Little was expected from the Houston Texans last Saturday night in Foxboro. They were 16-point underdogs to the New England Patriots and lost, 34-16. And yet, Houston got after Tom Brady early and often, sacking him twice and forcing two interceptions.
Did the Texans, even in lopsided defeat, provide a blueprint for getting to Brady that the Pittsburgh Steelers can emulate in the AFC Championship this Sunday?
“I think they can,” NFL on CBS analyst Rich Gannon said on CBS Sports Radio’s The DA Show. “I think it’s going to be a challenge once again for Brady and the Patriots. Without Gronkowski, that really changes a lot of the dynamics in terms of what the Patriots do. I think when you look at a team that, late in the season, is deciding to bring in a player that was cut loose by the Arizona Cardinals – and I’m referring, obviously, to Michael Floyd – I think it tells you all you need to know about the lack of depth that they really have at that position. Edelman and Hogan are kind of possession guys. They don’t have a ton of speed at that position. Losing the tight end was significant. So they have to manufacture yards and points, and they’re able to do it because they have one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game.
“But I think when you look at the Pittsburgh Steelers, they’ve been a different team in the second half of the season,” Gannon continued. “If you look at the production, the sacks have gone up, the explosive plays, the take-aways, those type of things – they can get it done. They’ve got some guys that can rush on the edge, James Harrison is still pretty amazing, and some of the young players in the secondary have settled in and played better, and I’m talking particularly about Sean Davis at the safety position and Artie Burns at the cornerback position. I think they’ll match up pretty well against the Patriots this weekend.”
Offensively, it’s been the Le’Veon Bell Show for the Steelers. Bell has 1,431 total yards and nine touchdowns (eight rushing, one receiving) over his last eight games.
Gannon, however, does not believe Bell will have a big game Sunday.
“The one thing (Bill Belichick) does is he finds a way to make you one-dimensional,” Gannon said. “He’s going to take away what you do best, and I think when you look at the Pittsburgh Steelers, it’s Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell, but I really believe it starts with Le’Veon Bell – not just in terms of the running game, but what he means to them in the passing game, in terms of the screen game and the quick game. I really think they’re going to do everything they can to handle Le’Veon Bell at the line of scrimmage and force Ben Roethlisberger to beat you throwing the ball down the field to the rest of the receivers – and particularly Antonio Brown. But I’d be surprised if Bell has a big day against this Patriots defense.”
Whatever happens, a streak will come to end. The Patriots have won eight straight, while the Steelers have won nine straight. Both teams last lost on Nov. 13.
Kickoff is at 6:40 p.m. ET.