We have seen this script before…..back in 2001-02 and 2004-05 and this year will be no different….the New England Patriots vs Pittsburgh Steelers for the right to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl. These two teams tangled back in Week 7 this year which resulted in a Patriots win ( 27-16) at Heinz Field, but a whole lot has changed since then.
What follows is my 5 keys to a Steelers victory and a 9th Super Bowl Appearance.
- Early Start- This Steelers team needs to start off with a touchdown in the 1st quarter. Field goals are decent, but against a Tom Brady team….field goals are like turnovers. Since 2002, the Steelers have scored a touchdown in the 1st quarter against the Patriots 4 times out of 12 match-ups. Of those four match-ups, two of them have resulted in a win. This Steelers team has to come out and control the time of possession in the 1st quarter and end with a touchdown for it to be a successful drive. If they can score a touchdown early and take the crowd out of it, the Steelers have a good chance of controlling the tempo of the game. We have all seen what happens when they crowd is roaring and the Patriots are putting up points in a hurry. Avoid this….and your one step closer to the Lombardi trophy.
2. Touchdowns- Now this is a obviously one I know you are thinking right ?? To beat Tom Brady…you have to limit the opportunities that he has to score and capitalize on the chances you get. This past weekend Chris Boswell kicked an NFL record 6 field goals to a Steelers Divisional victory. Pittsburgh will need to capitalize on those chances and walk away with touchdowns instead of field goals. Each field goal is a blown opportunity to build the lead on New England. It places more pressure on the defense to hold the Patriots.
3. Pass Defense- This has been the Achilles heal for the Steelers all season and in past seasons. The Steelers defensive backs have improved over this season but still have work to do to make it the tough defense of the middle 2000’s. The defensive backs have improved like I said and haven’t allowed a QB to throw for more than 253 yards a game since Week 10. If the defense can control Edelmann, Hogan, and Bennett and the pass rush can hurry Brady, the Steelers have a chance to be successful. Brady threw for 222 yards and 2 touchdowns in Week 7 with 93 yards and a touchdown going to Rob Gronkowski. Gronk is out for this game which should be a huge help to the Steelers defense. Edelmann will continue to be a pest for the Steelers with his screen and slot catches. LeGarrett Blount rushed for 127 yards and had two touchdowns last game and it will likely be Dion Lewis and Blount running wild again. If the Steelers can slow down the passing game, the front 7 will have to shut down the running game which hasn’t been successful in the past.
4. Pass Rush Brady – It’s been proven by Denver and even last week by Houston, if you can get to Brady and make him rush or run around….you have a chance to force a turnover and make a difference in the game. Denver was successful last year in the AFC Championship against Brady with their pass rush and Houston even had Clowney get into the backfield against Brady. If James Harrison, Lawerence Timmons and Ryan Shazier can get after Brady, the Steel Curtain will advance.
5. The Three B’s – Ben, Brown, Bell……..the three franchise players for the Steelers. This team’s success all depends on how these players perform. This is the first postseason where all three will play together for an AFC Championship. This team has the ability to put up points in a hurry and they have to gets touchdowns as I explained earlier. Roethlisberger needs to stay patient and not force passes into tight spots. Ben sometimes gets greedy and either throws a bad ball or hang onto the ball too long and either injures himself or fumbles the ball. Le’Veon had 149 all-purpose yards in Week 7 and then Steelers have been most successful during this 8 game winning streak by giving the ball to Le’Veon and letting him do his work. If the run game is successful and chewing up yards and controlling the time of possession, keeping Brady off the field is a win itself. When close to the goal-line, Pittsburgh needs to slam it in with Bell and not rely on the passing game like last week when Roethlisberger threw the interception in the end zone. These are missed opportunities that Pittsburgh can’t have.
If the Steelers can do at least 4 of these key factors…..they will go to the Super Bowl again and compete for their 7th championship.
My Prediction : Steelers 31 Patriots 27
Let me know what you thoughts are and what keys you think will be huge in this AFC Championship. I’m on Twitter at @ReefsTake and @Brandonreef. Be sure to subscribe to our podcast Reef’s Take on ITunes as well.