Roethlisberger, for all that, is himself the Steelers' edge. He opens up their running game just running onto the field. In addition:
- As a pocket passer, he is an accomplished reader of defenses who can usually find and throw to the open receiver. That puts him among a minority of NFL quarterbacks.
- He is even more dangerous when he bails out of the pocket. Out there, he wins two ways, passing and running.
- During the playoffs so far, the Steelers, as Big Ben improves from week to week, have scored touchdowns on 10 of 13 trips inside their opponents' 20-yard line.
Race for the Lead
The Seahawks have also passed successfully in recent games with underrated Matt Hasselbeck, who emerged in 2005 as the NFC's leading quarterback. And in this game for a while, Hasselbeck may be all they have.
Early on, neither team should expect to run with success --- even though Seattle will be there with Shaun Alexander, who led the NFL in rushing this season. The problem: In a 32-team league, the Steelers were third in rushing defense and the Seahawks fifth.
Both coaches, moreover, are determined not to fall behind. The Pittsburgh leader, Bill Cowher, made that precise point ahead of his last two games. The Seattle coach, Mike Holmgren, is plainly aware that he can't fall behind Cowher.
When Cowher has had a 10-point lead in NFL games, he has won more than 70 times and lost only twice.
All this is likely to bring a spirited first-half race for the lead with assertive passing by both sides. What's in doubt is whether Holmgren's team can keep up. The disturbing reality for Seattle is that the Steelers thrive on aggressive passing.
In their last two games --- against the Colts with Peyton Manning and then the Broncos ---- the Steelers led at halftime by a combined score of 38-6.
Their high-tech offense figures to overwhelm Seattle's constrictive West Coast offense, which, based on short passes and runs, limits Hasselbeck's downfield passes..
Indeed, Seattle's only chance is that Cowher will get complacent viewing Seahawk tapes and come out confident that he can run. That would be a miscalculation. Even AFC champions --- whose advantage over NFC teams is based on throwing better passes --- can be upset if they suddenly start running the ball.
Memo to those watching: Don't bank on an upset.
Bob Oates is at firstname.lastname@example.org Previous columns: latimes.com/oates