With all the Red Sox drama still taking up most of the airspace, this weekend's Patriots/Steelers tilt at Heinz Filed in Pittsburgh has been somewhat overshadowed locally.
On the national level, this is the big game of the weekend in the NFL, with the winner getting a nice head start on the top seed in the conference. While the crickets chirp here, (though WEEI did have NFL Network analyst Michael Lombardi on Thursday morning to discuss the game.) the national analysts are busy looking forward to this game, and how the Steelers can deal with Tom Brady and the Patriots offense.
On Sunday morning on the NFL Network, for instance, The NFL Gameday Morning crew will examine why Brady has had so much success against the Steelers over the course of his career. The show starts at 9:00 am. For the game, the network has sent Albert Breer to cover the contest and report from Pittsburgh.
The game will be carried on CBS, and called by the network's top crew of Jim Nantz and Phil Simms, the two announcers who have called more Patriots games on TV during the Belichick era than any other - by a wide margin. Back in the studio, longtime Steelers coach Bill Cowher, who knows a thing or two about losing a big game to the Patriots, will provide pregame and halftime commentary with the rest of The NFL Today crew.
Cowher spent a few minutes on Thursday breaking down the matchup for reporters.
"Every year the identity of a team changes to some degree." Cowher says, "With both of these teams, while they’ve changed, the expectation level and to a large extent the results, haven’t changed. They are both winning organizations."
Talking about the Patriots, Cowher says, "Certainly, New England coming off a bye is well-rested. Pittsburgh will be a very tough defense for them. The Patriots have proven to be very resourceful week-in and week-out. Their running game is probably as good as it’s been all year."
Turning to the Steelers, a franchise he knows better than any other, Cowher says, "For Pittsburgh, their challenge is stopping Tom Brady in the spread offense. That is something I’m sure that they’ve looked at, and thought about, the whole off-season." He notes that the Steelers are a different team this season, saying that "Pittsburgh’s offense may be one of the most explosive in all of football. This is the best receiving corps that they’ve had in years. Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders, Hines Ward – these are the most weapons Ben Roethlisberger has ever had. And it may be the first time they have an offensive line with some degree of continuity. They are playing as well as they’ve played and are peaking offensively. And they will be a challenge defensively. This could decide home-field advantage, so there could be playoff implications in this game as well."
Sounds like coach Cowher is bullish on his old team this week.
He also thinks that the Steelers will play well because this game means more to them at this point. "This game is important to Pittsburgh because it’s a home game against a conference team that, at some point, you’re going to have to beat anyway. The fact that Pittsburgh has two losses with a chance to stay tied for first place with Baltimore, and New England is going strong with only one loss, it’s important for both teams. But when you’re playing this type of game at home, the pressure is certainly more on the home team."
After hearing so much about how the Patriots can't lose because Brady owns the Steelers, it's nice to get a bit of an outside perspective on things.