This was an ugly loss for Pittsburgh, and the Steelers have no alibi. Plenty of credit is due to the Patriots for out-coaching and outplaying the Steelers. Brady was sharp in his throws and their defense did exactly what they always do. They took away the most dangerous player in JuJu Smith-Schuster.
The Steelers did not do themselves any favors, however. There were a lot of times where the Steelers needed to make adjustments and failed to do so. To say it would have made the difference in a 30-point deficit is a stretch, but it could've easily closed the gap.
Donte Moncrief over James Washington
The Steelers' offense struggled horribly for the entirety of the night. Ben Roethlisberger was average. The team feel behind too quickly to allow James Conner to get going on the ground. But the worst player on offense by far, was Donte Moncrief.
Moncrief looked lost on several plays, including a fade in the end zone in the third quarter. Moncrief made three catches on a team-leading 10 targets. Moncrief dropped several passes, including one in the end zone also in the third quarter.
It would have been nice to see what Washington could have done on more than just deep routes, which were pretty much all he was targeted for in the game. Moncrief left a bad taste in a lot of people's mouths with this performance. His stock couldn't be lower and it might lead to more opportunities for Washington going forward.
Call it conservative. Call it playing scared. Call it whatever you want, but it was almost like Todd Haley took over the headset for this one.
The Steelers' game plan was similar to what they did when they beat New England in Heinz Field last season. They tried to do lots of misdirections on the ground and attack them short in the passing game.
Two reasons why this didn't work. First, the Steelers no longer have Antonio Brown. New England always doubled Brown when he was with Pittsburgh. No more AB, no more double coverage. JuJu was still double covered tonight, but here's a little fun fact about last season's matchup. New England doubled BOTH Brown and JuJu, giving the Steelers way more opportunities to attack them on the ground and confusing the defense with misdirections.
Second, that game plan only works if you keep the score low or close, which the Steelers did both last season. They fell down 17-0 in less than a quarter-and-a-half. You have to swap game plans before it becomes a three-possession game. You're pretty much throwing in the towel at that point.
Some of the play-calls and/or decisions are still baffling. Calling a toss sweep on 3rd-and-1, throwing a corner fade in the end zone to Moncrief, electing to kick a field goal on the 1-yard line when down 20-0, or electing to punt when you need about 7 or 8 inches. I know that last one is a bit harsh because Pittsburgh was deep in their own territory, but I'd bet if Bill Belichick were in that position, he'd go for it.
Linebackers on receivers... still?
Apparently this is still a thing. I don't know how, but it's still a thing. There were many times tonight the Steelers' linebackers were covering either Josh Gordon or Julian Edelman. On one particular long pass to Josh Gordon, Vince Williams was the man covering Gordon.
I'm at a loss for words on why this continues to happen. In no way should a linebacker, even one as speedy as Devin Bush, should be in man coverage with a receiver. No linebacker has the combination of both speed and quickness to cover receivers of this caliber.
We saw this happen last season several times, most notably in the loss to the Chargers when Keenan Allen caught about a gazillion passes.
This cannot be a regular part of the defense. If that means the Steelers play out of their dime defense more often, then so be it. You cannot have linebackers on receivers on a regular basis, period. It's setting them up for failure.
There's way more we could talk about here, but there's a couple things more I wanted to conclude with:
Mike Tomlin told Michelle Tafoya at halftime that the scheme on offense wasn't going to change much. He cited that it wasn't a bad scheme, just bad execution. That's some nerve. When you fall behind by three scores, even if your game plan was good, you have to change it. Unless your game plan intended to eventually be down by three scores.
Finally, no way in seven circles of hell should any of the Steelers' veteran players be playing in the final minutes of the game. Winning was out of the question and the only positive thing that could happen is stat-padding. You also risk unnecessary injury.
JuJu Smith-Schuster got tackled strangely around the feet and injured his toe in the final couple of minutes. He immediately came out and it looks like it isn't that serious.
And that's good for Mike Tomlin because there might be a mob of fans rioting at the team's practice facility this week calling for Tomlin's head if it was serious.
Finally, it is just week one. It's better to get a performance like this out now rather than when the games mean more down the stretch in November and December. The effect of this game may still be felt this winter, because if the Steelers and Patriots meet again this season, it could be in Foxborough.