By Matt Dolloff, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier gave perhaps the best possible answer to a loaded question. There’s no bulletproof way to answer “Do the Steelers have a Patriots problem?” If he says ‘Yes,’ he’s not confident enough in his own team. If he says ‘No,’ he’s disrespecting the Pats.
So to be fair to Shazier, there was nothing he could have said that would have avoided scrutiny in some way. But while he didn’t exactly offer much in the way of “bulletin-board material,” he did shed some light on how particularly focused the Steelers are on dethroning the Super Bowl champions. One might say, “obsessed.”
“If you look at it that way, the NFL has a Patriots problem,” said Shazier, according to a new story by ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler. Tom Brady and the Patriots offense steamrolled the Steelers defense in last season’s AFC Championship Game to the tune of 36 points and 431 total yards, something that Brady has done against Pittsburgh’s zone coverages for most of his career. It almost goes without saying that Brady is 7-2 in his career against the Steelers in the regular season with a 114.2 passer rating, and 3-0 in the playoffs.
But Shazier said the Steelers are going to do things differently in 2017, and he believes that the Steelers will be much better prepared to potentially slow down Brady than they have been in the past.
“They’ve been a great team, they have a great leader, and they just find a way to win. They have a good strategy in what they want to do. But I feel we are going to be prepared for them this year,” said Shazier. “I feel we are going to get them when we need to get them. And at any day I feel we can win the Super Bowl. We might have had a problem in the past but I think we are going to be ready this time.”
Shazier’s comments echo those of Steelers defensive coordinator Keith Butler, who recently told Fowler that the Steelers are retooling their defensive strategy in an effort to stop the Patriots. Butler has finally caught on to a novel concept: get more pressure on Brady.
“Rush and coverage go together. If we would have gotten some pressure on him and sacked him a couple of times and get him to cuss his dadgum offensive linemen out, hey man, it’s a beautiful world for us,” said Butler, referring to the Steelers’ 27-16 loss in Week 7 last season.
If the Steelers can deliver on their promises of being “ready” for Brady and making him “cuss his dadgum offensive linemen out,” then their Week 15 showdown in Pittsburgh (and potentially, an AFC Championship Game rematch) could at least be a more competitive battle than last season.
There’s nothing too inflammatory about Shazier saying the Steelers are going to be “ready” for the Patriots offense. But of course, preparation and execution are two different things, and they may not even have enough personnel to execute at the level they want to.
Still, for a conference that is in desperate need of a legit challenger for the Patriots’ crown, it’s refreshing that 16 years of mostly getting torched have finally woken up the Steelers.
Matt Dolloff is a writer/producer for CBSBostonSports.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect that of CBS or 98.5 The Sports Hub. Have a news tip or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.