Foxboro Mass -- Devin McCourty, 31, knows the challenge of facing the Steelers on Sunday. Pats fans travel well, but Steelers fans do not give up their tickets. The Pats will face an environment in Pittsburgh as difficult as any they have faced this season. It will be a test of the Pats mental toughness.
"Bill spoke about that this week. They have not had many coaches in their history," McCourty said. "We know the terrible towels will be waiving. At one point, the crowd will drop their theme song. It is going to be a playoff type atmosphere."
The Pats had to fight through adversity last year in Pittsburgh. After taking a 27-24 lead, JuJu Smith-Schuster caught a short pass and ran about 60 yards to the Steelers five. On the next play, Ben Roethlisberger threw what appeared to be the game-winning touchdown pass to Jesse James. The call was reversed because James did not survive the ground. Two plays later, Eric Rowe forced an interception and the Pats won. The win essentially guaranteed the Pats the No. 1 seed in the 2017 Playoffs.
Even though the Steelers have struggled the last three games, McCourty respects the ability of Ben Roethlisberger whose decision making can be questionable especially late in games. Roethlisberger, however, is tough.
"Roethlisberger, Brady, Brees. If they have three mistakes in a season - this guy is struggling," McCourty said. "They have been at that high level, that elite level for so many years. It doesn't make a difference this week. He is still a guy who throws people off him when they are trying to tackle him in the pocket. He puts stress on everyone. Even if you pressure him and you get there - you have to tackle him. If he wants throw the ball deep you have to pressure him from the line of scrimmage to 60 yards deep."
The other challenge Sunday is the Steelers can use JuJu Smith-Schuster and Antonio Brown interchangeably. McCourty said the team has not discussed the Smith-Schuster play this week.
"We have discussed the concept of playing 60 minutes and leverage tackling," McCourty said. "We didn't go back and watch that (play) as a group but we know that it will show up in different parts of the game. Obviously, it wasn’t an end of the game situation, but the 97-yard touchdown by Schuster this year where he catches a nine-route, makes a guy miss, stiff-arms, like that comes down to leverage and tackling, not giving up 97 yards. You try to shut that down at 25, 30 yards if he makes a catch downfield, which I mean, they’ve got good players, they’re going to make some plays, but we’ve got to limit the big plays,"
McCourty said the two receivers compliment each other well.
"Yeah, we were just talking about how they complement each other by both being great. I think sometimes you talk about running back duos and you’re like, ‘Thunder and Lightning’ – like this guy’s this way. With these guys, they are different body types and a little bit of how they play, but they both can go deep, they both can go across the middle, they both can run under routes and catch it and take it the distance. So, I think the versatility that both guys have probably creates the most challenges for a defense that you can’t just sit in a defense and say, ‘Antonio Brown’s here, Schuster’s here. This is what we’re going to run.’ Like, we don’t know all of that stuff, so it’s a little bit on the move and you have to have a high awareness of where they’re at."