The other day I was searching the internet for interesting sound bytes on the Pittsburgh Steelers when I stumbled upon a Sal Paolantonio interview with Steelers.com’s reporter Missi Matthews regarding the upcoming 2017 season for the black and gold.
Being a sucker for the NFL Matchup show on ESPN, I watched the clip, check it out HERE, and when asked about the 2017 Steelers, I couldn’t help but be surprised by his answer.
See the transcription below:
“They were on the doorstep of going back to the Super Bowl. If they had gotten lucky, they might have had a better shot at New England. The thing with the Steelers is this, they have had 11 or 12 wins in each of their last three years, right? And you look at the Patriots and it’s been 12 wins, 12 wins, 13 wins. The Steelers have a harder road than the Pats, let’s be clear about that. You know, the Steelers have to go through the AFC North, so it’s hard for them to get home field advantage. That means they have to win on the road in the playoffs.
“If you want to win on the road in the playoffs, you have to play defense. You gotta get to the quarterback, and I think by adding T.J. Watt, and adding another corner, like they did, they are making another commitment to playing pass defense against No. 12 (Tom Brady). This is all about going to Foxborough. This team is on the doorstep again of going to Foxborough in the AFC Championship game, and if they get lucky they could get home field advantage.”
It made me think, is this team, and this season, all about beating the Patriots? Has this team been constructed, and coached, to be able to go against Tom Brady and the boys?
Whether this is truth or not is anyone’s guess, but there is a large piece of the Steelers’ fan base which strongly agrees with this sentiment. Based on the news fans have received from training camp, one could be swayed into thinking Sal Paolantonio’s thought process isn’t so crazy after all.
The Steelers drafted another linebacker to help put pressure on the quarterback, the team has been toying with more man-to-man defensive schemes and putting pressure with just four pass rushers, rather than blitzing, has been a major talking point by defensive coordinator Keith Butler this preseason. To be honest, Butler talked a lot about that last year too, but had to turn to a blitz-happy style of defense to see any kind of consistency at getting after the quarterback.
Is this year all about stopping Tom Brady? My answer to this is NO, and my reasoning is rather simple.
This year should all be about getting home field advantage. Do the Patriots have anything to do with that? Yes, but only because the two teams meet up at Heinz Field in Week 15. Other than that, the Steelers focus should be winning the AFC North, taking care of business against teams they should take care of, and try to make the road to Super Bowl 52 come through Heinz Field.
Is there a likelihood the Steelers would have to face the Patriots in the postseason, even it were in the friendly confines of the ‘Big Ketchup Bottle’? No doubt there is a strong likelihood of that, but that can’t be the focal point entering the season, nor are the Patriots the same team they are on the road compared to in Gillette Stadium.
Look, I get it. The Patriots embarrassed the Steelers on the AFC’s biggest stage last year, but I see a side note to that defeat. The Steelers were essentially without Le’Veon Bell, Martavis Bryant and Cameron Heyward in that game. Only three players, but three very important players at that. Give me those three back in the lineup, in a game at home, and I think the Steelers have a much better chance at slaying their proverbial dragon.
Nonetheless, no matter how focused fans become on New England, the Steelers need to run their own race, take care of their own business, and let their play do the talking. If they play the Patriots in the postseason, may it be in Pittsburgh. If for some reason they don’t play New England in the playoffs, the last three times that has happened the Steelers have wound up in the Super Bowl.
This season is about much more than the Patriots. As Chuck Noll said, “Just do your job.” If they can do that, the rest will fall into place.