Patriots

Patriots

Were the Steelers so soundly beaten in last season's AFC Championship Game that they're considering a philosophical shift in the way they play defense? Sure sounds that way. 

Per an ESPN report from Steelers organized team activities, the club is hoping to move away from playing primarily zone coverages in order to give them a better shot at beating the Patriots and winning a championship. 

"That's the way to win a Super Bowl," corner Artie Burns told ESPN's Jeremy Fowler.

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Tom Brady carved up Steelers zones in January to move on to Super Bowl LI, passing for 384 yards and three touchdowns. The Steelers didn't play exclusively in zone, but when they did there were gaping holes that Brady found for big gains.

Chris Hogan caught nine passes for 180 yards and two touchdowns, while Julian Edelman reeled in 118 receiving yards and a score. Nine different players caught passes for the Patriots that night at Gillette Stadium.

"It's always some opening in a zone defense," Burns told Fowler. "It's someone who missed a drop, or it's always some group in a zone defense. To be able to play man, to get a guy right in someone's chest with the pressure, it affects the quarterback a little bit."

Burns is in his second year with the Steelers and has the type of skill set that would seem to translate to more press-man coverage. Recently-added corners Coty Sensabaugh and rookie Cam Sutton also seem suited to match up against opposing receivers in man. 

 

The Steelers defense was known for its pressuring zone schemes for years under former defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, who is now running the defense in Tennessee. Current Pittsburgh defensive coordinator Keith Butler, who has been with the team since 2003, carried over some of those same ideas when he took on his current position in 2015. 

Changing old habits, and finding personnel to fit a new approach, isn't usually a quick-and-easy process. But if the Steelers are able to shape-shift defensively this season, the Patriots should be ready for it by the time they visit Pittsburgh in Week 15.