News & Analysis

NFL Week 15 Preview: Patriots at Steelers

By PFF Analysis Team
Dec 14, 2017

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Dec 3, 2017; Orchard Park, NY, USA; New England Patriots running back Dion Lewis (33) runs the ball during the third quarter against the Buffalo Bills at New Era Field. Mandatory Credit: Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

The New England Patriots visit the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 15 of the 2017 NFL season. PFF previews the top player matchups of the game.

PFFELO Ranking: 1

Coverage by: Andrew Fleischer

Matchup: New England Patriots offense vs. Pittsburgh Steelers defense

Dion Lewis, running back, New England Patriots

  • TE Rob Gronkowski vs. S Sean Davis – Rob Gronkowski’s 88.1 overall grade is the second highest among 72 qualifying tight ends. Coming off of a one-game suspension, he’ll look to continue an excellent season in which he’s been targeted on 22.5 percent of his routes, the fifth-highest rate out of 24 qualifying tight ends. He’ll also look to maintain his perfect pass-blocking efficiency, a 100.0 rating he shares with only five other tight ends among 55 at the position with at least 21 snaps as a pass blocker. Pittsburgh safety Sean Davis has spent the majority of his snaps in coverage, so he should spend time defending Gronkowski, a matchup the Patriots should look to exploit. Davis’ 38.7 overall grade is the fourth-lowest among 88 eligible safeties, and he ranks in the bottom-10 among qualifying safeties in cover snaps per target, yards allowed per coverage snap, and coverage snaps per reception allowed.
  • WR Chris Hogan vs. WR Coty Sensabaugh – Chris Hogan’s overall game grades were 50.0 or below for three of the first four games in the season, but he showed notable improvement in Weeks 5-8, earning game grades of 76.2, 91.0, 76.0, and 69.7 respectively for those games. He had a poor game (as did all the Patriots wide receivers) in his first game back after a five-week absence, but will look to return to his improved play from the second quarter of the season. Overall, his 104.0 wide receiver rating is tied for 25th among 82 qualifying receivers. Coty Sensabaugh spends 92 percent of his snaps as the outside cornerback on the defensive left, where Hogan lines up on 66 percent of his snaps as an outside receiver. Sensabaugh’s 5.0 cover snaps per target make him the seventh-most frequently targeted cornerback, and his 1.89 yards allowed per snap in coverage is the fourth-most among qualifying cornerbacks.

PFFELO Ranking: 2

Coverage by: Mike Manning

Matchup: Pittsburgh Steelers offense vs. New England Patriots defense

  • RB Le’Veon Bell vs. LB Elandon Roberts – While Bell has been one of the most productive running backs in the league, it has been more because of his volume than his efficiency this season. He leads the league in touches (358), yards after contact (727), and yards after the catch (605) among running backs. But his 2.57 yards after contact per attempt ranks 28th and his 1.29 yards per route run ranks 29th, showing that he is leading in major statistics but it is taking a lot of touches to get to those numbers. That is one factor as to why Bell’s 82.2 grade is below elite (90.0-plus) for the first time since his rookie year in 2013. But his game grade has increased each week since Week 8’s season low of 32.0. Roberts has the fifth-worst run-stop percentage among inside linebackers and has had trouble covering running backs, allowing a 144.3 passer rating to them this season.
  • WR JuJu Smith-Schuster vs. CB Jonathan Jones – With Smith-Schuster’s return from suspension, the Steelers will get back their most productive wide receiver outside of Antonio Brown, especially when it comes to the slot. Smith-Schuster has earned 1.94 yards per route run and three receiving touchdowns from the slot, two of which have come deep (20-plus yards) downfield. The rookie’s 1.94 yards per route run from the slot are the highest by a rookie wide receiver since Doug Baldwin in 2011. His 21 receptions from the slot are the fifth-most by a receiver without drop this season. Jones has allowed a passer rating of 77.3 when covering the slot, including giving up one touchdown and notching one interception when targeted deep.

JuJu Smith-Schuster, wide receiver, Pittsburgh Steelers

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