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lamberts-lost-tooth
12-08-2007, 05:43 AM
Steelers' stopping power will tell all
By Mike Prisuta
TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Saturday, December 8, 2007

They're not under the radar this weekend.
The Steelers are up next on the march toward immortality currently being conducted by the undefeated New England Patriots, which means that for one game, the Steelers will at least share center stage.

How long they remain in the spotlight is up to them.

Sunday's tussle won't be definitive one way or another relative to the Steelers' prospects of winning a similar game in the playoffs, but it will be revealing as to the type of team the Steelers have become in 12 weeks under Mike Tomlin.

Have the Steelers really flown under the radar while compiling their 9-3 record, or have they been accurately perceived as a second-tier team, a notch below the league's best?
Has Ben Roethlisberger elevated himself to the point where he belongs in the conversation when the elite quarterbacks are being discussed? Or, does Roethlisberger still have some catching-up to do while continuing to look up at the NFL's quarterbacking royalty?

And, is the Steelers defense really the best there is, or have the statistics they've compiled on defense masked some inadequacies that are destined to be exposed in Foxborough?

The defensive question is the most compelling.

How the Steelers are perceived nationally matters little, since the playoffs loom as the inescapable method of assessing the NFL's ultimate pecking order.

And Roethlisberger has obviously taken his game to new levels this season, whether anyone thinks he's approaching elite status or not.

If nothing else he seems on course to collect his first Steelers MVP award this season if not his second Super Bowl ring.

There's no rush to anoint him for Canton, Ohio, just yet, no matter what happens this weekend.

It's incumbent upon the defense, conversely, to justify its reputation against the Patriots.

The Steelers are No. 1 in the NFL in total defense, No. 2 in rushing defense, No. 1 in passing defense and No. 1 in scoring defense.

You just can't do a whole lot better than that.

Still, the opposition this time is the NFL's No. 1 total offense, the No. 8 rushing offense (a number that more accurately reflects the Patriots' interest in running than it does their competency in advancing the ball on the ground), the No. 1 passing offense and the No. 1 scoring offense.

If it's still true that offense wins games but defense wins championships, the Steelers are right to like their chances -- but only if their defense truly is one of championship caliber.

The contradictory developments that took place while the Steelers were in the process of compiling gaudy defensive numbers that suggest as much occurred in Denver and with the Jets.

On both of those occasions, the Steelers' No. 1 defense allowed an inexperienced quarterback to simultaneously play beat the clock and beat the defense while engineering drives for field goals that doomed the Steelers.

And -- this just in -- Tom Brady is Tom Brady mostly because of his ability to set the table in such situations for Adam Vinatieri.

Should they contain Brady this time, the Steelers can emerge encouraged no matter the outcome.

But if Brady goes crazy, the issue shifts from flying under the radar to the Steelers' legitimacy as a perceived contender.