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Steelers Seek To Slay The Dragon In New England – AFC Championship Preview

Steelers dragon Photo via NFL Media


The Pittsburgh Steelers will go dragon slaying in New England.

The Pittsburgh Steelers seek to slay the dragon that is the New England Patriots with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line. The Steelers are riding high coming into the AFC Championship game as they are currently on a nine-game winning streak. If Mike Tomlin and company hope to punch their ticket to the Super Bowl, they will have to play a nearly perfect game.

This season, the Steelers are a perfect 5-0 in rematches and will need to make it 6-0 if they want their season to continue. The last time these two teams played, the rosters looked a bit different. Ben Roethlisberger did not play, and quarterback Landry Jones did just fine in his place going 29/47 for 281 yards, one touchdown, and one interception. The defense wasn’t playing like they are now, as they were without Ryan Shazier and Bud Dupree, and Artie Burns and Sean Davis were not starting yet. The Patriots won that matchup 27-16 but there were positives that the Steelers could take from that game.

Looking forward to Sunday, it is going to be a grudge match. Le’Veon Bell has been playing at a historically high level, as he has set the record for the most rushing yards in a player’s first two postseason games with 337 yards. Bell can put himself in great company on Sunday if he runs for 131 yards or more, which would make him third all-time in single postseason rushing performances. The last time these two teams played, Bell ran for 81 yards and was the leading receiver with 10 receptions for 68 yards.

One offensive player who will have to play great will be Ben Roethlisberger. Roethlisberger hasn’t exactly played up to his potential in this postseason, and he will have to turn that around if the Steelers hope to have any chance at winning this game. He hasn’t had to play at a high level in the past two games because the Steelers have taken a conservative approach. Roethlisberger is currently 3-1 in AFC Championship games with his only loss coming to the Patriots, who he called the “dragon” that the team is trying to slay. Offensive Coordinator Todd Haley commented on his quarterback’s growth over the last few years.

“I think he has just continued to evolve as far as his complete game goes. He has continued to grow with his experience. I think he has played some of his best football this year and in the last couple of years. I think that’s the name of the game. Part of that is eliminating minus plays. When you have fewer sacks and take fewer hits, that’s a positive for what we are trying to get done. And yet with him, we know he is still capable when needed to make those special extended plays that he is well-known for. I think he has just evolved in his play, and that’s really what we are trying to get done.”

During the Steelers winning streak, the defense is playing at an elite level. As the linebackers have found success, so have the Steelers defense. The oldest remaining player in the playoffs, James Harrison at 38 years old, remains one of the best edge rushers in the NFL. Ryan Shazier has used his athleticism to not only be one of the teams leading tacklers, but has also recorded an interception in three consecutive games. Lawerence Timmons has found his stride as well as he lead the team in solo tackles for the entire season. Pro Football Focus has this unit ranked second among the remaining playoff teams.

The secondary has followed the footsteps of their front seven, finding that youth has been the answer. First-round rookie cornerback Artie Burns was picked on early in the year, but against Kansas City he allowed just two catches for 13 yards and he has allowed 40 or fewer receiving yards in seven of his last nine games starting. Sean Davis has came in as a rookie as well and grabbed the starting role at safety by the horns and has not let go. These guys will have to play the best game of their lives if they hope to keep Tom Brady off the field.

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There has not been a lack of drama heading into this game, as if the media coverage for this game wasn’t already big enough. Antonio Brown slipped up early as he was caught recording his coach pumping up the team after a big win over the Kansas City Chiefs. Then Julian Edelman took a shot at the Steelers organization and the way they run their team. Even with the heightened intensity, Mike Tomlin is not worried about the big moment.

“We are in the AFC Championship. You aren’t going to creep in the back door of a dragon in New England and win a football game, and creep out of there with an AFC Championship. I am not worried about our team’s ability to deal with the potential distractions. We have prepared for distractions as much as we have prepared for this opportunity. We realize that there are four teams working this week, and there are 28 watching. We realize there are the same amount of television and radio shows that there normally are. So there is a certain intensity that comes with being in this tournament. They have to fill that air time with something. So, we are not concerned about that. That has no consequence on us or our preparation, and ultimately our play. We are just going to be a team that goes up there ready to play and play winning football, as we expect them to be.”

The Steelers and Patriots will be the late game on Sunday, and either the Atlanta Falcons or Green Bay Packers will already be waiting for them. If the Steelers hope to win on Sunday they will have to dominate the rushing game, sack Tom Brady and force him to make multiple mistakes, and will absolutely have to score touchdowns. Sounds like a simple gameplan, but the dragon Bill Belichick will definitely make it a lot more complicated than that.

Statistics and quotes referenced via Pittsburgh Steelers Media Guide