The 2016 playoffs are here and the Pittsburgh Steelers have the third seed in the AFC tournament. In other words, all of the blood, sweat, toil and tears of the last 16 games has simply opened the door for the Steelers to accomplish their real goal, winning the Super Bowl.
But it is fitting that the Pittsburgh Steelers start the 2016 playoffs in the same spot that they started the 2016 regular season: with the Steelers defense carrying their Super Bowl hopes.
That was true in September and it remains true in January, and everything we’ve seen along the way confirms that equation. Certainly, the poor performances were not confined to the defense in losses to Philadelphia, Miami and Baltimore. But the Steelers loss to Dallas drove home the message:
- Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown all had strong performances, but they weren’t enough.
The Steelers story in the 2016 playoffs will be the same. It’s true that the offensive line must protect Ben Roethlisberger and open holes up front for Bell (or DeAngelo Williams). Likewise, someone, be it Eli Rogers, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Ladarius Green or even Sammie Coates is going to have to take pressure off of Antonio Brown.
- But offense wins game, defense wins championships.
There’s no disputing that the Steelers offense has improve during his 7 game winning streak, but the real difference makers have come on the defensive side of the ball. After the Dallas game, Mike Tomlin ended the linebacker rotation, and started Bud Dupree and James Harrison. Has anyone missed “linebacker by committee?”
- Sean Davis has replaced Robert Golden, and you’d have to go back 15 years to find a Steelers rookie defender who has made a bigger impact.
Things looked bleak with Cameron Heyward was lost for the season. This site went as far as to recall the “Game over, man! Game over” scene from Aliens on the day Cam Heyward went on IR. But since then Stephon Tuitt, Javon Hargrave, and L.T. Walton have stepped up their games. These three gentleman must continue to deliver in the post season.
- IT says here that, barring injury, the Steelers linebackers and defensive line won’t wilt under postseason pressure.
So, just as it did when the regular season started, the Steelers secondary hold the primary key to success on the post season.
Kevin Colbert, Mike Tomlin and Keith Butler boldly gambled when they tore up their 2015 defensive backfield depth chart and recreated it almost from scratch. Sean Davis has come through and Ross Cockrell has quietly become a solid starter at cornerback. Artie Burns struggled, both in coverage and in tackling, but has improved tremendously during the second half of the season.
At the end of the day, the Steelers 2016 Super Bowl hopes are riding on these rookie’s ability to sustain their regular season success into the playoffs.