Conference championship games only come around once per year. So this indeed is a special time for Steelers Nation, which has experienced the excitement of this week 15 times previously. The Steelers are 8-7 in the history of this game, but their opponent has vanquished them both times they’ve faced each other in this contest. You know the coach and the quarterback only too well. But let's meet the cast of characters that will be most cussable on Sunday.
Some regard him as an all-time great and the best head coach today. Others regard him as nothing but a cheat. But you can't deny his overall record and what he does with certain players that failed to fit into other cities and NFL systems. Bill Belichick might have a lot of well-deserved negatives attached to his name, but in New England...he's considered a saintly genius. As the leader of the Pats, Belichick is 2-0 against the Steelers in the playoffs (both AFCC games in Heinz Field).
Other Patriot Coaches to know:
OC Josh McDaniels, DC Matt Patricia
QB-No. 12 Tom Brady
Tom Brady has had a Hall of Fame career in New England. No. 12 and his head coach have had a magical union together in New England, winning four Super Bowls together. During the 2016 regular season, he threw for 3,554 yards with 28 touchdown passes and tossed only two interceptions, while playing in only 12 games. Last week, against the stifling defense of the Houston Texans, Brady wasn’t his normal self. He only completed 18 of 38 passes and tossed for two scores along with two interceptions in a winning cause. Against Pittsburgh at Heinz Field earlier in the year, Brady was 19 of 26 for 222 yards, with two scoring passes—with Rob Gronkowski in the fold.
Some Other Patriot Quarterbacks to know:
No. 10 Jimmy Garoppolo, No. 7 Jacoby Brissett
RB-No. 29 LeGarrette Blount
The Steelers are playing the run much better and it’s evident by their surrendering only 113 yards on the ground in two playoff games. LeGarrette Blount is a different story altogether. The one-time Steeler runs with power and force. He had 18 touchdowns in the 2016 campaign and rushed for 1,161 yards, averaging 3.9 YPC. Steeler Nation still dislikes Blount for his actions (perceived by many to be orchestrated for a return to NE) that led to his being cut in 2014. In October, Blount ran for 127 yards on 24 carries and scored two touchdowns. Last week, Blount was limited to eight carries and only 31 yards. The 250-pounder is a recreation vehicle on legs and will be a challenge to stop.
RB-No. 33 Dion Lewis
The Patriots are 15-0 when the speedy Lewis is in their lineup. Last week against Houston, the former Pitt Panther had rushing, receiving and return TDs to set a record. Lewis is a pass-catching threat, just as much as he is a running threat. The Steelers survived Tyreek Hill, but a similar weapon exists for New England this week.
Some Other Patriot Running Backs to know:
No. 28 James White, No. 38 Brandon Bolden, No. 27 DJ Foster, No. 46 James Develin
WR-No. 11 Julian Edelman
Edelman is the kind of receiver that gives the Steelers massive problems. Edelman will catch a lot of the short stuff in the slot to help move the chains all night long. This season, No. 11 had 98 catches for 1,106 yards, but only three touchdowns. In Week 7 against Pittsburgh, the Kent State product had nine catches on 10 targets for 60 yards. Brady loves throwing to this guy and this tandem can't be stopped. But keeping him out of the end zone can and must happen.
Some Other Patriot Receivers to know:
No. 14 Michael Floyd, No. 15 Chris Hogan, No. 18 Matthew Slater, No. 19 Malcom Mitchell, No. 80 Danny Amendola
TE-No. 88 Martellus Bennett
While it seems the Steelers will be getting a break with Rob Gronkowski out of the lineup, they still have to deal with the dangerous Martellus Bennett. He victimized defenses during the regular season for 55 grabs yielding 701 yards and seven scores. Against Houston last week, though, Bennett only pulled in one ball for four yards and temporarily left the field with a knee injury before returning. Against Pittsburgh in October, the man the Pats fans call “Mahty” had one catch for five yards. Expect “Mahty” to be much more of a tah-get this week.
Some Other Patriot Tight Ends to know:
No. 82 Matt Lengel
LT- No. 77 Nate Solder
At the beginning of the season, the OL was thought not to be as formidable as it has been during recent times in New England. But right tackle Marcus Cannon has gone from a possible hindrance to a second-team All Pro and he’s the team’s top run-blocker. Shaq Mason also has shown vast improvement, with rookie Joe Thuney as the only lineman who has struggled at times. But Nate Solder has been the anchor of the league’s tenth-ranked line. Solder is their top pass-blocker and he’s been very solid at protecting the blind side for their franchise quarterback. The 6'8" left tackle allows very few pressures and sacks.
Some Other Patriot Offensive Linemen to know:
No. 60 Center David Andrews, No. 61 right tackle Marcus Cannon, No. 62 left guard Joe Thurney, No. 68 left tackle LaAdrian Waddle, No. 69 right guard Shaquille Mason, No. 71 right tackle Cameron Fleming, No. 75 Guard/Center Ted Karras
RDE-No. 98 Trey Flowers
Flowers, Malcolm Brown and Alan Branch were all dominant against the run, making this matchup with the Steelers OL and Lev Bell pretty enticing. Flowers, coming off of the edge, notched seven sacks to lead New England in 2016.
Some Other Patriot Defensive Lineman to know:
No. 90 defensive tackle Malcolm Brown; No. 92 left defensive end Geneo Grissom; No. 93 right defensive end Jabaal Sheard; No. 95 Chris Long; No. 97 defensive tackle Alan Branch; and No. 99 defensive tackle Vince Valentine
MLB-No. 54 Dont’a Hightower
Hightower is a strong and physical run-stuffer with great pass-rushing ability to boot. He had 65 tackles in 2016 and 2.5 sacks. Hightower is a guy that’s always around the ball and can really disrupt the flow of an offense.
Some Other Patriot Linebackers to know:
No. 50 Rob Ninkovich, No. 51 Barkevious Mingo, No. 52 Elandon Roberts, No. 53 Kyle Van Noy, No. 58 Shea McClellin,
No. 21-CB Malcolm Butler
The Super Bowl hero from two years ago is the best coverage corner on the Pats and always seems to draw the opponent’s top receiver. Butler sticks to receivers like crazy glue and he had 16 pass defenses and four picks on the season, including one against Landry Jones in Pittsburgh. He’s becoming upper-echelon, but still can be beaten on back-shoulder fades. Antonio Brown and Butler have had some good battles so far, and this one not only won’t disappoint, it’ll be a lot more important than battling for pizza.
Other Patriot Defensive Backs to know:
No. 23 strong safety Patrick Chung; No. 22 cornerback Justin Coleman; No. 24 cornerback Cyrus Jones; No. 25 cornerback Eric Rowe; No. 26 cornerback Logan Ryan; No. 30 strong safety Duran Harmon; No. 31 cornerback Jonathan Jones; No. 32 free safety Devin McCourty; No. 36 safety Brandon King; No. 37 safety Jordan Richards; and No. 43 safety Nate Ebner
K-No. 3 Stephen Gostkowski
Year after year, the Pats kicker personifies ultra-reliability. Gostkowski is a 3-time All-Pro, a 4-time selection to the Pro Bowl and a 5-time NFL leading scorer. In 2016, the Pats’ all-time scoring leader was 27/32 on field goals and 46/49 on extra points. His longest FG was from 53-yards out.
Some other Patriots Special-teamers to know:
No. 6 punter Ryan Allen; No. 24 kick-returner Cyrus Jones; No. 33 kick-returner Dion Lewis; No. 49 long-snapper Joe Cardona; and No. 80 punt-returner Danny Amendola