Sep. 26, 2016
The Steelers keys to victory
The AFC Championship game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and New England Patriots in Foxborough, Massachusetts is tomorrow. This is the Patriots sixth straight AFC Championship Game appearance and is the first appearance for the Steelers in six years. According to CBS, the Patriots are six-point favorites and are picked to win the game by many other experts.
The Steelers are currently on a nine-game winning streak and are arguably playing their best football all season. However, Steelers quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, has not been at his best during the winning streak. In his last nine games, Roethlisberger has, threw less than 200 yards twice in the streak, three multiple interception games, not had a 300-yard passing game. He has specifically has struggled on the road, with an average passer rating of 67.8 in his last three road games. With Roethlisberger's struggles, can the Steelers pull off the upset against the Patriots?
During the Steelers win streak, Roethlisberger is the only part of the team that has not been performing. Running back Le’Veon Bell has had over 100 yards from scrimmage in each game, broke the Steelers’ single-game postseason rushing record in back-to-back games, and has been the heart of the Steelers offense. He is also the key to the Steelers winning the game. The Patriots offense is so potent that the Steelers need to control the clock and possession. In his last nine games, Bell has averaged over five yards per carry. In the regular season, the Patriots allowed 117 rushing yards per game which was the seventh worst in the league. This is a huge weakness the Steelers need to exploit.
Also, with Roethlisberger's struggles, Bell and wide receiver Antonio Brown need to be more involved in the passing game. Roethlisberger needs to focus on short passes because of their playmaking abilities. If this happens early, Roethlisberger can get in a rhythm and the Steelers can use the pass to set up the run for the majority of the game. The Steelers offensive line has also only allowed two sacks in the playoffs and needs to continue to create running lanes for Bell and keep Roethlisberger clean in the pocket.
With Roethlisberger struggling, the steelers are not scoring as much as they are capable, which was seen last week against the Kansas City Chiefs when the Steelers kicked six field goals. This means the defense needed to step up. Their defense has also been of the best in the NFL over the stretch. The have allowed just under 17 points per game and have done that by forcing turnovers, getting pressure on the quarterback, and allowing field goals instead of touchdowns. In the postseason, the Steelers have six sacks and are a plus-two in turnover differential. The Steelers defense is going to have to do all of that on Sunday to slow down Tom Brady and the Patriots offense.
The Steelers have been built to win without big performances by Roethlisberger. The Steelers offensive line, Bell, and Brown will be the key for the Steelers offense to thrive on Sunday. Their defense needs to play as well as it has over the winning streak. It will not be easy for the Steelers, but if everyone is able to do their job, the Steelers have a shot at upsetting the Patriots.