Power play

Let's face it, had the Steelers hosted the Patriots in a playoff game prior to last weekend, Pittsburgh would have been a three to four-point favorite.

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 time around?

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 Sunday.

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 possession.

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 attack.

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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