FOXBORO — Thursday evening ought to be the Spider-Man Meme Bowl.
Two defensive groups standing throughout the road of scrimmage pointing at spitting photos of themselves on an icy Pittsburgh evening. Two backup quarterbacks merely attempting to outlive in prime time. Two of the league’s finest head coaches, future Hall of Famers with glowing defensive resumes, dealing with off for maybe the ultimate time as rivals.
Instead, one crew is 7-5, and the opposite is the Patriots.
The Pats stink. They’re a foul crew, a tragic crew. And accidents or no accidents, the Patriots ought to have been higher than this.
How a lot better? They ought to have been the Steelers. Or at the very least of their neighborhood, with a preseason over-under win whole one recreation decrease than Pittsburgh’s 8.5; a crew with postseason hopes that weren’t buried greater than a month in the past.
Even at 7-5, the Steelers aren’t any world-beaters. They’ve been outscored by 39 factors on the season. They’ve additionally been blown out twice, the identical quantity because the Pats, and misplaced by 14 Sunday to the tanktastic Cardinals. Their power of schedule to this point is just about equivalent to the Patriots’ (a .522 opponent successful proportion to .527).
Pittsburgh’s season-long turnover luck is nearly equivalent to the Patriots’. The Steelers have recovered 45% of fumbles to the Pats’ 48%. Their damage luck is considerably comparable, with Pro Bowlers Minkah Fitzpatrick, Diontae Johnson and Cameron Heyward all lacking a number of video games, together with Pat Freiermuth, one of many league’s finest tight ends.
All of the Steelers’ wins have are available one-score video games, similar to the Patriots (15-10 on the Jets, 29-25 versus the Bills). The hassle for Bill Belichick and Co. is they’re 2-8 in one-score video games, together with final weekend’s disaster in opposition to the Chargers.
Now, that isn’t a case of Lady Luck spurning the Patriots. They’ve deserved this destiny with their play.
Historically, a minus-106 level differential within the NFL is consultant of a 3-9 crew. The Pats common 12.3 factors per recreation, worst within the league. You can’t win should you don’t rating, and so they’ve scored seven factors or fewer in virtually half their video games.
And but – and but! – the Steelers’ offense could also be affected by worse teaching than the Patriots this season.
Ex-offensive coordinator Matt Canada held his title for 45 video games, and by no means coached the Steelers to a 400-yard efficiency. Pittsburgh snapped that streak instantly after Canada’s firing two weeks in the past. Turns out, that 421-yard breakout, in a 16-10 win, was only a lifeless cat bounce.
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The Steelers scored 10 factors final weekend in opposition to Arizona’s protection, a bottom-5 outfit by factors allowed, DVOA and EPA. Their offense additionally ranks backside 5 in scoring and has a lot of the season. So how are they doing it?
The chief distinction is their younger quarterback hasn’t held onto his grenades after pulling the pins.
Mac Jones did that in all 5 video games he obtained benched and/or threw a pick-six, and nonetheless leads all quarterbacks in turnover-worthy play proportion, per Pro Football Focus. Bailey Zappe, in his first begin final weekend, provided tangible enchancment by merely tossing his grenades out of the Pats’ sputtering tank.
In Pittsburgh, Kenny Pickett hasn’t misplaced a fumble and owns an interception proportion of 1.2%. That’s tied for the bottom mark amongst beginning quarterbacks this season, and sits decrease than the profession percentages for Tom Brady (1.8%) and Aaron Rodgers (1.4%). Pickett additionally ranks twenty sixth in QBR, one spot forward of Jones, however he is managed to succeed by merely not screwing up.
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Patriots captain Matthew Slater recognized the opposite distinction this week to the Herald, when requested in regards to the Steelers’ success in shut video games.
“You’ve just got to limit your mistakes. When you get in those tight games, you’ve got to take care of the football, you’ve gotta eliminate dumb penalties. And when the game’s tight, you’ve got to be at your best,” Slater stated. “And the team that can do that with the most consistency is going to be able to win those games. And they’ve done that.”
That comes right down to teaching. Mike Tomlin is a greater coach now than Belichick, who has quietly hinted the Patriots’ document in shut video games is extra significant than it’s amid all this shedding; as if that document was a results of dumb luck as an alternative of his handiwork, as all of us believed through the dynasty days.
“Yeah. We’ve been in a lot of close games, we haven’t won ’em,” Belichick stated this week on WEEI. “So that’s what we are. Could those games have gone differently? How far are those from being different outcomes? I don’t know. They are what they are, but we’ve been in a lot of close games.”
Oddsmakers do not venture a detailed recreation in Pittsburgh. The Steelers are favored by six, a quantity that would quickly climb.
Broadcast executives will pour themselves a second scotch earlier than kickoff, afraid of the rankings birthed from Bailey Zappe vs. Mitch Trubisky. They ought to pour one out for the outdated days, of Pats-Steelers battles previous, and what ought to have been.
Better but, pour one for a Patriots fan of their life.
And make it a double.