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Steelers playoff primer

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By PFW staff

PFW examines the Steelers as they prepare for the playoffs, identifying the keys to the offense and the defense, a player to watch, and what they have to do to win the Super Bowl.

Pittsburgh Steelers
12-4 / First place in AFC North

Keys to offense: QB Ben Roethlisberger has led the Steelers to two Super Bowl titles, so playoff jitters aren't exactly a concern for him. His ability to keep plays alive with his feet makes this passing game dangerous. WR Mike Wallace has emerged as one of the NFL's top deep threats but has improved as a short and intermediate target, too. RB Rashard Mendenhall has been tough, durable and dependable, and he has the speed to take it the distance if he gets into the secondary. The big concern with the offense? Pass protection. Roethlisberger is exceptionally strong and has repeatedly shown he can take a pounding and persevere, but when he's given ample time to throw, the Steelers are tough to beat.

Keys to defense: No team is stronger vs. the run than the Steelers, a factor that forces opponents to attack with the pass. Pittsburgh has been vulnerable against offenses (like New England's) that spread out its defense and repeatedly throw, but such a strategy puts a lot of pressure on a quarterback and his pass protection, for the Steelers are known for their zone blitzes. This is a defense loaded with star power, especially at linebacker, with ROLB James Harrison a Pro Bowl starter, LOLB LaMarr Woodley a force vs. the run and as a pass rusher, and ILBs Lawrence Timmons and James Farrior having very good seasons. But the key to the entire operation is SS Troy Polamalu, who's exceptional near the line of scrimmage and in coverage.

Player to watch: Polamalu returned from an Achilles injury in Week 17 and immediately made an impact, intercepting a pass on the Browns' first series. Pittsburgh scored on the next play to take a 7-0 lead and never looked back. Polamalu, like the Ravens' Ed Reed, is a game changer.

They'll win the Super Bowl if ... the pass protection holds up, the running game is strong and the pass defense foils the opposition's best-laid plans.

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