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Pittsburgh Steelers should be wary of the paper-game trap

As Steelers Nation has learned only too well in recent years, Sunday's 1:00 p.m. matchup with the St. Louis Rams at the Edward Jones Dome won't be decided on the basis of paper advantages.

Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

In the manic-depressive state typical of avid pro football fans during the regular season, it's easy to focus on all of the positive indicators following a dominant victory and facing an opponent which, on paper, appears to present a favorable matchup. Thus, Pittsburgh will march into the Edward Jones Dome on Sunday led by Ben Roethlisberger, a quarterback who has played in 161 regular season games, compared to only 30 for the Rams' QB Nick Foles. Big Ben has thrown for a career total of 39,777 yards versus Foles' 7,200 career yards, while compiling 255 touchdowns to Foles' 48. Against the Washington Redskins in Week 2, the Rams rushed for a grand total of 67 yards while compiling only 213 yards of total offense and converting only two out of 12 third-down situations.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Rams have allowed their opponents in the first two weeks of the season to complete 81 percent of their passes. In fact, Washington QB Kirk Cousins threw only four incompletions in the Redskins' Week-2 victory.

It seems to be a pretty safe bet that Steelers' head coach Mike Tomlin won't be citing any of these stats during the team's weekly preparations, and for good reason. How many times have Steelers fans watched in disbelief as their heroes waltzed into a stadium to face a team that seemed, on paper, to represent a likely victim, only to be victimized themselves? If ever there were a contest that shouts "trap game," this surely would be the one.

So how will the Steelers avoid meeting a similar fate in St. Louis on Sunday? How will they prevent the fan mania generated by dominating San Francisco from devolving into high-pitched calls for the head of every Steelers player, coach and assistant? An excellent first step would be for the Steelers' defense to sustain the passion that it showed in hounding Colin Kaepernick at Heinz Field on Sunday afternoon. Despite the clear disadvantage of Nick Foles in terms of career stats versus Roethlisberger, some other numbers speak more highly of the capabilities of the Rams' QB. For example, Foles has passed for a 7.6-yard average per play during his career, compared to Ben's 7.9-yard average. Not a huge difference. Foles also has a career average of 240 passing yards per game compared to Ben's 247-yard average. And in terms of career QB rating, fans might be surprised to know that Foles stands at 94.2, just one tick behind Ben's 94.3 mark.

Because Foles clearly has the ability to make big plays if given adequate time, the Steelers' defense must maintain the momentum built up versus the 49ers when it takes the field in St. Louis on Sunday. Particularly with the highly anticipated return of Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell, it would truly be a Twilight Zone moment if the Steelers' offense failed to show up at the dome and score enough points to secure a victory. But do we really want to see a shootout game on the road, where the outcome remains in substantial doubt when the fourth quarter rolls around? No, it's plainly time to throw out all of the paper comparisons and focus strictly on the challenge at hand.