Stock Up, Stock Down for Patriots vs Steelers

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A lot has happened since the Patriots and Steelers kicked off the NFL season, but let’s take one more look at the Patriots opening night win.

For the 11th time in 12 years the Patriots have started off the season 1-0. In fact, the Patriots have now won eight straight openers at home.

Getting the season off on the right foot is not overrated. 0-1 is by no means a death sentence historically, but starting the season 0-2 could be considered one.

Since the NFL adopted its new 12-team playoff format in 1990, just over 13% of teams that start the season off 0-2 have made the playoffs.

Tom Brady has never started a season 0-2. He’s now 12-2 lifetime in season openers, and won both games following the loss.

Brady had another great performance to start the season last Thursday night. As his four touchdowns passes led the way to a 28-21 victory over the Steelers.

Let’s take a look at who’s stock is up and who’s stock is down after Week 1:

Stock Up:

Tom Brady: It doesn’t come as a surprise that regular season Tom Brady differed greatly from pre-season Tom Brady. Something has to be said about the awful play of the Steelers defense, but Brady was masterful. From the end of the first quarter to the start of the fourth, Brady went 19 straight passes without an incompletion. Brady was just three completions shy of breaking Joe Montana’s record for the most consecutive completions in a game. Brady also continued his dominance against Mike Tomlin and the Steelers. Since Tomlin took over as coach in 2007, Brady is 4-1 against Pittsburgh, with 17 touchdowns to zero interceptions. Finally, the Patriots quarterback threw for four touchdown passes yet again. Moving him into a tie for third all time with 23 career games with 4+ pass TDs.

Rob Gronkowski: The Steelers made headlines last week when they talked up a plan to stop #87, but didn’t even come close. At times, the Steelers coverage on the big guy was flat out embarrassing. Matching him up 1-on-1 with linebackers, and sometimes not covering him at all. Gronk now has seven straight games with a touchdown reception including playoffs, and passed Dez Bryant for the most TD grabs since 2010. Incredible when you factor in that Gronk has missed 15 games in just over 5 seasons. Gronkowski is also just one multi-TD game shy of Randy Moss’ all-time Patriots record. The Patriots set up Gronkowski’s third touchdown earlier in the game, when he ran a slant/pick play out of this formation to free up Scott Chandler for the TD. The second time around Brady threw the beautiful fade and Gronk did the rest:

Dion Lewis: Rex Ryan might not know who Dion Lewis is, but he should probably find out before Sunday. Sure, the Patriots third-down role has always yielded great production, but Lewis looked right at home. When you factor in that this was Lewis’ first career start, he hadn’t played in an NFL game since 2012, and that he had just 3 career receptions prior to Week 1; it’s no wonder why Ryan doesn’t know anything about him. Everything Lewis did last Thursday night was a career high. Lewis is reminiscent of a poor man’s Darren Sproles. With his great burst and footwork in small areas, and his fantastic ability to make defenders miss. Lewis forced five missed tackles against the Steelers, proving to be both sure-handed and difficult to bring down.

Jabaal Sheard: If Jabaal Sheard continues to play this well for the Patriots they are going to have to find him more snaps. Sheard was apart of a rotation that netted him 50 out of a possible 73 snaps in Week 1. In those 50 snaps he recorded a sack, four QB hurries, and was arguable the Patriots best run defender. Sheard is a force on the edge, and was one of the only Patriots defenders to have a positive impact in the run game. Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich have logged a lot of snaps over the last few years at the two defensive end positions, but Sheard piggybacked off of a great pre-season with another solid performance.

Offensive line: Minus two starters in Bryan Stork and Ryan Wendell, this young offensive line put together a great performance. Tom Brady was pressured just 11 times, and with three rookies starting you couldn’t have expected much more. Nate Solder could go in the stock down category, as he was called for two penalties and struggled at times. More is needed out of this group in the run game, however.

Stock Down:

Malcolm Butler: It feels a bit cruel to rag on Butler for his performance in Week 1 due to the matchup, but nonetheless the talk of Butler being a shutdown corner was immediately put on hold. Antonio Brown might be the best receiver in football. He can lineup all over the field, has great speed and quickness, and fantastic catching ability. The Patriots tested Butler by having him follow the all-pro all around on Thursday night, and it cost them. Butler was beat ten times in 11 targets for 151 yards and a score. It wasn’t all bad, as many of those catches were highly contested balls where Brown just made great plays, but he was beat badly a number of times as well. Chalk it up as good learning experience for the Super Bowl hero.

Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich: Jones and Nink were two of the Patriots best defensive players in last years Super Bowl run, but both played poorly against Pittsburgh. Bill Belichick tends to stress setting the edge to his defensive ends more than anything else in the run game. Both Jones and Ninkovich got sucked in by the Steelers misdirection run plays, and lost the edge way too many times. DeAngelo Williams ran all over the Patriots defense in large part due to the Patriot losing containment on the outside. These two will have to be better in that area if they are going to control the likes of LeSean McCoy.

Run defense: The Patriots gameplan defensively was basically to ignore the Steelers run game. With Patrick Chung playing LB, the Patriots went small for most of the night. This proved to be costly, as the Steelers obviously out-muscled the Patriots up front. The Patriots three biggest run stuffers (Siliga, Brown, and Branch) played just 62 total snaps. Instead, the Pats went with a “NASCAR” formation, playing three defensive ends on the line. The move hung linebackers Jamie Collins and Dont’a Hightower out to dry for much of the game, as they had offensive lineman blocking them directly on a number of plays. The Patriots would be wise to focus more on stopping the run against Buffalo.

It was easy to give all the gold stars to the offense this week, and give bad grades to the defensive side of the ball.

You might not think of the Bills as an offensive juggernaut, or Tyrod Taylor as an elite quarterback, but they have enough weapons on offense to give the Patriots defense problems.

DeAngelo Williams was able to rack up 127 yards on the ground. If you give Shady McCoy those type of running lanes he might go for over 200.

Add the Buffalo defense into the equation, arguable one of the stingiest defensive in all of football. The Bills defense had three takeaways against the Colts on Sunday, and held one of the leagues top offenses to just 14 points (they averaged 28.6 in 2014).

The Colts weren’t able to keep pressure out of Andrew Luck’s face (pressured 17 times), and like most weeks that will be the key offensively for the Patriots. Protect Tom Brady and you often get good results.