Lolley’s 10 Thoughts: Stop overthinking it ☕


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Steelers receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster (19) -- MATT SUNDAY / DKPS

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- In their past two games -- albeit covering a span of eight months -- the Patriots have allowed a total of six points to the Rams and Steelers. Two weeks prior to beating the Rams, 13-3, in the Super Bowl, the Patriots held the Chiefs scoreless in the first half and to seven points through three quarters in a 34-31 win in the AFC Championship.

So it shouldn't be all that shocking the Steelers scored just one field goal in a 33-3 loss Sunday night at Gillette Stadium. After all, those other two games against two of the best offenses in the league showed the Patriots are certainly capable of shutting down a good offense.

And if the Steelers are going to insist on using their offensive personnel the way they did in this game, they won't resemble anything close to one of the league's top offenses this season.

Where did it go wrong?

There's one good place to start. Ryan Switzer led all offensive skill players not named Ben Roethlisberger, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Donte Moncrief -- more on him later -- in snaps with 46.

That was 13 more snaps than James Washington, 14 more than James Conner and 21 more than Diontae Johnson.

Washington, Conner and Johnson touched the ball a combined 19 times for 141 yards. Switzer had six catches. For 29 yards.

An offensive scheme that includes Switzer on the field but not Conner -- a Pro Bowl running back and good receiver out of the backfield -- is a flawed one. The only time Conner should come off the field is when he's being replaced by backup Jaylen Samuels, who's an even better receiver out of the backfield.

Conner wouldn't criticize his usage Monday, saying he's a "team player," and he'll do what the coaches ask of him. That's why we're here. Conner should be on the field for more snaps than Switzer. Every. Game.

Randy Fichtner tried to be too cute in this game. Put your best personnel on the field and stick with them.

• Now, on to Moncrief. He was the one guy in this offense Sunday night who underproduced Switzer.

At least Switzer's production came on just six targets and he caught all six -- albeit for 4.8 yards per catch.

Moncrief was targeted 10 times. He caught three for seven yards. That's 2.3 yards per catch and 0.7 yards per target.

The Patriots have a very good secondary. It's outstanding when receivers don't come back to the football, as Moncrief failed to do several times in this game.

"We can learn a lot from this game," Moncrief said afterward.

Yeah, like being willing to use your 220-pound frame to box out a defensive back. At least Switzer has an excuse for averaging 4.8 yards per catch. He's 185 pounds soaking wet.

• All of that said, Roethlisberger wasn't exactly sharp in this game. He had Washington and Johnny Holton open behind the Patriots defense on at least four occasions and connected on just one of those.

"I wasn't good enough," Roethlisberger said following the game.

He's right. He wasn't.

And it was interesting on a night Antonio Brown was in the stadium to sign a contract with the Patriots today that Roethlisberger refused to throw any of his receivers under the bus.

"I'm not worried about him, I'm worried about myself," Roethlisberger said of Moncrief. "I need to play better. He'll be just fine."


• A lot of the Boston-area reporters were in the Steelers locker room asking about Brown and his impending signing with the Patriots.

One was even asking if that had any effect on the Steelers in this game. Seriously.

I was standing next to David DeCastro when said reporter asked him that question. The look he gave the kid -- he was a young guy -- was akin to the look he gave young Chase Winovich late in the game when he drew a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. It just came without the shove that was involved.

"Nah, we could care less about that," DeCastro said.

Roethlisberger was even less diplomatic, simply replying, "Whatever," with a waive of his hand when asked about Brown.

• The defense had its moments in this game. It really did. It just didn't have enough of them.

The Patriots' first four possessions went punt (1 first down), touchdown, field goal, punt (3-and-out). That's 10 points on four possessions against the Patriots in their own building.

Meanwhile, the Steelers' first four possessions went punt, punt, punt, punt. It was a performance worthy of a Vegas chorus line. You know, one-two-three-kick. Only they did get three first downs.

Then, when they finally did cross midfield, for all of one play, Roethlisberger threw incomplete to Moncrief on fourth-and-1 at the New England 47 at the two-minute warning to turn the ball over on downs.

Because, apparently, the NFL has made it illegal to line up and run the ball in those situations.

• So yes, I'm being pretty critical of Fichtner's game plan. The Steelers ran the ball for 158 yards when these same two teams met last December. And they did so without Conner.

They ran the ball 13 times for 32 yards in this game. That was four fewer yards than what they gained on 16 pass attempts to Switzer and Moncrief for those keeping track at home.

• Don't misunderstand here. I'm not exonerating the defense at all in this performance. It allowed 33 points and 465 yards.

But it wasn't a total loss. The defense did keep the Patriots out of the end zone on all three red zone trips. Instead, Tom Brady just skipped the red zone on his three touchdown passes.

Joe Haden missed a tackle attempt on Josh Gordon on the Patriots' first touchdown, and Kameron Kelly, in his first career start and game, got picked on over the top by Brady.

The Steelers allowed two passing plays of over 30 yards in this game. They gave up seven all of last season.

Still think Sean Davis stinks? He was a big reason for that big play number being cut down last season from 2017 when the Steelers gave up 14 big pass plays.

That's not to say Davis is a star. But he did what was asked of him last season, which was to not let the ball get over his head. Somebody must have forgotten to tell Kelly that.

• All of this said, this was just one game. It was a bad one, but it was one game nonetheless.

"We've got 15 more games," Cam Heyward said.

And things will be better. For whatever reason, the Steelers just can't play well in Foxborough.

"I wish I knew," DeCastro said when asked why that was the case.

The Steelers haven't won at New England since 2008, when they beat the Patriots with Matt Cassell, not Brady, at quarterback.

Their most recent win there prior to that came in 1997. Then, you have to go all the way back to the regular season opener in 1979 to find another.

• In 2011, the Steelers were coming off a Super Bowl loss to the Packers and went to Baltimore to open the season.

They were whipped, 34-7, in that game.

"My rookie year, we went up there and got smacked around," Heyward recalled Monday.

The Steelers rebounded to go 12-4. They wound up being a Wild Card team that year despite that record, because they were swept by the Ravens, who also went 12-4.

And that season ended abruptly in Denver, when the banged-up Steelers were beaten by the Broncos in overtime with Ryan Mundy starting in place of Ryan Clark at free safety, Isaac Redman in place of Rashard Mendenhall at running back and Ziggy Hood at defensive end in place of Aaron Smith.

"We've got a long season," Heyward said. "Nothing is predicated off that first game. Let's grow and get better."

Perhaps Conner put it best Monday.

"It's just Week 1," Conner said. "If we let that define us for the rest of the season, then shame on us."

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