Pittsburgh cornerback Deshea Townsend promises the Steelers will have their slingshots ready for Sunday's road game against undefeated New England.
"You always want to be the guy that takes the giant out," Townsend told FOXSports.com on Thursday during a telephone interview. "You want to be David taking out Goliath."
The casting of his own 9-3 team as a significant underdog stands in stark contrast to Steelers second-year safety Anthony Smith's guarantee of a Pittsburgh victory. But while a 10-year veteran like Townsend has the wisdom not to provide bulletin board material, both know strong secondary play is needed to topple the Patriots (12-0).
"We can't sit back and let Tom Brady do what he wants to do," said Townsend, referring to the NFL's leading passer. "We know he's going to get the football out quickly. It's very important for us to force the issue, make him throw hot routes and do things before he wants to."
"One thing about us is our coaches are not going to let you call yourself a cover corner," Deshea Townsend says. "In our scheme, you have to be physical in the running and passing game or you're not going to play."
Baltimore and Philadelphia frequently did that the past two weeks and almost ruined New England's quest for a perfect season. Patriots wide receivers — in particular Randy Moss — were roughed up in coverage while both teams sacked Brady three times.
"Most receivers just want to catch the football, get their yards and get down," Townsend said. "When you add the element of hitting those guys, they start looking around for you. They might slow down a little on their routes and (if they) get away from what they do well. It makes them easier to cover.
"If you take the mindset that, 'If you make the catch, we're going to hit you,' by the end of 60 minutes, let's see what happens."
Even more than the Eagles and Ravens, Steelers defensive backs are known for their physical play. That's a major reason why Pittsburgh leads the NFL in pass (154 yards a game) and overall defense (230.8) while ranking second against the run (76.8).
"One thing about us is our coaches are not going to let you call yourself a cover corner," said Townsend, whose 50 tackles puts him on pace for a career high. "In our scheme, you have to be physical in the running and passing game or you're not going to play.
"That's one thing I found out very early here. Our corners a lot of time are the eighth man in the box. We might have two-deep coverage, so we have to show up in the running game. It's become a way of life here. You'd better be ready to tackle."
Brady is well aware of the challenges brought by Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau's 3-4 scheme.
"They create disruption with their front, get to the quarterback and push the pocket," Brady told Patriots media earlier this week. "They've got some guys who can really rush. It's a lot of man coverage on the outside and they're on those guys tight. You've got to find ways to get open. You don't have all day.
"That's the hard part. It's a little bit of a challenge."
Townsend, though, knows trying to exert too much force can backfire, "especially in this day and age where you can't really touch the receiver after five yards and that type of thing. This is an offensive league.
"You risk missing the jam and giving up the big, easy play or getting out of position on a certain route. But when you're physical, the rewards are greater, especially in the long run. You might give up one here and there. But by the end of the day, they'll know you're there."
Townsend is starting to attract attention as one of the NFL's better cornerbacks. Now in his fifth season as a full-time starter, Townsend is tied for the team lead in interceptions with two and has seven passes defensed. He is skilled enough to switch inside from right cornerback and cover slot receivers in Pittsburgh's nickel and dime packages. Townsend also has more sacks (15.5) than any defensive back in franchise history.
"My thing always has been just being consistent," said Townsend, 32. "I've always felt I've been underrated, but I just keep plugging away and trying to get better every year."
Townsend knows the Steelers must play better away from Pittsburgh to become a legitimate Super Bowl contender. All three of Pittsburgh's defeats were on the road to teams that don't have winning records, including a 19-16 loss to a New York Jets team that entered at 2-8.
"You can never really put your finger on why that is," Townsend said. "It's not like during the week we're not preparing or trying to overlook anyone. We just haven't played well for some reason. Hopefully, it's because we've played to the level of the people we've played." If that's truly the case, the Patriots had better watch for the stones that will be flying Sunday.