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

Historic Larimer Schoolhouse Will Graduate to Apartment Complex

Federal funds will be used to turn to the vacant Romanesque-style building into 35 mixed-income apartments.

First Look: Seasons in Etna

David Bulman’s hyper-local, 12-seat restaurant has the potential to become a dining destination.

Pittsburgh Rings, Sings and Dances into the New Year

“Highmark’s First Night Pittsburgh” features 100 performances for kids of all ages and, of course, fireworks for everyone.

The 400-Word Review: At Eternity's Gate

It's a fair Vincent Van Gogh biopic, but fails to make a strong impression.

When I Realized the True Meaning of the Army-Navy Game

As Army veteran and Pittsburgh Steeler Alejandro Villanueva sees it, Army-Navy is football at its core in a setting that transcends the sport.​

Apteka and Whitfield Team Up for a Vegan Christmas Meal

The latest installment of Bethany Zozula's Sharing Knives dinner series brings Apteak co-owners Kate Lasky and Tomasz Skowronski in for an Eastern European feast.

At Jergel's, It's Beers and Grub Near Some Rock and Roll

The Warrendale venue makes seeing a show feel like an easygoing night out.

The Mon Wharf Switchback Paves a Route to the River

The new ramp to the Monongahela River provides a way for bikers and walkers to access the riverfront.

Overseas Adventures Lead to Pittsburgh Weddings

These couples made the trip that would take them from dating to engaged.

Hungry for Something Good, Pittsburgh? Where We're Eating in December.

We're celebrating a decade of Dinette, tempted by hot pitas at Pitaland and digging the (not so) secret sauce at Salem's Market & Grill.

I Made It! Market Can Simplify Your Holiday Shopping

More than 90 local handicraft artists will come together for a one-day event to save you from a panic-induced Christmas Eve shopping trip.

Have a Stout or an IPA, with a Shot of Space

Pittsburgh’s astronomers head to the taps to discuss everything from planetary movement to asteroids to — yes — the possibility of alien life, much to the delight of conspiracy theorists and space fanatics alike.

Festival of Lights Illuminates Holiday Cheer

La Roche hosts a night of drinking cocoa, taking carriage rides and getting into the holiday spirit.

Allegheny County Could Pay You to Convert Your Wood Burning Fireplace

In the hopes of reducing air pollution and improving indoor air quality — particularly for those with asthma — the county health department is conducting a program to convert open-hearth fireplaces into vented gas-burning appliances.

The 400-Word Review: The Possession of Hannah Grace

It's tough to take a setting this creepy and waste it, but this limp possession flick manages to do just that.