My what a difference a week makes.
But despite the fact the Steelers defeated the Patriots, 34-20, at
Heinz Field earlier this season, doing so in convincing fashion,
and were the first team in AFC history to go 15-1 during the
regular season, they are underdogs to beat New England this
The question is, why?
Certainly the Patriots' defensive effort in their 20-3 AFC Divisional
Playoff victory over Indianapolis was impressive. But, as New
England head coach Bill Belichick was quick to point out when
asked by reporters if that's the kind of defensive effort the
Patriots need against the Steelers Sunday, they need not only
match that effort, they need to improve upon it.
Playing good defense against the Colts' basketball-on-turf
offense and matching up against the Steelers' grind-it-out game
is a little like the difference between trying to guard Kobe Bryant
and Shaquille O'Neal. Certainly Bryant creates matchup
problems, but you can believe he's a heck of a lot easier to cover
than trying to match O'Neal's pure power.
Peyton Manning and the Colts create matchup problems. But
matching the Steelers' raw power game, now that's something
you just can't scheme for.
It's highly improbable that the Steelers will jump on the Patriots
24-3 as they did when the two teams played Oct. 31. Quarterback
Tom Brady not only threw an interception that was returned for a
touchdown, he lost a fumble after being sacked by Joey Porter
that set up a second TD. Brady has not been prone to those kind
of mistakes throughout his career and won't be so generous
But those two plays were only part of the story of that game.
The Steelers physically beat the Patriots in that meeting, at one
point in the second half running the ball on 29 of 32 offensive
plays as they rushed for 221 yards.
And try as they might, the Patriots couldn't stop the Steelers, who
owned a ridiculous advantage of 42:58-17:02 in time of
Yes, the Patriots were playing without Pro Bowl running back
Corey Dillon. But Dillon doesn't line up on defense for New
England. He can help cut into that time of possession
disadvantage the Patriots had by carrying the ball 20 or so times.
But the Steelers had the NFL's No. 1 rushing defense this
season. And they allowed just one opposing runner -
Cincinnati's Rudi Johnson - to rush for more than 100 yards this
season. Considering they've faced Baltimore's Jamal Lewis
twice, the Jets' Curtis Martin twice, Jacksonville's Fred Taylor,
Buffalo's Willis McGahee, the Giants' Tiki Barber, and
Washington's Clinton Portis, that's saying something.
When you also consider the Patriots will likely be without Pro
Bowl defensive end Richard Seymour, it's hard to figure how they
are suddenly going to find a way to stop the Steelers' rushing
New England head coach Bill Belichick is a fabulous tactical
coach. And yes he would come up with a way to confuse
Steelers' rookie quarterback Ben Roethlisberger if the Steelers
were to come out and put the entire game in Roethlisberger's
(no bare) hands.
But the Steelers aren't going to do that.
Like they did all season long, the Steelers will line up and run
the football against New England and play solid defense when
the Patriots have the ball.
We know the Patriots can stop Kobe Bryant. But they haven't
proven that they can stop Shaquille O'Neal.
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