Seems every direction these Pittsburgh Steelers turn, they find a
Seems every direction these Pittsburgh Steelers turn, they find another person with another reason the Steelers can't defeat the Miami Dolphins in the American Football Conference title game at 12:30 p.m. Sunday in the Orange Bowl (WRC-TV-4).
Yet how many people figured the Steelers would win at Denver, 24-17, last week to get here?
Pittsburgh confidence runs thick these days. Talk to the Steelers and they'll say that, amidst all those "Killer Bs" on the Miami defense, from Bowser to Brown to Blackwood I and Blackwood II, there exists another, more vulnerable one: Beatable.
Pittsburgh running back Walter Abercrombie said this week, "They are not a very good defense, I believe. They have a defense good enough to stop you from outscoring their offense. That's all."
Oddsmakers figure that the Dolphins (15-2 with their playoff win over Seattle) should -- perhaps because of their record-shattering offense -- win by nine points on Sunday and then strut off to Super Bowl XIX at Palo Alto, Calif., on Jan. 20. Both Miami and Pittsburgh are striving for their fifth appearance in the Super Bowl.
The logic that predicts a Miami victory, on the shiny surface, seems nearly irrefutable.
Miami did set pages worth of offensive records this year, after all. Quarterback Dan Marino, the Dolphins' own Pittsburgher, did throw 48 touchdown passes; he did pass for more than 300 yards nine times, more than 400 yards four times and, with a quick, Winchester release, was sacked just 14 times.
Wide receiver Mark Clayton did catch a league-record 18 scoring passes and, with Mark Duper, make the Dolphins the first team ever to possess a pair of receivers with 1,300 yards each in the same season. They are called the Marks Brothers, but how many NFL defensive backs have you heard laughing? Also, the Dolphins never scored under 21 points this season.
"All of those records would be so much more meaningful if they came in a year when we won it all," Miami Coach Don Shula said in a press conference today.
Don't forget, too, that Miami did beat the Steelers, 31-7, this season. This represented the Steelers' most one-sided defeat in 15 seasons at Three Rivers Stadium. The Pittsburgh offense barely budged in that game as its then-starting quarterback, ex-Dolphin David Woodley, suffered a concussion in the first quarter and Miami nose tackle Bob Baumhower returned a fumble 21 yards for a touchdown.
And what of Dolphin overconfidence? "Just look at what (the Steelers) have done the last couple weeks," Shula responded. "The films don't lie. It's no accident they are here."
It's a victory for humility and for momentum building at the proper time that the Steelers are just 10-7 overall yet just one game away from reaching the Super Bowl.
But the Steelers have had moments of dominance in 1984 that made you think this might be 1975, not 1985. The Steelers regained a bit of their old appearance on Friday by reactivating 11-year linebacker Jack Lambert from injured reserve. For spot duty, anyway.
Most of all, the Steelers have an aggressive defense. Their offense talks of using sly trap blocking to maintain ball control to keep Marino off the field.
The defense talks of just being itself. Besides being one of the league's finest run defenses (101 yards per game), the Steelers have outside linebacker Mike Merriweather (15 1/2 quarterback sacks) to lead a blitz-prone assault.
Shula said he expects the Steelers to blitz often as a counter to Marino's quick three-step drop. "They blitz coming off the bus," he said. "You look at the films and see a lot of similarities to their Super Bowl defenses."
Marino might take note that the Steelers rated second in the league with 31 interceptions this season (Seattle had 36).
Mark Malone, who replaced Woodley as the starter 10 games ago, played like Terry Bradshaw when he threw four touchdown passes in the Steelers' 52-21 victory over San Diego in Week 13.
And by catching three of those touchdown passes, John Stallworth looked like the elegant athlete who is the Steelers' all-time leading pass receiver (387) rather than the aging veteran who, because of injury, played only four games last season. In fact, Stallworth caught 80 passes (11 touchdowns) this year, the most in his 11 pro seasons.
The sprinkle of Steeler newness comes from rookie receiver Louis Lipps, who caught 45 passes for 860 yards and rated among the league's best returners, with a 12.4-yard average on punts. Lipps, from Southern Mississippi, was the only player in the league to score touchdowns three ways: rushing, receiving and on a punt return. No wonder he's going to the Pro Bowl.
So it comes down to Shula and Chuck Noll, the Steelers' coach. Shula turned 55 on Friday; Noll turned 53 today. Between them, Shula (five) and Noll (four) have coached nine Super Bowl teams. Now it will be 10.