If you’re driving through the city of Pittsburgh, roll down your window and listen closely; you can probably still hear it.
The “it” is last week’s hit on Matt Moore, echoing through Heinz Field. The vicious blow, by Steelers linebacker Bud Dupree, left the Dolphins’ quarterback crumpled on the ground like a pile of laundry, and was the exclamation point on a 30-12 romp over Miami.
The defense has continued to roll, of late, and that is why LMP is picking the Steelers as their candidate to win it all.
Stifling defense has always been a lynchpin Pittsburgh’s success. Fans have come to expect nothing but excellence. The success of recent years, however, has been due to the offense, which has been the one carrying the team and receiving the accolades.
Anchored by quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, running back Le’Veon Bell and wide receiver Antonio Brown, the Steelers are always a threat to drop six, despite defenses keying on those three players. They set a team record in 2014, with 436 points scored, and came close to matching it in 2015 with 423.
However, the sublime offensive play had been accompanied by a defensive collapse. Things bottomed out in 2013, when the Steelers allowed 370 points. It was the team’s highest such total since 1988, when Chuck Noll was still patrolling the sidelines. The Steel Curtain had been rendered into fragile beads.
This season, Pittsburgh finished 11th in defensive-efficiency, by Football Outsiders. And, they seemed to build momentum as the season went on. From games 9-16, Pitt accumulated 27 sacks and 9 interceptions – versus 11 and 4, through the first eight games.
So, how have they turned things around?
You can’t build an elite defense, overnight. But, you can expedite the process with diligence in the draft. Their first three selections were cornerback Artie Burns, safety Sean Davis and defensive tackle Jason Hargrave. All three are currently starting for the black and gold.
They’ve been able to do it despite never landing a premium draft slot. In 2015, they pounced on the hard-nosed Dupree, when he fell to them at 22nd overall. In 2014, it was outside-linebacker Ryan Shazier (15th) and defensive-end Stephon Tuitt (46th).
That youth was on display, last Sunday, with Shazier recording an interception and Tuitt recovering a fumble. Dupree, including the hit, had six tackles and half a sack. As for the veterans, timeless warriors James Harrison and Lawrence Timmons combined for twenty-four tackles.
They will have to be on their games. After dispatching the Dolphins, the Steelers’ path to Super Bowl glory will only get harder. Tonight, they travel to Kansas City, to face a tough Chiefs team, but one they destroyed in week four.
Controlling the tempo and forcing Kansas City to play catch-up will be the key to today’s game. It will be up to those linebackers and safeties to step up and stop Alex Smith from those cheap, little ten-yard runs on third down.
The “winner” gets a trip to Foxborough, the annual rite of passage for AFC-title hopefuls. The Patriots offense looked mortal against the Texans’ defensive schemes. Houston coaxed Brady into some bad throws, including two picks.
The Patriots’ defense has posted solid numbers, this season, but has received a fortunate slate of opponents (last eight games: 49ers, Jets, Rams, Ravens, Broncos, Jets, Dolphins and Texans) with struggling offenses.
And, while New England did triumph over Pittsburgh in their last match-up, it was the week that Big Ben was recovering from knee surgery. In all likelihood, that wouldn’t be the case, next week.
This deep into the playoffs, every team is dangerous. The balance of Pittsburgh’s explosive-offense and hard-hitting defense gives them the edge in our book.