The AFC Championship features two historically great franchises going at it once again in the postseason. We have the Pittsburgh Steelers against the New England Patriots. The last time these two teams met the Patriots won 27-16. Important note: Ben Roethlisberger wasn’t playing that game.
New England Preview:
Houston, we have a problem:
Last week, we saw the Patriot’s offence stall at times. With arguably the best defense they would play all postseason in the Texans, the Patriots offence was arguably the worst it had been all season with Tom Brady completing under 50 percent of his passes and throwing two interceptions.
Blount force Trauma:
One underrated aspect of the New England Patriots is their offensive line and how it has helped them establish a consistent run game all season. Using the power of LeGarrette Blount and the shiftiness of Dion Lewis the Patriots should look to run the ball. One thing you don’t want is for the Pittsburgh Steelers to possess the ball. They themselves love to run the ball with their superstar running back LeVeon Bell. Look for the Patriots to run the ball consistently to limit the amount of time the Steelers offence is on the field. Last time they played Blount rushed for 127 yards on 24 carries. Running the ball should be the focus for the Patriots on Sunday.
Containing the Killer Bs
Defensively the Patriots need to contain LeVeon Bell and Antonio Brown. Stopping them completely is next to impossible, however if you can limit the damage they do by making it difficult for Bell to find open lanes, the Steelers will have a tough time moving the ball. Last time they played the Patriots held Bell to under 4 yards per carry. Despite this Bell was still effective. The Steelers will continue to run with Bell whether it works or not. They have given him over 20 carries in each of his last two games. While utilizing patience and vision, LeVeon Bell had two of the greatest running games in Steelers history. Running the ball is who they are. The Patriots front seven need to plug the holes and be disciplined. Bell waits for the hole more patiently than any back in the NFL. Missing gap assignments against this team could be costly.
How good is the Steelers offense really?
The Steelers are a home run team that has a consistent offense. They take a lot of deep shots with big play threats on the outside in Antonio Brown and Cobi Hamilton. Even with two great weapons the Steelers offence is middle of the pact in scoring. With an offence that can stall at times and struggle scoring touchdowns they may have trouble keeping up with Brady. It may work against Alex Smith and the Chiefs but Brady is different. Scoring touchdowns has been an issue for the Steelers all season. They are ranked 17th in red zone touchdowns per game at 1.7. To put it in perspective one of the worst offences in the NFL, the San Francisco 49ers averaged more touchdowns in the red zone than the Steelers. You can’t have that when you play the Patriots. You are not beating a Tom Brady led offence by scoring field goals. They need to finish their drives with touchdowns.
Big Game from the Killer Bs:
Despite the for mentioned offensive deficiencies, the Steelers have one of the most explosive offences in the NFL mostly due to their dynamic duo of LeVeon Bell and Antonio Brown. Both are arguably at the peak of their respective positions. The Steelers will need these two to show up and play big. Bell is key for the success of this team. He’s the main component of that offense. He needs to have a big game for the Steelers to win. The best way to attack the Patriots is through the ground. The strength of their defense are their defensive backs, Devin McCourty and Malcolm Butler. Using Bell will be key as moving through the air consistently will prove to be difficult against a good Patriots secondary.
Defensively they need to get to Tom Brady. You can’t let Brady get comfortable in the pocket. He will shred you to pieces if you do. Last week, the Texans where getting to Brady which made him uncomfortable. They forced him into two interceptions in one game. The problem is the Steelers don’t have a pass rusher of the caliber of Jadevon Clowney on their defensive line. They don’t have one guy who can single handily dominate a game at times. You try and blitz Brady and you are in trouble. They do however have two very good pass rushers in James Harrison and Ryan Shazier. Shazier is a key part to the success of the defense. He needs to use his rare speed for his size to get to Brady.
At the end of the day, Tom Brady has had the Steelers number for most of his career. Brady historically has outplayed Ben Roethlisberger in their head to head match ups and I expect nothing to change this weekend. Ben is the worst road quarterback based off splits in the NFL. Patriots like they always do will pull out a close one. I expect a high scoring fast paced game with minimal defense outside of maybe a few turnovers.
Patriots 31 Steelers 27