We’re three months away from crowning another Super Bowl champion, but the Pittsburgh Steelers made a huge statement in their 25-17 win over one of their biggest rivals, the New England Patriots. Since 2001, the Pats were 6-2 against the Steel City, including a 39-26 win last season. But on Sunday, the Steelers were the more physical team on both sides of the ball and have distanced themselves from the competition for another Super Bowl appearance.
Here are five reasons why the Steelers are the AFC’s elite team:
Arguably, the Steelers have the best set of linebackers (James Harrison, Lawrence Timmons, LaMarr Woodley and James Farrior) in the NFL. Injuries have prevented them as a group from playing a key role in the team’s success until now.
They work best together when trying to put pressure on the quarterback, but as a unit they fully understand how to disrupt an opponent’s running game. Take note, they play very physical for 60 minutes.
The Steelers' defensive secondary is proving to be an effective quartet, as each week they have performed at a high level due to the NFL becoming a more pass-dominated league. Collectively, they could set a franchise record for interceptions this season.
Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark have developed into a lethal safety duo that quarterbacks are reluctant to challenge deep downfield. It seems on every passing down they’re in the perfect position to make a play on the ball.
Quietly, the Steelers have developed three young wideouts (Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders) that have shown themselves to be very talented, with blinding speed. Each player has the ability to find the soft spot in a defense.
Sanders is an explosive receiver that has made a name for himself despite starting far down the depth chart this season. Brown is a big play waiting to happen, since he is very fast and has great hands to catch the ball.
Expect the Steelers to get this trio more touches down the stretch—the days of Hines Ward being the lead receiver seem long gone.
The Steelers have used seven different offensive line combinations this season, as injuries have ravaged this position. But the recent addition of Max Starks has provided more cohesiveness, especially in their running game.
The offensive line has become more quick and athletic, a characteristic that has been lacking for some time. Together, this group will provide Ben Roethlisberger the time needed to effectively throw the football downfield.
After the home game against the Baltimore Ravens next weekend, the Steelers have a relatively easy schedule for the remainder of the season.
Their toughest road games are against the Kansas City Chiefs and the San Francisco 49ers. Neither of them is a true Super Bowl contender, but they will cause problems for Pittsburgh. Don’t be surprised if both teams hit a plateau and see their play slip a bit in each contest.