Rhinestone Cowboys

I was not assuming anything one way or the other when I booked my flight to Dallas after the Steelers defeated the Browns to claim the AFC North crown and the second seed in the AFC playoffs. Actually I was being prudent because I figured if the Steelers did not make it to Super Bowl XLV, the most dough that I would sacrifice would be the $75 re-booking fee to travel on another date to a different destination. And on top of that imagine the difficulty and cost of attempting to book a flight after this Sunday, again assuming that the Steelers are victorious over the Jets in the AFC Championship game.


The Steelers and Jets defenses concluded regular season ranked #2 and #3 respectively.  However, those stats may be a bit misleading because during the past two weeks New York has stifled two of the most prolific offenses in the NFL, the Colts and Patriots. That does not bode well for the inconsistent and sometimes baffling play calling of Steelers’ offensive coordinator Bruce Arians. Every series is going to be crucial and Pittsburgh cannot afford to waste 2 or 3 offensive possessions, trying to force a running game down the throats of the Jets. Also, the Steelers will not win playing “sandlot” ball, randomly chucking the pigskin around like they were playing a perverted game of “craps” over at the ‘Rivers Casino.’ Arians had better have a serious short and medium passing plan in place because going “long” once too often might be going “wrong.”

The Steelers will flat out beat the Jets if the passing to rushing ratio is 2-1, I “garontee” it.  Three yards and a clump of mud is not going to cut the mustard against the Jets. Mark Sanchez has proven that he is no Joe Flacco. Unlike “Smokin’” Joe, Sanchez seems to get better as the game wears on. Don’t expect any last minute meltdowns from young Mr. Sanchez. Pittsburgh had better get theirs while the “getting” is good. They had better rattle more than his confidence. They had better rattle some of that ivory in his mouth.

Pittsburgh must borrow a page from the Jets defensive playbook. The Black and Gold has to get a huge push up the middle, play tight coverage on the outside and force Sanchez to become as ex-Browns Head Coach Butch Davis used to say, “skittish.” As far as disguising defensive coverages go, Dick LeBeau should really utilize the “sleight of hand” chapter of his playbook. And by the way, as I have alluded to in the past; “the only thing that prevent defense does, is prevent you from winning.” Nose tackle Chris Hoke is going to have to be rotated with Casey “Big Snack” Hampton so neither player will be winded and to insure that relentless pressure from the middle of the O-line will be constantly felt by Sanchez.

Oh, by the way, the boys from Gotham City had the No. 11 ranked offense in the NFL in 2010.  The Steelers offense was ranked #14.  If Rex Ryan could devise a defensive strategy to frustrate the high octane offense of Tom Brady and the Patriots then Arians had better put a cot in the Steelers film room and pack a lunch because the patchwork offensive line of the Steelers might be “purty” busy come Sunday. I also hope that offensive lineman Flozell Adams is okay because any undisclosed illnesses might signal an unceremonious departure to the “sofa” bowl for the Black and Gold.

The mood on the street is one of sheer “giddiness.” Beware Steelers nation the masses had better be careful what they wish for because the Jets are no joke and unlike the Ravens, they have a lot more finesse and craftiness about them. They might not be physical enough to knock out the Steelers but a “TKO” resulting from a pick or two run back for scores is definitely a distinct possibility. There were times toward the conclusion of their victory against the Patriots that Tom Brady appeared to be more confused and bemused than amused. There was no arrogant pointing and fist pumping from Tom “Terrific” last Sunday; just the sad and confused look of a man who will never in this life accept the gift of grace and humility.

Special teams play is going to have to almost be perfect because field position is going to at a premium. Pittsburgh cannot afford to have Randle “fair catch” El hanging around the punting game. He almost fumbled the pigskin away during the Steelers/Ravens matchup. I would also humbly suggest that if Pittsburgh wins the coin toss that they accept the ball. This is no time for mind games. Do “yunz” guys remember the last time that the Jets got the ball first? That kickoff return for a touchdown gave the young QB from “Gotham” a serious dose of confidence.

If the Steelers fail to advance to Super Bowl XLV(personally I think they will), they can always don a cowboy hat, put some Taylor Swift music on their MP3 players, go find a mechanical bull somewhere and truly imagine they are “rhinestone cowboys.”  (Steelers 17-10)

(Aubrey Bruce can be reached at: abruce@newpittsburghcourier.com or 412-583-6741.)

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