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Week 15 Game Recap: New England Patriots 10, Pittsburgh Steelers 17


What you need to know

New England Patriots

The Week 15 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers have far reaching implications for the New England Patriots. The Patriots have not clinched their division and they are no longer leaders for a first round bye in the 2018 NFL playoffs. This may not seem like a problem, but the Patriots have not played on Wild Card Weekend since 2009 and the Patriots, under Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, have not reached the Superbowl without having a first round bye. Upcoming home games against Buffalo and the New York Jets will likely end in the Patriots favor, but the Patriots no longer control their own destiny.

Pittsburgh Steelers

After a three-game losing streak staring them in the face, the Steelers were at an imperative point of the season. Another loss would bring the Steelers closer to the Baltimore Ravens and Cleveland Browns. Also, with the New Orleans Saints coming up, a fourth straight loss would have made playing at home during the playoffs an impossibility. Fortunately, the Steelers won the game and are again in the driver's seat for the division and to have at least one playoff game at home.

In the first quarter this match-up looked like a shootout amongst hall of fame bound quarterbacks. The Steelers moving the ball down the field slowly on their first drive for a touchdown and the Patriots scoring on a blown coverage by the Steelers. Things slowed down quickly in the first half and only six total points were scored in the entire second half of the game. The Steelers defense came away with one interception and one sack. The defense deserves a lot of credit for the Steelers Week 15 win.

New England Patriots

QB Tom Brady, 62 offensive snaps, Pass: 25 - 36 - 279 - 1 TD / 1 INT
In previous weeks when Tom Brady has a down week there are other areas of the team willing and able to step up to take pressure off him. In Week 15 there was little support for Tom Brady. Some of the only support Brady received was from Chris Hogan and the Steelers defensive immaturity. The first offensive play for the Patriots saw the Pittsburgh defense looking into the backfield and allowing Chris Hogan to lose his defender and run untouched to the end zone. After the initial drive, Tom Brady was feeling pressure the rest of the game. Brady did his best to step up in the pocket and evade the pressure. Fortunately, the Steelers were only able to get one sack on Tom Brady. Brady's worst throw of the game came at the worst possible time. It was the fourth quarter and the Patriots were in the end zone. The Steelers brought pressure and Brady did not see Joe Haden when Rob Gronkowski was streaking across the field. Tom Brady threw up a pass with defenders in his face and Joe Haden was able to easily pick off Brady. Late in the fourth quarter Brady again had his shot to tie the game. After leading the Patriots down to the red zone Brady had four shots at the endzone. Brady's last throw was probably his closest to tying the game. The ball was thrown over the head of Edelman. If the pass would have been a few feet lower, it would've hit Edelman in the hands to a touchdown instead of asking him to highpoint a ball over taller defenders.

RB Sony Michel, 23 offensive snaps, Rush: 13 - 59 - 0
The three headed backfield in New England can limit the playing time another player can see. In Week 15 the Patriots were never leading and therefore Michel's playing time was limited. In Michel the Patriots have a runner who gets exactly what is blocked for him and does not display much creativity on his runs. Michel's longest run of the day was 13-yards. Michel was close to have a bigger day if it wasn't for a 20-yard run called back due to a holding penalty.

RB James White, 25 offensive snaps, Rush: 2 - 12 - 0, Rec: 5 - 25 - 0 (7 targets)
The reliability and predictability of White is something shown each week. James White saw only one opportunity to touch the ball in the first quarter. The rest of White's touches came in the second quarter and then again in the fourth quarter. White's touches, except for two, were all on short passes out of the backfield. It may be designed, but it is interesting to note White sometimes falls before contact. It might be protecting himself or it might be what he is coached to do.

RB Rex Burkhead, 16 offensive snaps, Rush: 4 - 25 - 0, Rec: 3 - 18 - 0 (3 targets)
Some of the best runs of the day came from Rex Burkhead and it shouldn't surprise anyone since he has the freshest legs of all the running backs. Burkhead's versatility and change of pace ability was not only used in the backfield, but he also spent time lined up as a wide receiver. This backfield is no longer considered a 1A and 1B. It should be considered a 1A, 1B, and 1C with the continued integration of Burkhead. It should be noted Burkhead displays the best creativity in his runs. It isn't only slashing straight ahead or catching dump off passes. Burkhead's touches allow him to create in the open field and make defenders miss.

WR Julian Edelman, 58 offensive snaps, Rec: 7 - 90 - 0 (11 targets)
Edelman was the loan catalyst for the Pats offense and was close to an even bigger day. With Edelman getting open easily, Tom Brady started funneling targets towards Edelman even if it was a detriment to the offense. Edelman's longest play of the day came when Edelman was running up the seam and two Pittsburgh defenders crashed into each other. Edelman also almost tied the game up for the Pats. On his last shot at the end zone, Tom Brady fired down the middle of the field towards Edelman. If the pass was even three feet lower Edelman might have made the reception and tied the game.

WR Chris Hogan, 39 offensive snaps, Rec: 2 - 68 - 1 (3 targets)
Hogan was not involved much but did have two notable plays. The first was Hogan's touchdown reception. Hogan's route starts cutting across the field and two Steelers defenders completely lose track of him. Hogan makes the easy reception and races to the end zone untouched. Hogan's second key play was in the third quarter. On a 3rd and 16 play Hogan drew a pass interference on Joe Haden, when Haden didn't need to interfere, and keep a Patriots drive going which would lead to a field goal.

WR Josh Gordon, 57 offensive snaps, Rec: 1 - 19 - 0 (2 targets)
The Patriots couldn't get multiple parts of their offense going in Week 15 and Josh Gordon was just one more piece not firing. Gordon's one reception and two targets sets season lows for Gordon on the season.

TE Rob Gronkowski, 62 offensive snaps, Rec: 2 - 21 - 0 (5 targets)
In previous match-up's the Steelers were dominated by Gronkowski. Over the previous three seasons Gronkowski has amassed 18 receptions, 355 yards, and 4 touchdowns. In Week 15 of 2018 Gronkowski didn't see his first reception until the fourth quarter of the game. Gronkowski may not be running with the same fluidity of previous years, but he can still GRONK SMASH. In the fourth quarter on 3rd and 8 Gronkowski caught a short pass over the middle and drug two defenders to convert the third down.


Pittsburgh Steelers

QB Ben Roethlisberger, 64 offensive snaps, Pass: 22 - 34 - 235 - 2 TD / 2 INT, Rush: 2 - -3 - 0
Early in the contest the Steelers were showing a different approach to the Patriots. Generally, the Steelers use a lot of screen passes to get the rhythm of the offense going. Against the Patriots, Roethlisberger's first pass of the game was a deep pass to JuJu Smith-Schuster which was well overthrown. This didn't change throughout the game. Roethlisberger never really settled in and continued to overthrow his wide receivers throughout the game. Roethlisberger missed, at minimum, five deep passes to his wide receivers which could have led to points. Even in Roethlisberger's inconsistency he did show his signature brilliance. The scoring kicked off in the first quarter with a touchdown pass to Vance McDonald. Roethlisberger was extremely well protected and made a wicked pump fake, which he didn't need, and delivered a well thrown pass to Vance McDonald. Roethlisberger's touchdown pass to Antonio Brown was one of the highlight throws on the day. The pass to Brown was a perfectly placed ball on the back shoulder. In Week 15 Roethlisberger showed more žon the moveÓ throws. Multiple times Ben Roethlisberger was flushed from the pocket and made plays on scramble drills with his pass-catchers coming back to him. This was the case on crucial final drive for the Steelers. Roethlisberger was forced from the pocket rolling to his right. The middle line backer lost site of Jaylen Samuels and Roethlisberger was able to throw over the defender and convert a third down late in the fourth quarter.

RB Jaylen Samuels, 39 offensive snaps, Rush: 19 - 142 - 0, Rec: 2 - 30 - 0 (2 targets)
The difference between Samuels in Week 14 versus Week 15 is apparent. Samuels displayed patience in following his blockers and an ability to run through arm tackles. Two of Samuels' best runs came on counter toss plays. The play took the Patriots from one side of the field all the way to the other side. The Patriots defense did not have enough speed to catch up and Samuels ran for 10+ yards both times. What makes Samuels' breakout even more impressive is his longest run being 25 yards. Samuels was routinely gashing the Patriots for long plays. Samuels highlight play of the game came in the fourth quarter. Ben Roethlisberger was flushed from the pocket and Samuels was on a scramble drill. Samuels found his way behind the line backer and converted a third down to keep the clock rolling in the fourth quarter.

RB Stevan Ridley, 6 offensive snaps, Rush: 3 - 16 - 0
In a revenge game against his old team Ridley saw little action. He was inserted once in the first half where he ripped off a 12-yard gain. With Samuels running so well there was little need for Ridley to produce.

WR JuJu Smith-Schuster, 60 offensive snaps, Rec: 4 - 40 - 0 (10 targets)
At times, there are too many mouths to feed in Pittsburgh. In Week 15 alone eight different wide receivers were targeted by Ben Roethlisberger. With this said, Smith-Schuster continues to lead the Steelers in targets and receive optimized touches from the slot. The big day was almost there. Ben Roethlisberger missed Smith-Schuster deep twice, one of which was a potential touchdown. Smith-Schuster's notable reception came in the first quarter. The Steelers were backed up and it was 2nd & 14. Roethlisberger targeted Smith-Schuster out of the slot and Smith-Schuster elevated over his defender to make a strong catch.

WR Antonio Brown, 61 offensive snaps, Rec: 4 - 49 - 1 (7 targets)
The most over used and true statement about the Steelers offense is that they try to take away the best option on the opposing team. In this week's match-up the Steelers were focusing on Antonio Brown. Every pass going his direction was met with tight double coverage. Antonio Brown's touchdown reception came on a back-shoulder reception on a seem route. Not many other wide receivers in the NFL could've made the same catch. While the Steelers have a strong number two wide receiver to draw coverage away from Antonio Brown opposing defenses are still able to focus in on Antonio Brown.

WR Eli Rogers, 28 offensive snaps, Rec: 4 - 20 - 0 (4 targets)
Rogers took the reigns of the Steelers slot receiving role in Week 15. Rogers had four targets and caught them all for 20 yards. All of Rogers' work came on short passes. Rogers had a key defensive pass interference in the second quarter. The DPI came on a third down which continued a drive which led to a Steelers touchdown. Rogers didn't even see a target from Roethlisberger in the second half of the game.

WR James Washington, 44 offensive snaps, Rec: 3 - 65 - 0 (4 targets)
Coming out of half-time the Steelers saw something they wanted to exploit down the field. Roethlisberger stared down Washington and Washington delivered. The ball was high, but Washington made a strong catch leaping over the defender and securing the ball before hitting the ground. Roethlisberger went right back to Washington and he didn't disappoint. Washington caught the ball on a simple hitch and made a defender miss for an additional 15-yards after the catch. Similar to Eli Rogers, Washington was making plays, but he quickly became irrelevant and saw only one other target for the rest of the game.

TE Vance McDonald, 23 offensive snaps, Rec: 2 - 13 - 1 (3 targets)
Like the previously mentioned wide receivers, Eli Rogers and James Washington, had his time in the sun. McDonald kicked off the scoring in Week 15 for the Steelers. On a play where Roethlisberger had plenty of time in the pocket, McDonald's route broke outside towards the sideline and then back inside. McDonald's inside position provided a big target for Roethlisberger's first touchdown on the day.