perhaps only true speed rusher. He�s pretty quick for a man of his size, but there�s no excuse for him consistently beating Smith or Starks.
Mike Vrabel, OLB - I consider Vrabel a second tier pass rusher in the 3-4. He�s better on his bull rush than his speed rush. He lacks the quickness to get outside frequently. He does not demand a tackle to be assigned to him. He�s at his best playing the run. Does a good job taking on blocks and not getting himself turned the wrong way. He�s a playmaker who knows how to go for the football. That�s my major concern with him.
Adalius Thomas, OLB - Thomas is weak against the run. He takes bad angles and gets himself sealed off frequently when played inside. He runs himself too far up field outside. Backs and TE�s can handle him far too well. This man is 270, but he plays much lighter. That�s good and bad. As a pass rusher, I�ve been wondering why he struggled so much with his speed. Watching him closely, I think he has poor technique. He plays too high. From the snap he generally gets himself stood up, which hurts him in the pass and run game. Harrison has success because he is great at staying low and getting underneath blocks. Thomas doesn�t have a great first step. There�s a lot of wasted movement here.
Junior Seau, ILB - He holds up against blocks better than Bruschi at this point. Still looks like a solid player, even at his age. Limited range and coverage ability.
Eric Alexander, ILB - He should be seeing more snaps with the injury to Colvin. I would describe him as being an un-athletic stiff. I�ve only seen a limited amount on him. He played heavily in the AFCC game last year, and was burned frequently. Just could not run with their TE�s. That is, admittedly, a tough task.
Tedy Bruschi, ILB - He looks washed up to me. When he takes on blocks in the run game he gets manhandled. He doesn�t have the speed to contend with RB�s or TE�s in space. He is limited to zone and can�t get very deep. Miller should have success working behind all of these backers.
Asante Samuel, CB - Samuel knows how to gamble within the scheme. If he has safety help, he�s going to jump some routes. He�s frequently left out on an island, and like anyone else can be worked underneath in those situations. I expect him to play Ward tight. They�re going to want to challenge him to make catches with a defender on him. Teams always try to catch him on pumps and double moves, but I haven�t seen them have much success. Has top end speed and will run with anyone the Steelers have. Very hard to beat deep.
Ellis Hobbs, CB - He�s been banged up lately, which is one of the big stories for me going into this game. If he has to come out again, that�s big for the Steelers. When playing, I think he�s a pretty good corner. He�s going to play soft a lot, but the Pats trust him enough to leave him out on an island frequently. He plays a bit like Townsend and McFadden - cautiously. His number one priority is not to get beat deep. He�s fast enough to run with Reggie Wayne. I think he can run with Holmes, as well. Has very sound technique when the ball is the air. Usually still plays the man instead of the ball.
Randall Gay, CB - He�s going to give you the underneath stuff all night long if he doesn�t have safety help. Take it.
Brandon Meriweather, DB - He�s getting on the field a bit now. I haven�t seen a good deal of him in the pro�s, obviously. He missed a tackle against the Ravens. In the pre-season it didn�t look like was ready to play man up on a receiver while they were trying him at corner. He�s physically gifted, and a threat. Good instincts and range. Should be capable of playing a deep zone.
Rodney Harrison, SS - Another Patriot who needs a reduced role. Harrison looks far too slow when asked to play deep. He lacks the range to come over and give his corners any help. Teams are having a lot of success throwing up in front of him. He�s just always out of position. If the Steelers can keep him out of the box, they�ve made him a liability.
James Sanders, FS - Again, I would say he just lacks range. Both of these safeties struggle playing the deep zone. Neither is fast enough to come up and play a receiver. Together, they form a mediocre safety tandem that needs to be exploited. Sanders will play cautious, which is the theme of this whole secondary.
Once upon a time, the Steelers played the Patriots on Monday Night Football. The Patriots spread the field and embarrassed the Steelers and their lack of secondary depth. The Steelers have a chance to do the same thing this Sunday.