PIT-NE grades: Trouble for Steelers' O-line, defense
Here are the top takeaways and highest-graded players from the Patriots-Steelers game:
New England Patriots
–The Steelers are breaking in a new defense this season and the connection between QB Tom Brady (+4.6) and TE Rob Gronkowski (+4.4) ensured that it was a rough start to the post Dick LeBeau era. Miscommunications and coverage busts were paired with an at times uncoverable pitch-and-catch combination, with Brady kicking the season off by going 6-of-7 for 122 yards and a touchdown on intermediate targets.
–The last play we saw from Malcolm Butler was a Super Bowl-winning break on a slant route, but the Patriots’ now starting corner got 2015 off to a rough start (-6.2) Thursday night. Shadowing the ever-elusive Antonio Brown (+2.9), Butler surrendered 133 yards and a touchdown to the Steelers’ No. 1 receiver, and was spared another 29-yard completion late in the fourth quarter by a Kelvin Beachum penalty.
–Patriots fans will be hoping that DT Dominique Easley’s (+0.9) season is not over after a mere eight snaps. In a brief performance, Easley looked to be carrying his strong preseason form into the regular season, disrupting runs up the middle, but an injury quickly saw an end to his game. In his absence, first-round pick Malcom Brown (-1.6) and rookie defensive end Geneo Grissom (-0.5) struggled to hold position against the run — let alone provide the disruption Easley offered in the open encounters.
QB Tom Brady (+4.6)
TE Rob Gronkowski (+4.4)
WR Julian Edelman (+3.5)
RT Sebastian Vollmer (+2.6)
S Devin McCourty (+2.0)
–It was ultimately a losing effort, but Ben Roethlisberger (+6.2) and Antonio Brown (+4.3) tried to match the duo of Brady and Gronkowski blow for blow last night. Roethlisberger made the most impressive throw of the night — a sideline pass to WR Markus Wheaton (-0.1) — but his interception in the fourth quarter combined with a litany of others from the Steelers ultimately cost them a chance at spoiling New England’s Super Bowl party.
–The Steelers’ AFC North rivals in Cleveland discovered last season just what a drop in play you can suffer when you losing your starting center, and Cody Wallace’s (-5.0) first start in place of Maurkice Pouncey suggested Pittsburgh are in for similar struggles. In the ground game he struggled with defensive linemen and linebackers alike, while in the passing game he surrendered four pressures (1 sack, 1 hit, 2 hurries) to four different New England defenders.
–While the Steelers didn’t have a single corner victimized in the same manner as the Pats’ Malcolm Butler was, as a unit they fared no better. While no Pittsburgh corner surrendered more than 50 yards, the trio of William Gay (-0.2), Antwon Blake (-2.6) and Cortez Allen (-4.2) all earned coverage grades of -0.9 or worse, with Blake and Allen also missing two tackles apiece.
QB Ben Roethlisberger (+6.2)
RB DeAngelo Williams (+4.6)
WR Antonio Brown (+4.3)
LG Ramon Foster (+4.0)
NT Steve McLendon (+2.0)