It is ideal for Super Bowl-caliber teams to have all three components in order to be successful. Those components being a strong offense, stout defense and clutch special teams. The Pittsburgh Steelers have various players who contribute to the success of their team as a whole; and have certain guys who will need to play up to their potential to lead the way this postseason. There are several key pieces to a Steelers’ Super Bowl run, but I see a few x-factors with each component.
Quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger. Guys such as Le’Veon Bell, a healthy Antonio Brown, and the entire offensive line (especially in the Divisional Round game against the Jacksonville Jaguars) will also be important, but Big Ben is the key. Roethlisberger, the oldest Steeler, is 13-7 in playoff career. Roethlisberger has been steady throughout his career in the playoffs, averaging 239.3 yards per game with a 62.3% completion percentage. 23 interceptions in 20 games is not favorable, which is why Roethlisberger must be excellent this time around.
Big Ben needs to trust the superstars around him and facilitate the offense. Smart passes and not committing turnovers are the two keys. Roethlisberger is the most experienced player on the team. He has played a franchise record 20 postseason games and knows exactly what it takes to win big games. Sure, there are many elite players surrounding him who are important, but quarterbacks get credited with wins and losses for a reason. A combination of smart decision-making and veteran leadership is exactly what the Steelers need from Roethlisberger.
Defensively, there could be a number of x-factors as well. Linebackers, Vince Williams, T.J. Watt, and Bud Dupree all need to step up due to Ryan Shazier‘s absence. The cornerbacks will need to play tight; and the big man on the line, led by All-Pro, Cameron Heyward, must find ways to get to the quarterback. The guy who I want to see step up, though, is free safety, Mike Mitchell. Mitchell has drawn strict criticism from a number of people regarding his play this season. He has, at times, seemed lost. Mitchell needs to play the best football of his career the next couple of weeks.
It is important to note that often times during the regular season, big plays occurred because of a cornerback’s mistake. The Steelers defense getting beat deep this season was often not Mitchell’s fault.
However, safety, Sean Davis worked up at the line of scrimmage a lot which left Mitchell as the only safety deep. When this happens, Mitchell must hawk over the middle and provide support wherever necessary.
In these playoffs, he can’t be caught cheating on play action passes and needs to watch the play develop and trust his instincts from there. He also didn’t have an interception on the season. Fourteen free safeties across the NFL had 3 or INTs in 2017. A Mitchell interception late could propel the Steelers to victory.
The Steelers have not been perfect in the return or coverage game on special teams. The one consistent piece has been Pro-Bowl kicker, Chris Boswell. Boswell is 15/15 in his career kicking field goals in the playoffs. He basically single-handedly won the Steelers their Divisional Round game last season versus the Kansas City Chiefs (6/6 in an 18-15 win). Boswell has been excellent all year long and will need to continue his stellar play. Playoff defenses will stop the Steelers offense at times and any points that can be put up on the scoreboard will be crucial to the team’s success. At some point, Boswell is going to be asked to come through and nail a clutch field goal.
Punter, Jordan Berry will be an important piece as well. The field position battle is pivotal in playoff football. Berry’s 43.2 yards per punt should benefit the Steelers.
It is hard to choose a return man like Eli Rogers as the x-factor because his play isn’t likely to elevate after only a couple of weeks off. A few nice punt returns from Rogers, however, can only help with the fight for field position.
It is important to note that football is a team game. Teamwork is ultimately the main x-factor come playoff time. Every guy on the team means something. But the Steelers could see enhanced success if these three players show up to play.