Answer Man

PITTSBURGH – Once again, the New England Patriots are coming to town. Last time, the Answer Man expected a win for the Steelers in the AFC Championship game and he was wrong. Hopefully, he likes the Patriots this year.

JW: Where do we start with New England?

AM: Let's do it by position.

JW: OK. Is their offensive line still their weak point?

AM: They're very soft. They just get in your way. They're not great run blockers. They don't do a bad job of pass protecting, but it's not by accident that Corey Dillon has not been on track. The guy who's playing left guard, the rookie, Logan Mankins, he looks like a rookie. The front five is very average. There's not a guy on that offensive line who could start for the Steelers.

JW: It doesn't seem to matter, does it?

AM: No, not if the quarterback keeps making plays. He's phenomenal. He has great pocket presence, sees the field as well as anybody, puts the ball on the spot in stride with consistency. He's a phenomenal guy. He has a great feel for where the rush is coming from. He's the best. If I was starting a franchise, I'd take him first.

JW: Might the running back be done? He's coming off a career high in carries.

AM: It's hard to tell. They're not giving him the ball enough. I mean, it's hard to tell. People can wonder is it because he's done that they're not using him? Or are they not using him very effectively and it only looks like he's done? You'd have to see him carry the load and they haven't done it yet this year.

JW: So how do you defend these guys? Do you stop the run first against the Patriots?

AM: With them you go by personnel groupings and formations. If they come out in the shotgun, what's the point?

JW: Can you even have a plan then?

AM: I think you do, because you know what they've done in the past and you go accordingly. To be honest with you, they're not real impressive offensively on film. You would look at this match-up and say this sure does favor the Steelers. I mean, if the Steelers show up and they don't turn the ball over, they shouldn't lose to New England. Even if you go back to the AFC Championship game: two turnovers on the first two drives, you're down 10-0 before the game even starts. You can't dig out of a 24-3 halftime hole against a team like this is the AFC Championship game, although they almost did.

JW: Yes, they almost did. They blew it by kicking the field goal from the 2-yard line. Have you heard any further explanation about why Bill Cowher didn't go for it there?

AM: No. All I can say about that is where was the consistency in the play-calling? I mean, Bill just seemed to be grabbing a little bit of this, a little bit of that. He'd go for it on one fourth down and not another. He was all over the place. In a big game, everyone just has to do their job. Even the coach.

JW: Defensively, does New England's line stand out with all of these highly drafted players?

AM: Jarvis Green's not a bad player. He's kind of a nice player. Obviously Richard Seymour is very good. (Vince) Wilfork is a big guy who plugs the middle. At linebacker, it looks to me like (Willie) McGinest has lost a step; (Mike) Vrabel is playing very well; (Monty) Beisel and Chad Brown are athletic, not too strong.

JW: Is that better for them against Willie Parker? Speed over stoutness?

AM: Maybe. Maybe.

JW: In their secondary, is Rodney Harrison losing a step yet?

AM: You'd like to think that, but he seems to be in the mix every play. You would think he's missing a step, but he's a strong safety. If he were a free safety and was losing a step, you'd be able to tell. Strong safety? Nah. It's not as easy to see.

JW: So how do you see this game?

AM: I like the Steelers. To me – but I thought this before the AFC Championship game, too – the match-ups are so favorable to the Steelers. I think in the AFC Championship game they were tight. The quarterback was tight; it was all new to him. The turnovers killed them. I just don't think New England's very good. Wait. Let me re-phrase that: New England is not one of the best teams in the AFC anymore. Now they're just a decent football team with a great quarterback and a couple of very good receivers.

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