Photo via Peter Diana/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ offense faces their toughest challenge this week as they play the New England Patriots for the AFC Championship at Gillette Stadium.

The Steelers went up against a pretty good defense in the Kansas City Chiefs and did just enough to win a road playoff game in one of the toughest places to play in Arrowhead Stadium.

The Steelers dominated the offensive side of the ball with the time of possession at 34:13 compared to 25:47 for the Chiefs. The main reason was running back Le’Veon Bell ran the ball 30 times and piled up 170 rushing yards. The Chiefs’ run defense got gashed, but they were able to keep Bell out of the end zone.

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger completed 20 of 31 pass attempts for 224 passing yards, but he didn’t throw a touchdown pass and had one interception. Wide receiver Antonio Brown had six catches for 108 yards but he didn’t have a touchdown catch.

The Steelers won the game 18-16 and the only reason they advanced is because their kicker Chris Boswell (Keller Fossil Ridge) set an NFL record by kicking six field goals and accounting for all of the team’s points. Boswell made field goals from 38 and 36 yards, one field goal from 45 yards and two field goals from 43 yards.

Roethlisberger, Bell and Brown can beat anybody.

But even when the three superstars play well, the Steelers can still lose as they almost did against the Chiefs. It wasn’t like they didn’t have help either as wide receiver Eli Rogers had five catches for 27 yards and tight end Jesse James had five catches for 83 yards. The Steelers also had one catch from Demarcus Ayers (Lancaster) for six yards and one catch from Cobi Hamilton (Texas High) for four yards.

The Steelers will need more than the triplets to pull off the upset against the top seeded Patriots. The Patriots have allowed the fewest points and were tied for the third fewest first downs allowed.

Ayers and Hamilton have the perfect opportunity to be the back breaker the Steelers need against the Patriots’ defense.

Bell has averaged 168.5 rushing yards in two playoff games so far, but the Patriots have one of the best run defenses with inside linebacker Dont’a Hightower and defensive tackles Alan Branch and Malcom Brown (Brenham).The Patriots have allowed just six rushing touchdowns and they were fifth in fewest rushing first downs allowed.

Brown performed well against the Chiefs, but it was a difficult game for him against All-Pro cornerback Marcus Peters. The Patriots also have an elite corner back in Malcolm Butler, who could pose a similar matchup with Brown.

Rogers is the second wide receiver and he’ll be in a tussle with Logan Ryan. James will be dealing with two ball hawking safeties in Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung.

The Steelers have struggled to find a third wide receiver all season. Markus Wheaton has been on injured reserve since week two and Sammie Coates and Darrius Heyward-Bey have been ineffective. Coates is a kick returner and Heyward-Bey is inconsistent.

Hamilton and Ayers haven’t had many opportunities, but they have shown signs of breaking out.

Hamilton has two catches out of two targets in the postseason. He had 17 catches in eight starts in his first full season in 2016. He was a rookie with the Cincinnati Bengals in 2014.

Ayers is a rookie who has really come on strong in his last three games after not seeing action until week 16. He had five catches and a touchdown in week 17 against the Cleveland Browns and he has three catches on three targets for 27 yards in the postseason.

The Steelers don’t need a career day from Ayers or Hamilton, they just need some plays.

 

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