PITTSBURGH - Steelers safety Ryan Clark is one of the team's most outspoken players.
Leading into Sunday's game, he said he believes the Patriots have been given too much respect by his team with not enough in return.
Those days, Clark said, were over.
And when the game came, the Steelers backed up Clark's stance.
Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau scrapped the zone coverages he normally uses in his package and went man-to-man all over the field with his defensive backs and linebackers playing tight and physical at the line of scrimmage. It worked.
"New England likes to make things 7-on-7," Clark explained. "(If) they go 7-on-7, they got the best quarterback out there. We wanted to throw off some timing, play some press coverage, really try to be aggressive in our zones and it worked today. Its not basketball. Turn it into a football game. Because if its basketball, we cant beat em. I think we were able to do that."
Monday, Bill Belichick said the Patriots saw more man from the Steelers than New England is accustomed to seeing from them.
"It wasnt anything that I would say we hadnt really seen before, but probably a little higher percentage than what theyve shown in other games," said Belichick. 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. Again, I dont want to get into that everything was a self-inflicted wound. 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 thats why the result was what it was."
Belichick went on to add that the Patriots have seen some man coverage from a few opponents. After Sunday's game, though, they can expect to see more.
Down in Florham Park, New Jersey, Rex Ryan lauded the "formula" the Steelers used.
And why not?
For the second straight game, Wes Welker was made to look mortal by an opposing DB who dogged him everywhere. This time is was Ike Taylor. Against the Cowboys it was Orlando Scandrick.
Welker had six catches in each of the last two games for 45 and 39 yards respectively. He had 499 yards in the three games previous.
It's important to remember what we're talking about here. This isn't a crisis like the Patriots have on defense. They can adjust and most likely will. They have the planet's best quarterback and more gadgety weapons than offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien knows what to do with.
But the gadgets they have are similar in the areas they work. Zero to 18 yards downfield. That makes it easier to creep safeties up and challenge at the line of scrimmage. When you have Deion Branch working outs and dig routes, Wes Welker running option routes in the middle of the field, Kevin Faulk or Danny Woodhead heading to the flat and Gronknandez working a little deeper in the seam, there's just not that much vertical space to worry about.
The easiest way to get a team out of stifling man coverage is to stretch the field. And the Patriots don't have a guy to strike fear in a defense. Matthew Slater has been their most potent downfield guy. He's not the answer. Chad Ochocinco? Please. Taylor Price? Long way to go before anyone stays up worrying about him becoming a field-stretcher.
The guy who could do it doesn't live here anymore but you can, for the first time, imagine Belichick dialing his number and debating on whether or not to hit "send."
Because the Patriots have to score. A lot. After the Jets and Cowboys let them off the hook by not throwing all over their corners, only a coordinator trying to get fired would pass on passing against them considering what Pittsburgh did.
The Patriots are going to have to counter the counter that defenses are going to use against them now. Who's going to help them do it?
Clark believes they'll think of something.
"We got him today," Clark said of Brady. "But we know that guys going to go to the lab and be back. We feel if we want to get to the Super Bowl, New England is the team you have to go through so were excited about the win today but no celebrations."