The Pittsburgh Steelers are playing in their biggest game today that they have played in the past six years. The New England Patriots are not. For a large cross-section of their roster, this is decidedly been-there, done-that territory. Many of them were here just last year, and many of those got a Super Bowl ring not long before it.
But the Steelers are not necessarily banking on a roster full of experience, however—they have enough of that in strategic spots, such as with Ben Roethlisberger on offense and James Harrison on defense. A few other starters on each side of the ball have been in this game—and in the next game—as well.
Pittsburgh isn’t going to win this game on paper. But it’s not played on paper, anyway. It’s played in the trenches, and that is one area that the Steelers should have the advantage. If Pittsburgh doesn’t have the best offensive line in football, then it certainly has the hottest, and their book-end tackles have dealt with every level of quality pass-rusher this year. They can handle anything New England has to throw at them around the edges.
So the recipe on offense? For the most part, this game calls for more of the same. Just eliminate the mistakes. Roethlisberger has not been on the top of his game lately, particularly in the red zone, and has thrown too many interceptions outside of pressure. They may not be able to overcome such mistakes against the Patriots.
Defensively, a lot of attention must be paid to the cornerback position and how they handle the Patriots’ wide receivers at the line of scrimmage. Artie Burns in particular is expected to be tested quite a bit, which is not surprising given that he is a rookie who was not even in the starting lineup the last time these two teams played.
Along the front seven, I do think there are winnable matchups for the front seven against the Patriots’ offensive line, particularly with James Harrison against Nate Solder. Bud Dupree has seemed to be good for an impact play or two per game lately, which will help. New England is also thin along the middle of their offensive line to boot.
More important than any individual group, however, is that the defense works in sync. When the Steelers use man concepts in coverage, they have the make sure that their pressure gets home, otherwise it could lead to a big play.
One thing that they don’t have to worry about is Rob Gronkowski, who has routinely been a matchup nightmare for the Steelers. Even Martellus Bennett is not entirely healthy, yet they still cannot take him for granted.
Of course, stopping the running backs—and that includes James White and Dion Lewis as receiving threats—is where it all starts. The Patriots have had surprising success beating the Steelers on the ground in recent meetings. I don’t anticipate we will see an encore of that.