Behind Enemy Lines: Pittsburgh Steelers
By Scout.com Staff
The Pittsburgh Steelers have played the foils to the New England Patriots' Super Bowl dynasty and they'd like to put an end to it. But they learned one thing from last season, beating the Patriots in the regular season does not necessarily help accomplish the task.
But they could knock them down to 1-2 and take another step toward their own goal of winning a Super Bowl when they play Sunday at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh.
"This team is going to come in here and they're not going to be intimidated by Heinz Field," Steelers coach Bill Cowher said. "They're probably going to enjoy coming into Heinz Field."
What's there not to like for the Patriots? They won two AFC championship games in Heinz Field over the past four years, launching them to two of their three Super Bowl victories. They did lose in the regular season in Pittsburgh last year 34-20. It ended New England's regular-season win streak at 18, the longest ever in the NFL. But it did not dash their Super Bowl plans even though the Steelers earned the right to host the AFC title game by virtue of that victory. The loss to the Pats in the title game ran Cowher's record in the playoffs against New England to 1-3.
"We're playing the defending champions," Cowher said, "and this game has nothing to do with last year or revenge or anything like that. It's still week three of the regular season and I think for both teams there's a degree of importance with it, certainly from New England's standpoint. They had a tough loss in Carolina last week and they're not used to losing, period, but back to back weeks is unheard of for New England. I think that compounds the challenge we have this week."
The Patriots last lost two in a row in 2002, when they went 9-7 and did not make the playoffs. They've lost only two games in each of the past two seasons.
"It's going to be a big challenge for us," Cowher said. "This is a good football team. They have a lot of weapons. They can spread you out, they can throw it, then they get back in there - they've got three really good tight ends and now they can kind of pound on you as well."
The Steelers plowed through their first two games by a combined 61-14 score, making it look easy. Now they play a stretch of games that includes the defending world champs and, after an off week, a game at San Diego, home against Jacksonville and then at Cincinnati.
But one at a time, especially when it's the Patriots this week.
"From our standpoint, it's a good barometer to see where we are, clearly the best team we will have played to this point," Cowher said. "We'll find out a little bit about ourselves Sunday."
The Steelers are off to a fast start, the first time they've been 2-0 since 1999, when they failed to make the playoffs. Their best start under Cowher is 3-0, his first team in 1992. He promised they will not lose the perspective that the game against New England counts no more than others, but he did not promise they wouldn't get excited about it.
"I have never had a problem getting hyped up for a game. Our guys will be hyped up for the game. Just like we were last week. That's what this business is all about, making sure you take nothing for granted, that you look at each week and understand the importance of preparation, the importance of the mind-set you have going in, and it will not get done just by showing up, and I think this week moreso than maybe in the last couple of weeks. We have to be on top of our game, we have no margin of error against this football team. I think our players understand that."
SERIES HISTORY: 22nd meeting. Steelers lead the series 13-8, including a 10-6 record in Pittsburgh. However, the Patriots are 2-1 at Heinz Field and 3-1 in the playoffs. That includes last year's AFC championship game in Heinz Field, won by New England, 41-27. The Steelers ended the Patriots' regular-season win streak at 18 last Oct. 31 with a 34-20 victory in Pittsburgh.
--K Jeff Reed has the Steelers record for consecutive successful field goal tries at 21 and his coach's the coach's faith.
"Jeff has really been very, very dependable," Bill Cowher said. "He's been good and he's been solid. I don't want to give him the kiss of death or anything, so I don't want to talk much about it but he's been pretty dependable."
--Dan Rooney is not yet ready to put the New England Patriots among the NFL's dynasty teams, certainly not in with those from the Packers of the '60s, the Steelers of the '70s or the 49ers of the '80s.
"I don't want to go that far, not yet," Rooney said yesterday. "If they win another one, then you can start saying big things. Where they are now, I wouldn't say they're the best of all those teams."
New England has won three of the past four Super Bowls.
"They did what they had to do," said Rooney. "It was a great feat. People try to compare it (to past dynasties) ... Green Bay, the Steelers, the 49ers and now. I think we're the best, but I'm somewhat biased."
--The Steelers have run the ball 68.9 percent of the time in their first two games. Last season they ran it 61 percent of the time, the highest of any team the past two decades.
--Cowher does not think it matters that the Patriots lost both of their coordinators from their Super Bowl teams this year. "We lost two last year and went 15-1," Cowher said.
BY THE NUMBERS: 14 - Points the Steelers allowed in the first two games, their fewest since the 1943 Steagles - the Steelers and Eagles merged during World War II - allowed 14. They also allowed 14 in the first two games of 1937 and allowed only 6 in the first two of 1936.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It didn't help them that much." -- Bill Cowher on the coolant the Texans injected into special body packs to help ward off the 100-degree heat on the field in Houston Sunday.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
Duce Staley practiced on Wednesday and is expected to dress for his first game
this year. He had knee surgery (meniscus) Aug. 8, one full week into training
--P Chris Gardocki nearly had the first punt of his career blocked Sunday in Houston. Gardocki has 1,050 punts in his 15-year career without one blocked. He has had to punt just four times in two games this season.
--FB Dan Kreider continues to be an important factor in the Steelers ground game but he has not started in the first two games because they opened with two tight ends. He has no carries, not unusual for him. Of the 618 times the Steelers ran the ball in 2004, Kreider ran it four times - three fewer than wide receiver Hines Ward.
--QB Ben Roethlisberger has not thrown an interception and been sacked just once. Against the Patriots in the AFC title game Jan. 23, he was intercepted three times.
--RB Verron Haynes continues to be the third-down back as Willie Parker starts. Haynes, though, has caught just one pass.
GAME PLAN: It ain't broke, so the Steelers won't try to fix it on offense against the Patriots. They will run, run and run some more and pass only when they have to. They've been running more on first downs with Willie Parker. On defense, they will stay aggressive and go after Tom Brady, not allowing him to sit in the pocket and pick them apart, if they can help it. They have 11 sacks in two games and they're coming from everywhere. Strong safety Troy Polamalu had three last week.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Steelers safeties Troy Polamalu and Chris Hope vs. Patriots WR Deion Branch - Branch singed them deep twice early in last January's AFC championship game, once for a 60-yard touchdown.
INJURY IMPACT: RB Jerome Bettis likely won't play until the Steelers
next game Oct. 10 at San Diego. He is doubtful this week with a calf injury from
the third preseason game and the Steelers have the following week off after their
game Sunday against the Patriots. ... RB Duce Staley (knee) should be ready to
play this week against the Patriots. ... WR Sean Morey (hamstring) is listed as
questionable but he should be able to play.
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