Third downs make the difference in Patriots win over Steelers
September 18th, 2022
Situational football. It’s a staple of the Patriots Way, and it loomed large in the team’s 17-14 win over the Steelers on Sunday – especially on third downs.
The Patriots came up big on both sides of the ball on those pivotal downs, but that wasn’t the case throughout the game. Pittsburgh converted seven of its first nine third down attempts on offense. This tested the Patriots defense early, with the Steelers running 37 first half offensive plays, to the Patriots’ 26.
However, the Patriots were able to flip that script starting late in the second quarter. After that 7-for-9 stretch, the Steelers converted just one of their six third downs for the remainder of the game. The Patriots defense stayed ahead of the chains throughout that time, with the average distance to go on those third downs being seven yards.
The Patriots defensive game plan seemed to be dropping back into coverage, forcing Mitchell Trubisky to consistently pick them apart underneath. For that to work, the entire defense needs to be able to run up and tackle quickly, something they cited as an issue in last week’s loss to Miami. With another week of work, that area of the game appeared to be much improved.
“They had some things set up, but I thought we did a great job taking it away even some of the checkdowns to Najee Harris,” safety Devin McCourty noted after the game. Two of those checkdowns came on the Steelers’ final two third down attempts of the game, which had Bill Belichick mentioning after the game that the defense “in the fourth quarter, came up with some big plays, two big three and out stops.”
While the defense came up big on third downs late in the game, there was no bigger constant for the Patriots on Sunday afternoon than wide receiver Jakobi Meyers. As a team, the Patriots converted nine of their 17 third downs in the game. Of those nine, four were converted by pass attempts, three of which were caught by Meyers.
In total, Meyers was targeted six times on third downs, recording four catches for 63 yards on those plays alone. Three of those for catches moved the sticks, while the fourth was a 24-yard gain on 3rd & 26. Meyers put his head down after that catch, and nearly plowed forward for the extra yardage.
“I’ve played with a lot of tough players, and I have so much respect for how tough he is,” Nelson Agholor said of Meyers after the game. “And how consistent he is. I’m honored to play next to him.”
Through two weeks, there’s still some real uncertainty when it comes to the Patriots’ wide receiver room. DeVante Parker, who was expected to be the ‘No. 1’ receiver the team had been searching for for years, hasn’t looked the part through two games. Meanwhile, Kendrick Bourne’s role remains unclear. Yet even with that going on around him, Meyers has remained a consistent and reliable target for Mac Jones. He was impressive beyond third downs on Sunday too, catching a team-high nine passes on 13 targets for 95 yards.
As the Patriots get ready for a couple of games against some of the premier NFL offenses – they host Lamar Jackson and the Ravens next week, then travel to Green Bay to take on Aaron Rodgers and the Packers – managing their margin of error will be key. There’s no better way to do that than success on third down on both sides of the ball, so look for them to build on this performance in the coming weeks.
Alex Barth is a writer and digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Looking for a podcast guest? Let him know on Twitter @RealAlexBarthor via email at abarth@985TheSportsHub.com.