Edit ModuleEdit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Steelers Can't Ease Their Patriots Pain Until January

Much as they’d like to, the Steelers won’t be able to exorcise the ghosts of AFC Championship Games Past, even with a win on Sunday.




photos by pittsburgh steelers|karl Roser

 

As regular-season Armageddon approaches, know two things regarding Steelers-Patriots, The Rematch:

No. 1, defensive end Cam Heyward feels your pain.

“They won last year and I know everybody has been thinking about that loss for a long time,” the Steelers’ defensive captain observed this week. “I know this game has been circled. When good teams do well, you’re supposed to hate on them, especially the Patriots.

“They’ve done so well and it’s time for somebody to knock them off their high horse. I think our fans have been waiting long enough for it.”

And No. 2, regular-season Armageddon will be followed, in all likelihood, by a game with even more profound implications in late January.

“This game matters,” Steelers safety Mike Mitchell acknowledged. “I’m not going to say it doesn’t matter.

“But the real one is going to be the second time we play them.”

The second time would be in the AFC Championship Game, the same game in which the Patriots spanked the Steelers, 36-17, last season.

Since the Patriots have made it at least that far for an NFL-record six consecutive seasons, let’s assume they’ll get there again this season.

It’ll be incumbent upon the Steelers to do the same.

Sunday’s collision at Heinz Field has the potential to go a long way toward deciding where that second consecutive Steelers-Patriots AFC Championship Game would be played.
 


 

But for the Steelers, there are bigger concerns.

Most prominent among those is trying to figure out how to play defense without inside linebacker Ryan Shazier.

The Steelers’ initial response to that dilemma was to try both Sean Spence (signed off the street last week) and Arthur Moats (who hadn’t played the position in his four seasons with the Steelers but had experience there from his tenure in Buffalo) next to Vince Williams in last Sunday night’s 39-38 escape of the Ravens.

L.J. Fort, who has one career start in 40 career NFL games with the Browns, Seahawks and Steelers, was also deployed on occasion in defensive backs-heavy sub-packages.

With backup Tyler Matakevich also injured, the Steelers even resorted to playing zero inside linebackers at times minus Shazier. That included asking nose tackle Javon Hargrave to cover running back Danny Woodhead on the first third down of the game.

Woodhead turned a short completion into a 22-yard gain.

For the Steelers, having to forge ahead without Shazier is now the second elephant in the room.

Cornerback Joe Haden hasn’t played since Nov. 12 in Indianapolis (fractured fibula) and might eventually prove to be the right guy in the right place at the right time against Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, perhaps as soon as this Sunday. It would help if the Steelers could at least get a look at Haden playing press-man coverage against New England, which would help them get a handle on the difference he might make in January.

And if running back Le’Veon Bell can last more than six carries –– something he couldn’t do in last season’s AFC Championship Game disaster –– it’ll be revealing and then some watching Patriots head coach and noted defensive genius Bill Belichick concoct a scheme that has to account for both Bell and wide receiver Antonio Brown.

Watching all of that unfold figures to be at least as intriguing as the final result will be impactful on the AFC’s overall standings.

The Steelers will be playing to win the game, but they should also be playing to get a handle on what works and what doesn’t against New England this season (reminder: almost everything they’ve tried previously hasn’t).

Because win or lose on Sunday, the anticipated matchup in the postseason with the Super Bowl at stake will be the game that ultimately defines the Steelers in terms of how they stack up against the Patriots.

Much as they’d like to, the Steelers won’t be able to exorcise the ghosts of AFC Championship Games Past this holiday season.

Those visits won’t occur until next month.
 

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module

Edit Module Edit ModuleShow TagsEdit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags

The Latest

Meet Pittsburgh's 40 Under 40 Honorees for 2018

For two decades, Pittsburgh Magazine and PUMP have presented the annual 40 Under 40 list. And every year, 40 people who have been alive for less than four decades are chosen because of their career accomplishments, dogged volunteer work and commitment to the Pittsburgh region. This year is no different. Read on to learn more about some of our very best neighbors.

Restaurant Review: Pie for Breakfast

Pittsburgh gets an updated, all-day diner with a sense of place from the owners of Legume Bistro and Butterjoint.

This is Not a Drill: Can Pittsburgh Survive a Disaster?

Location and geography make Pittsburgh one of the safer places to be in a disaster, but just how well would we do in the face of a cataclysmic event?

Finding Her Voice: An Acid Attack Victim Fights Back

Hanifa Nakiryowa's life changed forever after becoming a victim of a disfiguring acid attack.

Joey Gets a New Set of Wheels

Finding a dog on the side of the road in South Carolina changed the lives of this Pittsburgh couple.

Q & A: Summer Lee – Why She Won and What's Next

Lee is on her way to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives after soundly defeating 19-year incumbent Paul Costa in the May Democratic primary. She is unopposed in the general election.

House of 1000 Beers Is Not Exaggerating

There are actually more than 1,000 different varieties of beer available at the pleasant Warrendale bar and restaurant.

The 400-Word Review: Halloween

Forty years later, a new "Halloween" resets most of the franchise and returns to form.

A Life of Service: Children's Hospital Shoe Shiner Dies at 76

Albert Lexie turned his shoe shining tips into care for kids for decades.

Pittsburgh Couples with Perfect New York City Proposals

Another city of bridges provided the perfect backdrop for these romantic engagements.

Millie’s Is on the Move, and Kevin Sousa Will Make Ice Cream for Dinner

Millie’s finds a new home in Homestead, and Kevin Sousa will host an ice cream dinner with OddFellows' Sam Mason at Superior Motors in Braddock.

See Crosby Delight Kenyan Hockey Team in Surprise Appearance

When you see the look on the Kenyan players' faces –– you can't help but smile.

Watch: Remembering Roberto in the 1971 World Series

Clemente was the series M.V.P. Enjoy highlights from Game 7 –– played on Oct. 17, 1971 –– complete with comments from Bob Prince in the broadcast booth.

Le Creuset Gets Cooking with First Pittsburgh Store

Located on the lower level of The Block Northway shopping mall in Ross Township, the store will host a weeklong grand opening celebration.

Return of the Ogee: Phipps Restores Historic Glass Architecture

For the first time since 1937 — and just in time for its 125th birthday — Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens is bringing back the curved glass peak, known as an ogee, that sits atop the heart of the conservatory.