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Patriots have to man up to get their offense back in high gear

10.31.11 at 4:55 pm ET
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FOXBORO — It was pretty clear – and mildly surprising – to see one of the best defensive coordinators in the NFL adjust his philosophy to stop Tom Brady and the NFL’s top offense on Sunday.

Dick LeBeau‘s game plan was obviously clear to Bill Belichick, too. Abandon the zone and go with almost exclusively man-to-man coverage across the board on the Patriots.

“They played us in man coverage,” Belichick said on Monday afternoon after watching the film of Sunday’s 25-17 loss to the Steelers in Pittsburgh. “It wasn’€™t anything that I would say we hadn’€™t really seen before, but probably a little higher percentage than what they’€™ve shown in other games. We worked on it. Again, we just have to do a better job in those situations ‘€“ protecting, getting open, having plays that maybe could make everything happen a little bit quicker, a little bit cleaner.”

But, Belichick wanted to make it clear that, publicly, he credits LeBeau and the Steelers for doing what it took to take the Patriots and hold them to their lowest point and yardage totals of the season.

“Again, I don’€™t want to get into that everything was a self-inflicted wound,” Belichick added. “I think they played well, I think they did a lot of things well. We had some plays, not as many as they did and that’€™s why the result was what it was. Obviously a competitive game that they outperformed us in.”

One game is not a trend but two games is the start of a habit the Patriots would like to avoid. The Patriots were fortunate to score 20 points in a 20-16 last-minute win over the Cowboys at Gillette, a Cowboys team that was smoked 34-7 Sunday night in Philly. Dallas held the Patriots in check for most of the game, using a lot of the same principles, man up on the receivers and allow the pass rushers to pressure Brady. DeMarcus Ware and company followed the game plan to a near upset.

Sunday, Brady was sacked three more times – understandable since the Patriots were forced to pass trailing by two scores in the second half. But when he’s had the time, Brady has appeared hesitant at times to throw deep.

There were just two deep balls even attempted, with both falling incomplete.

Brady under-threw Taylor Price on the first play of New England’s first offensive play of the fourth quarter. Then two plays later, Brady went deep over the middle, only to have Chad Ochocinco get tangled up by Keenan Lewis.

Coming into the game Sunday, the Steelers were the best in the NFL defending the long ball, allowing only one pass of more than 30 yards all season. But that was in LeBeau’s cover-2 and zone-blitz schemes. This day, there was plenty of space in the Steelers secondary, with LeBeau choosing to bump-and-run in man-to-man.

But the Patriots couldn’t find a way to exploit.

‘I think that’€™s what we normally see,” Belichick said. “Teams that we’€™ve seen a lot of man-coverage from, the Jets, Oakland, teams like that, Miami.”

The other obvious takeaway from Sunday was New England’s inability to run the ball effectively. They ran the ball just 12 times, gaining 43 yards, and one of those runs came on an end-around from Aaron Hernandez immediately after the Ocho incompletion.

“Of course, a lot of plays that are in the fourth quarter, we were down by 13 points, 10 points, of course there’€™s going to be more passes in the fourth quarter than there are going to be runs when you’€™re in that situation,” Belichick said. “Some of it was situational, some of it was we were in some long-yardage situations, more than we want to be in.”

Next up on Sunday at Gillette are the New York Giants, a team – like the Steelers – that figures to get physical with the Patriots on the line of scrimmage and a team that loves to get after the quarterback.

How will the Patriots respond?

Read More: Bill Belichick, Chad Ochocinco, Dick LeBeau, New England Patriots
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