Mike Tomlin has been at the controls of the Steelers since 2007. (Jasen Vinlove/USA Today Sports)
FOXBORO — When Bill Belichick and Tom Brady talk about the Pittsburgh Steelers, the enormous respect they have for the organization is obvious.
This is the 15th anniversary of New England’s first AFC championship encounter with the Steelers in Pittsburgh. The two franchises have been the most successful in the AFC in the Super Bowl era.
The Steelers have six Super Bowl titles and the Patriots own four.
Since 1995, the two teams have combined for a remarkable run of dominance in the AFC. In that stretch, the Patriots have been to seven Super Bowls and 10 AFC championship games. The Steelers have been to four Super Bowls, winning twice and have made it to the AFC championship eight times.
“They’ve been one of the best for a long time,” Brady said Wednesday. “The history of the Steeler organization with so many great players and teams and championships, you know you’re always going to get a dog fight when you play them.
“I have a lot of respect for them. They play the game the right way. They’re always physical. They’re a tough, physical group and that’s pretty much what comes out of Pittsburgh. They play well, they’re coached well. They’re just a great organization.”
Belichick has an even greater appreciation for what the Rooney family has accomplished, going back to 1975, Belichick’s first year in the NFL. That was the year he was an assistant under Ted Marchibroda in Baltimore. That year, the Colts lost to the powerhouse Steel Curtain in the the AFC divisional round, 21-10, as Andy Russell returned a fumble for a game-changing score.
That was the second of four Vince Lombardi trophies in six years for head coach Chuck Noll and the Steelers, as they built the dynasty that continues today. After Noll, the Steelers have had just two head coaches, Bill Cowher and Mike Tomlin, a remarkable run of consistency in the organization. Unlike the Bengals, who have had the same head coach for 14 years, the Steelers have actually had playoff success under Cowher and Tomlin, with each head coach winning a Super Bowl.
“They have great continuity,” Belichick said. “They’ve had three coaches since the late 60s. Coach Cowher, Coach Tomlin, that goes 25 years, two general managers, two coaches. They’ve had a lot of continuity, and when you have continuity like they have in their organization, they really haven’t changed defenses much over that same quarter of a century. So, as a scout, I mean I could scout for the Steelers.
“They do the same thing, they stay with it so you know what kind of players they’re looking for at each position. They have a very extensive scheme through their continuity. They do quite a bit in terms of the volume of their plays that you have to defend. But they can do them because they’ve been doing them over and over again, and they have a lot of the same guys doing them.”
While Ben Roethlisberger won’t be playing this Sunday, Belichick insists the Steelers are still an offensive threat with Le’Veon Bell, Antonio Brown and DeAngelo Williams.
“Offensively, it’s really all the same guys here for the last couple of years,” Belichick said. “They’ve lost a couple of guys, like Heath Miller’s not there. But the guys that are there have pretty much been there [for a while]. Or guys like James who have come up through the system over a couple of years. Maybe he’s got a little more playing time but it’s not like he’s new to their system. Same thing on defense. A lot of continuity.”