The journey toward the Super Bowl is now well under way with the Pittsburgh Steelers back practicing at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, still informally referred to as the ‘South Side’ facility. With the regular season standing in their way on the path to a Lombardi, there will be questions for them to answer along the way.
We have asked and answered a lot of questions during the preseason and through training camp, but much of the answer-seeking ends in the regular season, and teams simply have to make do with what they have available to them. Still, there will always be questions for us.
You can rest assured that we have the questions, and we will be monitoring the developments in the regular season and beyond as they develop, looking for the answers as we evaluate the makeup of the Steelers on their way back to the Super Bowl, after reaching the AFC Championship game last season for the first time in more than half a decade.
Question: Do you feel better, the worse, or the same about the Steelers’ ability to beat the Patriots today?
There are some—perhaps many—who would argue that in a normal universe with a more reasonable catch rule, the Steelers would have beaten the Patriots yesterday at Heinz Field and secured at least one seed higher than New England for the postseason.
But we live in this universe with this catch rule, and that means that Jesse James’ 10-yard touchdown with under 30 second to play never happened. And Ben Roethlisberger’s game-sealing interception two plays later did.
But this was by far the most competitive that the Steelers have been since they last took down the Patriots back in 2011, and in fact they spent a good deal of the game leading the defending Super Bowl champions.
The fact that they did so for the majority of the game without Antonio Brown also says a lot, as many other players stepped up and made big plays, including Le’Veon Bell, Martavis Bryant, JuJu Smith-Schuster, and Eli Rogers.
Even though it made not have looked or felt like it, especially at the end, the defense also put up a valiant effort, with their dabbling in man coverage being generally successful. It was really primarily Rob Gronkowski who dominated them, which will of course be an issue.
The run defense is still an obvious concern as well, but the Steelers offense looks like one that can keep pace with just about any other team, even though they ended up only with 24 points. Wiping a drive out with penalties didn’t help, nor did losing Brown.
While the implications of this loss are significant, I do feel that the majority expected the Steelers to lose, but they were far more competitive than anticipated. They were the Patriot’s peers on the night, even sacking and picking of Tom Brady. That at least gives me hope if they face New England again.