I'm going to kick off my coverage of the Pittsburgh Steelers and New England Patriots matchup with just a couple quick thoughts, before opening it up to hear how some of you interpret the significance of this matchup. I'm curious because the NFL is interesting in that way. Winning is all that matters of course, and there will be several outliers each year that can skew things, but basically you find out things about your favorite team each week based partly on how they stack up against the various levels of competition in the league. You hang with the NYG, you feel good about yourself. You lose to a dumpy New York Jets and Cardinals team on the road, you realize your team has issues.
Anyway, I get the feeling that many people are viewing this game like last year's Patriots matchup. I don't really, even though we will have had similar records heading into both games (9-3 last year, 8-3 this year). New England is not necessarily who we must measure ourselves against though in the AFC. That was definitely the case last year, and we were essentially humiliated, particularly in the second half. This year? New England's just another team really, albeit one with great coaching, the best WR in the game, and other formidable play makers on both sides of the ball. We've seen though that we have what it takes to go punch for punch with the creme de la creme in this year's league. So I'm not viewing this game as a measuring stick for the team's overall potential moving forward.
Winning on the road is hard in this league. I wouldn't be devastated if we came up short on Sunday provided Ben Roethlisberger didn't play unintelligent football and the offensive line didn't have another Eagles-like meltdown. If it's merely a close, well-played game that we come up short in, I'll just be disappointed we didn't get it done. Not ready to nuke our chances for any sort of playoff run.
We get demonstrably outcoached. That goes for both sides of the ball. There's no bigger fan and idolizer of Dick LeBeau than me, but last year was ugly. Granted, we were forced to put a LB on Wes Welker in the slot due to an injury ravaged secondary. But still, New England was literally able to toy with us for nearly 30 straight minutes, and that was after delivering a couple of huge plays in the first half.
I feel silly even bringing up anything related to our defense, so moving on to my more important concern.
Our offense. New England's defense can be had. Even in defeate, the Miami Dolphins put up 28 points, and Chad Pennington found soft spots in the Patriots secondary all day. They're giving up over 20 points per game, and are ranked 13th and 18th against the run and pass respectively. Again, I'm not asking for an offensive explosion, but I sure would like to see Bruce Arians and our offense keep the Patriots defense on their toes for at least part of the game on Sunday.
It won't be easy, and I think Arians can do it. He's had some ups and some downs this past two years. But for him personally, this is as big a moment as any to prove that he's capable of carrying his weight in the team's quest to add a 6th Lombardi Trophy to the case. Bill Bellicheck will be waiting. At least one step ahead.
Other than that one particular matchup in the coaching department, I just hope for good fortune in the injury department and an enjoyably entertaining game watching the Black and Gold. Go Steelers!