Steelers must stop Brady first

PITTSBURGH – The killer plays that defined the Steelers' killer loss to New England in the last AFC Championship game went like this:

1.) Two plays after Tom Brady threw a 45-yard bomb to Deion Branch, Brady stepped under center at the Pittsburgh 9 and turned right to see David Givens coming toward him in motion. Brady put up his hand as in "halt" and waved Givens back from where he came, as in: "No, stay there and score." Givens retreated, the ball was snapped, Steelers cornerback Willie Williams fell down, and Brady flipped the ball to Givens for an easy touchdown, 17-3.

2.) The Steelers recovered a fumble after a completion to Givens early in the third quarter with the Patriots holding a 24-10 lead. The call was challenged after the ball was ruled down at the Pittsburgh 40. After reviewing the replay, referee Walt Anderson stepped to the mike and said that, yes, it was a complete pass; no, the Steelers did not recover the fumble since Givens's knee was down; and, hey, here are 15 more yards for the Patriots because Clark Haggans kicked a guy in the chest. Corey Dillon scored on the next play, 31-10.

The first play defined how easily Brady passed the ball on the Steelers. The second play defined what type of night it was for the Steelers: Murphy's Law was in effect.

Nothing can be done about having a bad day, but something can be done about stopping Brady. At least that's the Steelers' hope when they put their 16-game regular-season win streak on the line today against the defending champions at Heinz Field (4:15 p.m., KDKA-TV).

First of all, Williams is no longer in the lineup. The 34-year-old corner was replaced by Ike Taylor on opening day and Taylor has held the job.

The Steelers might also approach the Patriots differently this time around. Their goal in every game is to stop the run first, but that might not be such a wise idea against Brady.

"They throw a lot to open up the run. They do it opposite sometimes," said Steelers linebacker James Farrior. "We know Corey Dillon's a great running back, and can hurt you running the ball, but I think Brady's the key. He's the key to that whole offense and you've got to stop him first."

Farrior was asked how the chess game with Brady normally unfolds.

"He tries to make the defense declare itself before we want to," Farrior said. "He's always making checks off of where everybody's lined up. We just have to do a good job of disguising to try to confuse him a little bit, but it's going to be hard."

Troy Polamalu has made the Steelers' defense more difficult to read this year. He lines up any and everywhere and appears to have been given the green light to freelance, but it's just more of coordinator Dick LeBeau's organized chaos.

The role began to evolve for Polamalu late last year, but against the Patriots in the semifinals Polamalu was burned on an early bomb to Branch. Polamalu was the safety who was supposed to provide deep post help, but he instead came up to support a shorter route.

It's unlikely Polamalu will be asked to play much center field today against Brady.

"Half the time we don't even know what he's doing, so I know any other team won't know what he's doing," Farrior said. "Troy does a good job of disguising. You never know what he's going to do. He always knows what he's supposed to do, but he could be lined up anywhere and come from anywhere or drop from anywhere. That's the good thing about Troy.

"It's a big difference. A lot of times teams don't know whether he's in the box or out of the box. A lot of times quarterbacks make their checks off of whether the safety's in the box or not. If you don't know where he's at, or how to count him, it's going to confuse the offense."

The Steelers have come a long way from the days when former coordinator Tim Lewis used personnel packages as a response to what offenses wanted to do.

"Yeah. It's all about what we do," said Polamalu. "I really believe it's all about what we do, and we've got to force them into situations they don't like to be into."

That's easier said than done against Brady, but at least the Steelers are trying. Anything's better than allowing him orchestrate the action – the scoreboard -- from the comfort of the line of scrimmage.

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