Here are three things we couldn't help but notice watching the Patriots best the Steelers in Week 7.
1. Patriots defense is…well, what is it?
The jury is still out on exactly what Bill Belichick and Matt Patricia have in this Patriots defense, a unit that has only allowed 107 points over the first seven weeks of the season. But Sunday's game in Pittsburgh, a 27-16 win for the Patriots over the Steelers, was at times closer than it needed to be with Landry Jones filling in for the injured Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback. But the Patriots presented no pressure on the quarterback for the bulk of the game, perhaps too infatuated with putting an end to the dynamic duo of Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown, who combined for 268 all-purpose yards. Malcolm Butler, who had been surrendering No. 1 wide receiver coverage duty to Logan Ryan this season, picked Jones off in the end zone, a pass intended for Brown. But he was also burned for a 54-yarder later in the first half, and the Ryan-Eric Rowe shuffle at cornerback seems to suggest there’s nothing concrete about anyone’s position in the secondary. After the Patriots burst out to a 14-0 lead, the Steelers scored 13 straight points, a matter that could be blamed on a jumbled offense as much as it could the Patriots’ defensive pressure. As is often the case though, once the offense picked it up, the defense followed suit. This isn’t an elite defense (yet?), but it’s been good enough thus far.
2. Don’t worry about Edelman.
Those concerns about Julian Edelman not being the reliable Energizer bunny that the Patriots are used to can go away. The wide receiver was a popular sight for Brady on the afternoon, catching his first seven attempts before dropping his first of the game. Oddly enough, Brady didn’t look his way again, as Edelman finished with nine catches for 60 yards, his best output over the team’s first seven games of the season. So, it was a pretty good afternoon for Edelman. Until he fumbled a kick return in the second half that gave the Steelers the ball in New England territory. The Steelers failed to move the ball with Jones at the helm, and even facing a fourth-and-two with less than 10 minutes remaining and the Patriots leading, 27-16, Pittsburgh head coach Mike Tomlin chose to have kicker Chris Boswell attempt a 54-yard field goal. It wasn’t even close to good. Rob Gronkowski will get the bulk of the kudos for a game in which he had 92 yards receiving and a touchdown (the 68th of his career, tying Stanley Morgan for the Patriots franchise record), but watching Edelman return to being a consistent receiving threat might have been the best offensive development for the Patriots in Pittsburgh.
3. On the other hand… Gostkowski. ;It’s officially time to start worrying about Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski, who missed an extra point attempt for the second straight week. To this point, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick has yet to bring any extra kickers in for a tryout in Foxborough, but one has to wonder if that opportunity is going to come at some point soon, perhaps even this week. Whether or not Gostkowski’s yips date back to his miss in the AFC Championship game in Denver last January, or if it is something mechanical, perhaps in relation to the NFL’s new kickoff rules, the mystery is one that the Patriots can’t have lingering over their collective heads with each kick carrying heavier significance heading into the second half of the season. He’s only 9-of-12 all season long, but two straight weeks of missed point attempts is only going to make the kicker a talking point all week heading into the Bills showdown in Buffalo. If this is the Stephen Gostkowski that remains by the time January runs around, then it’s really time to fret about how those close playoff games might turn out.