Last Nine Weeks Have Built Blueprint For Victory

When walking through the Steelers’ locker room this week, there was a sense in the air that things were different: Extra reporters, more cameras, and less time for more demands gave an air of stress to the proceedings. For a loose locker room, it felt a bit… “off.”

What wasn’t any different were the responses from veterans and rookies alike that what the Steelers were focused on was doing exactly what they’ve been doing, week-after-week, throughout their 9-game winning streak. This is a team that continues to drill down on “details” and “assignments” and falls back on what’s saved their season over the past two months: Simply playing football better than the team across from them.

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Yet we still hear that the team with the NFL’s leading rusher over the last nine weeks, the best offensive line of the past 10 weeks, and the most prolific wide receiver of the past four years is the team that needs to play a near-flawless game on Sunday night to win.

Oh, and let’s not forget they may actually have the best defense left in the playoffs. That may not being saying much given the four defenses remaining, but it certainly says a lot when compared to the same defense that got shredded at times in the first half of the regular season.

The Pittsburgh Steelers may not have the edge over the New England Patriots in the Head Coach or Quarterback departments, but I’d love to know where else, position-by-position, the Steelers should be left quaking in their boots. That’s not to say Bill Belichick and Tom Brady aren’t enough to win a football game, or even a Conference Championship, on their own. They certainly are, and have proven it before.

But how many times have they done it against the hottest team in the AFC?

That’s exactly what the Pittsburgh Steelers are. And if not for Aaron Rodgers throwing the Green Bay Packers on his shoulders and carrying them from the burning building that was their season, the Steelers would be the hottest team in the league right now.

As it stands, they are right now the most complete team left in football when everything is taken together as whole.

The secondary? When playing as they are now, they’re on par with the Patriots’.

The front seven? Better than New England’s right now.

The O-line? Best in the game since mid-November.

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The running back? Over the past two months he’s statistically the best the league has seen since names like Payton and Brown were roaming backfields in Chicago and Cleveland, respectfully.

The receiving corps? Even if you consider New England’s depth, I’ll still take Antonio Brown & Co. over Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, and Martellus Bennet without Rob Gronkowski available.

So here we are again, back to the QB and Head Coach spots.

Is Brady better than Ben Roethlisberger? Yes. When he’s being chased by pass rushers, though? That’s the great equalizer this Sunday, as the Steelers have taken down QBs nearly 3½ times per game since November 20th.

Is Belichick better than Mike Tomlin? Yes. However, as Belichick’s career winds down and Tomlin’s hits its peak, this game could be a chance for Tomlin to slay every demon that Steelers’ fans – and in some cases, former Steelers’ Hall of Fame quarterbacks – have used to hold down his reputation. Without causing yinzer heads to explode “Scanners”-style, dare we say that if the Steelers win it could someday be looked back on as a torch-passer?

Maybe that’s a little “off.” Perhaps it’s going a bit too far.

If you’re looking for a path to Super Bowl LI for the Steelers though, I don’t think you need to go that far. And it’s not “off” to think they can succeed by doing just what they’ve done over the past nine weeks: Running the football down the throats of the other guys, protecting it from turnovers, and causing opposition mistakes via the pass rush.

They just need to be themselves. And if they do, their reward will be another two weeks of crowded locker rooms and too many media requests.

And a trip to Houston for Super Bowl LI.

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