SERIES MEMORABLE MOMENT
Steelers 31, Rams 19
January 20, 1980 at the Rose Bowl
Anyone who watched these teams play in 1978 (Rams, 10-7) knew this was a difficult matchup for the Steelers in the Super Bowl. The Rams had some great minds and former Steelers coaches on their coaching staff in Bud Carson, Dan Radakovich and Lionel Taylor. They also had a 19-17 fourth-quarter lead thanks to three interceptions of Terry Bradshaw. A fourth - a probable touchdown - had been dropped by Nolan Cromwell. But Bradshaw connected with John Stallworth on a 73-yard touchdown, Jack Lambert dropped deep down the cover-2 seam to intercept Vince Ferragamo, and Bradshaw hit Stallworth for 45 yards to set up the game-clinching touchdown.
After the game, Steelers offensive playcaller George Perles accused the Rams of stealing his signs. Radakovich denied it in an interview for my 2004 book Tales From Behind The Steel Curtain. Said Radakovich: "(Perles) was guessing but he had some logic on that point because he knew I'd done it a few times. Other teams take film of signal-makers and stuff. Schottenheimer was famous for that and then they'd try to steal signals. We never got to that point."
WHAT'S ON TAPE?
"Well, you've got the reincarnation of the Fearsome Foursome up top. They just come like hounds after the hare. You watch those four guys and, literally, if I was a defensive line coach I would make them wear t-shirts underneath that go, 'Remember, it's pillage then burn.' These guys blow up everything and sometimes forget to get the ball. They're just going. When you watch that defensive line, sometimes they almost seem to be out of control. When they get there, they get there in a big splash. But if you get behind them, they give up big runs." -- Steelers sideline reporter Craig Wolfley.
How much work should Le'Veon Bell get?
"I'd like to see Le'veon get about 50-60 percent of the workload this week. The first game back is usually when a player experiences the most soreness getting back into contact shape. I want him fresh by the time Thursday night rolls around for the more important divisional game against the archrival Baltimore Ravens. I'd like to see him top out at about 15 carries and 3-5 receptions." -- SteelCityInsider football, fitness and life expert Matt Steel.
TOP SERIES OF QUESTIONS
(I'm expanding on the normal three questions here because Ed Bouchette and Mike Prisuta led a group interview with Steelers DE Cameron Heyward that was pretty amusing, first because Ed was able to laugh at himself and second because Mike picked up on something Heyward said at the start.)
Q: Are you doing more one-gap stuff?
CH: "Yeah, we're doing one-gap, two-gap, three-gap, four-gap, whatever it takes. I think we have the capability to play a different style of defense where it's not just one type of defense we're doing to play."
Q: Is it more fun to be a DE these days because of that? I mean, Aaron Jones played that position for years and--
CH: "Aaron Jones?"
Q: I'm sorry. Aaron Smith. I go waaaay back. (Jones) didn't play it for years, he played it for days. Aaron Smith played it for years and hardly ever got recognition because all he did was hold guys up. So is it more fun playing this way?
CH: "When you look at Aaron, he might not have gotten the recognition but in my book he's a Hall of Famer, him, Keis and Hamp. We're going to do whatever it takes to win, whether I'm getting the recognition or Tuitt or Steve."
Q: Could you explain the technique for a four-gap?
CH: "Four-gap? (Laughter) Hey, it happens. There was one play Bud (Dupree) took on like three different dudes because we were missing one guy. Sometimes you've just got to make a play. It's not always going to be pretty."
Q: You said you were missing a guy. Did you guys play with 10 again?
CH: "No comment."
Q: Their defensive line is high profile. Does that have any effect on you and your defensive linemen?
CH: "Me, Tuitt and Steve all look at it as a challenge. What defensive line, front seven is going to be the most dominant? It all depends on the offensive lines, but I'm going to take our offensive line versus anybody, so we expect to win week in and week out."
Q: If they four-gap, is your offensive line in trouble?
CH: (Laughs) "If they're doing it versus us they're in trouble."
What to look for from the Steelers on Sunday:
They'll have to get rid of the ball quickly against a fierce Rams pass rush in the Jones Dome. They'll probably start by flipping it to Antonio Brown and Bell, and we'll probably see some of the two-back of Bell and DeAngelo Williams that they used at times in training camp, also hit Heath Miller quickly over the middle, and once they've established the short, quick game, and the backs in the run game, go deep on a Rams pass defense that's allowing 81 percent of passes to be completed. That's 31st in the league.
The Steelers will be without two key players in playmaking ILB Ryan Shazier (shoulder) and backup NT Daniel McCullers (knee). Shazier will be replaced in body by Sean Spence in base and likely Vince Williams in nickel. McCullers' loss will be felt in short-yardage and when the Steelers want to give starting NT Steve McLendon some reps in the DE rotation. As with the Rams, the big target though is a secondary that's allowing a passer rating of 123, also 31st in the NFL. The Rams TE is Jared Cook, a 6-5, 254-pounder who's hurt them in the past. He wears No. 89, just in case the Steelers want to cover him.
I expect the Steelers to have come to terms with their history of losing games they should win, but I'm not so sure the Rams are a bad team anymore. Yes, they lost to the Washington Redskins last week but that will only serve to fuel their emotions coming home to a big crowd. Yes, that crowd will consist of at least 33 percent Steelers fans, but that hasn't been a guarantee of victory in the past either, particularly with the Steelers eyeballing the Ravens on Thursday night. I do expect a high-scoring game. Let's put this one on Ben Roethlisberger to find a way to beat the talented Nick Foles in a game with two poorly ranked secondaries. Steelers, 31-30.
BY THE NUMBERS
158.0: Roethlisberger's passer rating in a game at Jacksonville his rookie season. A spike to set up the game-winning field goal cost him a perfect game of 158.3. Roethlisberger has three perfect games, the last one against the Rams in 2007. He came close last week with a rating of 155.8. Peyton Manning is the all-time leader with four perfect games.
257: Receptions by Brown since the start of the 2013 season. That and his 3,525 yards are NFL highs during that time span.
3: Number of consecutive seasons Rams WR Austin has a punt return of 75 yards or longer, the first player in NFL history to do so in his first three seasons.
11.5: Number of sacks for Rams DT Aaron Donald in his first 18 games, most by all NFL 4-3 tackles in that time frame.
37: Foles' 37-yard touchdown pass to TE Lance Kendricks tied the opener against Seattle. It was the first game-tying or go-ahead touchdown pass of 20 yards or more in the final minute in Rams history, a history that includes QBs Kurt Warner, Roman Gabriel, Bob Waterfield and Norm Van Brocklin.
554: Van Brocklin's passing-yardage total from opening night 1951 that still stands as the NFL single-game record. Looking at the secondaries lining up on Sunday, that mark could be in danger.
* In 2013, Foles compiled the third-highest passer rating in any NFL season, 119.2, in posting an 8-2 record with the Philadelphia Eagles after replacing Michael Vick at 1-3 in a fifth game the Eagles were losing. Foles then led the Eagles to a 6-2 record last year before breaking his collarbone. He was traded for Sam Bradford this past offseason.
"He's got a crazy good arm," said friend and former Eagles teammate Brandon Boykin. "He's tall and can make every single throw. Really good quarterback."
"He was a great player back in college but as you guys can see he done got a lot better," said reserve Steelers safety Robert Golden. "We played all four years together (Arizona). He's a great deep-ball thrower. He always loved the deep ball. He always loved to sling the ball around."
* One of Mike Tomlin's top coaching moves seems to be his attention to the two-point conversion at just about every practice since OTAs. The Steelers are two-for-two with more attempts being planned. "We have a million plays," said tackle Kelvin Beachum in a bit of an exaggeration. But Beachum's not too far off.
"A lot," Roethlisberger said when asked about the number of conversion plays he has at the ready.
"On Thursdays, me and Coach Randy (Fichtner) will put together a list of our favorite two-point plays, maybe more, 10, but seven is what we take into that Friday practice where we practice our top seven. Then Saturday night we'll list one through seven our favorites. That's an every-week thing. If we don't use them we'll carry them over. Even if we do use some we'll carry them over. In years past, I think when we ran a two-point play we threw it out till maybe the end of the year, or gave it enough time, but we feel like we're going to be a team that's going to do it enough that it's going to be hard to get a bead on us."
* Blocking the Rams' pass rush will be the key and the onus falls on the Steelers' offensive line.
"It’s very familiar to me," Rams Coach Jeff Fisher said of that line. "Mike Munchak coached my offensive line. They are very sound. They are very solid. They are well coached. They don’t make mistakes. They finish plays. The pass game, they are sound in protection. They are just very well coached. Mike is doing a great job. That’s not surprising. I noticed that a little bit last year. He’s done a great job there. It’s a good group. It’s a physical group. It’s going to be a great matchup for our defensive front."
Munchak was an assistant under Fisher with the Houston/Tennesee Oilers/Titans for 17 years before replacing Fisher as head coach in 2011.
* Stedman Bailey played three seasons in Morgantown and caught 210 passes for 3,218 yards (15.3) and 41 touchdowns for WVU. But he was overshadowed there by Austin. Both were drafted in 2013 by the Rams, Austin eighth overall and Bailey in the third round. Bailey remains overshadowed but is once again producing. He has 50 career catches and is tied with fellow WR Kenny Britt for the Rams WR lead with four catches this season. Bailey plays like former Steelers WR Hines Ward, and probably has a similar chip on his shoulder due to Austin constantly taking away the spotlight.
"I can see that comparison," said Steelers LB Terence Garvin, who played with Stedman for three years at WVU. "Stedman (5-10, 193) is kind of undersized. He's shorter but he's real tough. He runs great routes and has great hands. He's smart and works hard at what he does."
* Running back Todd Gurley, the 10th pick of this year's draft, is expected to make his NFL debut with the Rams today. He rushed for 3,285 yards and 44 touchdowns in only 30 games at the University of Georgia before tearing an ACL last November.
"I played with him his freshman year," said Steelers OLB Jarvis Jones. "He was a tremendous athlete then. His first college play was a kickoff. He took it hundred-some yards. I think he had three touchdowns our first game. You could tell he was a player when he hit campus on Day One. The way he works, his attitude about the game, his passion for the game, I mean it showed."
* Leaving anyone as talented as Rams blindside pass-rusher Robert Quinn out of a game preview is akin to giving him the game ball.
How good is Quinn? Since 2013, he's forced 13 fumbles, more than anyone else in the NFL.
"I've told people the last few weeks that I've been here that he's the most impressive football player -- A.B. -- that I've ever been around, on the game field and the practice field. Impressive. Just fun to watch." -- Steelers kicker Josh Scobee on Antonio Brown.