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BEN VOLIN

Patriots Replay: Key plays from New England’s win over the Steelers

Here’s our weekly look at the key plays in the Patriots’ game after reviewing the film.

Manning up

The Steelers finally switched up their defensive game plan, primarily playing man coverage against the Patriots’ offense.

And they often played tight press coverage, daring the Patriots’ receivers to beat them off the line of scrimmage.

Of course, tight end Rob Gronkowski did beat his defender off the line of scrimmage, consistently.

Even though the Steelers played man coverage, they kept their nickel defense in even when the Patriots used two tight ends or a full back.

This created situations where Gronkowski got lined up one-on-one against a much smaller cornerback, and he took advantage.

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The Steelers also tried to take away the short middle part of the field with an extra defender. On this play, quarterback Tom Brady has enough time to wait for Gronkowski to streak open.

But for some reason, the Steelers went back to zone on the Patriots’ final drive, and Gronkowski slipped wide open for 26 yards.

The Antonio Brown Effect

The Patriots put a safety over the top of receiver Antonio Brown on every snap.

And the safety always shaded to his side of the field instead of playing the middle.

This created one-on-one matchups and a lot of space for the other Steelers receivers.

It also put cornerbacks Stephon Gilmore and Eric Rowe on islands and forced them to make the play or give up a long gain.

But when Brown left with a calf injury, it freed up the safety to play the middle of the field and for Butler to cover a lesser receiver in Darrius Heyward-Bey.

Better to be lucky than good

On tight end Jesse James’s overturned touchdown, the Patriots had significant communication issues, with cornerbacks Malcolm Butler and Eric Rowe covering the same receiver and leaving James wide open.

Cornerback Stephon Gilmore and safety Devin McCourty also weren’t covering anyone as James should have had an easy catch and touchdown.

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Offensive snap counts
Steelers (60) Total (985) Percentage
G Shaq Mason 60 982 99.70%
G Joe Thuney 60 980 99.50%
QB Tom Brady 60 971 98.60%
LT Nate Solder 60 970 98.50%
C David Andrews 60 846 85.90%
TE Rob Gronkowski 60 781 79.30%
WR Brandin Cooks 57 915 92.90%
OT Cam Fleming 46 204 20.70%
WR Danny Amendola 37 474 48.10%
RB Dion Lewis 33 301 30.60%
TE Dwayne Allen 26 397 40.30%
WR Phillip Dorsett 25 306 31.10%
RB James White 20 384 39.00%
FB James Develin 18 296 30.10%
RB Rex Burkhead 16 196 19.90%
OT LaAdrian Waddle 14 326 33.10%
TE Jacob Hollister 3 65 6.60%
WR Kenny Britt 2 2 0.20%
WR Chris Hogan 0 591 60.00%
RT Marcus Cannon 0 478 48.50%
RB Mike Gillislee 0 156 15.80%
OL Ted Karras 0 141 14.30%
TE Martellus Bennett 0 24 2.40%
QB Brian Hoyer 0 14 1.40%
OL Cole Croston 0 8 0.80%
WR Matt Slater 0 8 0.80%
RB Brandon Bolden 0 3 0.30%
Defensive snap counts
Steelers (67) Total (934) Percentage
CB Malcolm Butler 67 911 97.50%
DE Eric Lee 44 199 21.30%
S Devin McCourty 67 922 98.70%
CB Stephon Gilmore 67 702 75.20%
S Patrick Chung 67 815 87.30%
DT Malcom Brown 53 466 49.90%
LB Elandon Roberts 53 491 52.60%
DT Adam Butler 19 413 44.20%
DE Lawrence Guy 49 519 55.60%
LB Marquis Flowers 7 197 21.10%
CB Jonathan Jones 1 418 44.80%
S Duron Harmon 28 627 67.10%
LB Trevor Reilly 0 57 6.10%
LB Jon Freeny 0 18 1.90%
DE Deatrich Wise 32 487 52.10%
S Jordan Richards 14 217 23.20%
DT Alan Branch 0 273 29.20%
CB Eric Rowe 54 172 18.40%
CB Johnson Bademosi 0 203 21.70%
LB David Harris 31 182 19.50%
LB Kyle Van Noy 0 699 74.80%
DE Geneo Grissom 0 10 1.10%
DE Trey Flowers 64 705 75.50%
DT Ricky Jean-Francois 20 60 6.40%
DE Cassius Marsh 0 267 28.60%
LB Donta Hightower 0 237 25.40%
DE Harvey Langi 0 6 0.60%

Ben Volin can be reached at ben.volin@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @BenVolin