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When examining the Jets' personnel, from the coaching staff to the talented mix of young and veteran players, there are few holes keeping them from the Super Bowl. Rex Ryan draws up a great defense. Offensively, the line and running game are strengths.
"Their two wide receivers are making big plays," said former Giants Super Bowl-winning quarterback Phil Simms, now CBS' lead game analyst. "They've got difference-makers on the defensive side of the ball. All their so-called stars came through against New England."
Like the team they just defeated, New England, the Jets have developed the knack to morph a unit to create favorable matchups vs. high-level opponents. They can pound the ball with Greene and Tomlinson, but they also are capable of burning defenses downfield with Edwards and Santonio Holmes.
As much as Ryan has been associated with being aggressive and bringing extra pressure, he also is smart enough to scale back the blitzing and instead use various coverages to confuse the quarterback when necessary.
"They've just refined what they are," Simms said. "The defense has learned they can do it without blitzing."
So much has been said about teams establishing an identity, but Ryan's Jets have the personality to do whatever it takes to win.
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Ryan talked about how much different it will be to prepare for Pittsburgh QB Ben Roethlisberger than it was to get ready for Manning and New England’s Tom Brady. Manning and Brady stay in the pocket, but the strong and mobile Roethlisberger is adept at avoiding pressure and/or breaking tackles and then making big passing plays on the run. In the Jets’ 22-17 victory in Pittsburgh on Dec. 19, Roethlisberger completed 23 of 44 passes for 264 yards and a touchdown but was sacked three times. Two of those were strip/sacks by DB Drew Coleman, a much better blitzer than pass defender.
S Troy Polamalu and TE Heath Miller did not play in the Dec. 19 loss to the Jets, so their presence in the AFC championship game will be a boost for the Steelers. Polamalu, though, did not play well Saturday vs. the Ravens, twice missing tackles on RB Ray Rice that resulted in touchdowns. Polamalu must do a better job of wrapping against Jets RB Shonn Green, a powerful runner who breaks tackles. Since he returned from a concussion, Miller has 14 catches for 167 yards and two touchdowns in three games. Miller will be a big factor Sunday night because the Jets are sure to deploy their cornerbacks to lock down WRs Hines ward and Mike Wallace.
Holmes, Edwards and Cotchery each have posted one 1,000-yard plus season in their careers and each is capable of making big plays against man-to-man coverage if a team blitzes or only commits to only a single deep safety.
That gives the Jets a big chance to have a big advantage over the Steelers if they can protect Mark Sanchez. Steelers superstar safety Troy Polamalu (Achilles'/ankle) is hurting, and starting cornerback Bryant McFadden (hip) is doubtful to play. That means a decent nickel back, William Gay, would be needed at cornerback while Anthony Madison would move into Gay's spot vs. slot receivers.
Madison did a good job of using his speed to overcome his 5-9 frame in helping to contain the Ravens' trio of Derrick Mason, Anquan Boldin and T.J. Houshmandzadeh. Their average age is greater than 33; among Holmes, Edwards and Cotchery, no one is older than 28 -- making them both bigger and younger than Madison. Adding to Pittsburgh's potential problems is tight end Dustin Keller, especially if Polamalu is limited in coverage.
To the Steelers' credit, they shut down everyone except Edwards in the first meeting. You can bet Holmes, who has four big TDs in six career playoff games, will be determined to change that on Sunday.
Running back Rashard Mendenhall ran for 99 yards and one touchdown on 17 carries against the Jets in December. The Jets ranked third in the league against the run in 2010, so it's a good sign for the Steelers that they had success in the earlier matchup.
If the Steelers can run effectively Sunday, it would lessen the need for quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to carry the offense.
"I have confidence in our guys, that they're going to make plays," Roethlisberger said. "It's not just me by any means."
However, the Steelers count heavily on Roethlisberger to make plays, particularly in late-game situations. Few quarterbacks are better at delivering. However, if Roethlisberger gets help from the running game, he might not need late-game heroics for the Steelers to win.
2. Get pressure on Mark Sanchez
The Steelers pride themselves on pressuring quarterbacks, but the defense registered only one sack in that December loss to the Jets.
It's not just the Steelers who have had trouble getting to Sanchez of late. He has been getting Secret Service-like protection from his line. He was not sacked by the Patriots on Sunday, and he has been sacked only twice since Dec. 12.
It will be interesting to see how Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau mixes up blitz calls this time around. LeBeau is a shrewd in-game adjuster, as he displayed Saturday against the Ravens, when the Steelers turned up the pressure on Joe Flacco in the second half and harassed him into mistakes.
The Steelers should get a lift from having star safety Troy Polamalu in the lineup. Polamalu missed the December loss to the Jets, and few if any defensive players are more important to their team.
"He's the ultimate playmaker," Sanchez said. "He'll kind of freelance out there and read your eyes. Especially a young quarterback, he'll try to get after you early and rattle you. So I'm excited about the matchup against him, and he's going to bring his best. And we're going to need our best."
3. Avoid foolish penalties
The Steelers were fortunate to win Saturday, considering they were penalized nine times for 93 yards. There were times when the Steelers lost their composure, caught up in the emotion of the game and their rivalry against the Ravens.
The Steelers must avoid that trap against the Jets, a team loaded with trash-talkers who can get underneath an opponent's skin. Offensive penalties can be momentum breakers against the Jets, who thrive on putting opponents in third-and-long situations.
Something has to give. Both the Jets and Steelers are good rushing teams that find ways to win in the fourth quarter, and both play aggressive defense — especially vs. the run. The Jets were the last team to beat the Steelers, thanks in part to the fact they rushed for 106 yards — the most the Steelers' No. 1 rush defense has given up all season.
QB Mark Sanchez. He had the lowest completion percentage of any AFC quarterback in the regular season (54.8), but he has stepped up in the postseason. Sanchez has completed 60.7 percent of his passes for 383 yards, three touchdowns and only one interception.
CB Antonio Cromartie. Cromartie was matched up against Steelers receiver Mike Wallace — who had 1,257 yards receiving and 10 touchdowns in the regular season and led the AFC with a 21.0 yards per catch average — in the teams' first meeting; Wallace was targeted 10 times and caught seven passes for 102 yards. The Steelers will likely try to attack deep with Wallace again, so Cromartie will have to step up.
OLB James Harrison. After registering just half a sack in his previous five games, Harrison had three sacks and two tackles for loss last week against the Ravens. The matchup of Harrison vs. Jets left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson will be one of the best in this game. The player who comes out on top could determine the outcome of the game.
The bottom line
The Jets are trying to do what the Steelers did in the 2005 season, when they became the first No. 6 seed to win all three playoff games on the road and win the Super Bowl. The Jets have already beaten the top three quarterbacks in the league — Roethlisberger, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady — on the road and are trying to make it two in a row against Roethlisberger. But for the Jets to win, they'll have to disrupt Big Ben, who has been efficient and productive. That will prove too difficult, and the Steelers will prevail. Prediction: Steelers 27, Jets 13.
The same can be said about the Steelers that had to endure and off-season of Ben the Scumbag and four games of Charlie Batch.
This years Jets defense is not as good as last years. The offense is better...and that is the rub. If the Jets win Sunday it will be the O, not the D...Steelers Defense is better overall.
Homefield should be huge. Temperatues of 10-5 degrees. My pick: Steelers by 4. Shutting up all front-running Jets fans coming out of the woodwork: priceless.
Good summation. I think it comes down to several things. First and most importantly, the steelers need to get alot of pressure on Sancheese.....not only pressure but a few PHYSICAL sacks.......Harrison needs to take another fine and pound sancheese into the frozen turf a few times. If they DO that.....and get some pressure on the guy....HE WILL MAKE MISTAKES. HE does not like playing in the cold.....and if you pressure him and bloody him up a bit....IT WILL make a difference. Conversely, the more teams seem to bloody and beat on Rottenburger....THE STRONGER he gets.
If somehow sancheese gets time.....he has the weapons to get it done....I DON'T see the Jests getting much on the ground unless steelers have more guys dinged up than I have heard about.......I think you pressure sanchez and make him beat you through air.
Now, the steelers are limited a bit with receivers.....yes wallace is awesome....but after that if falls off alot......Ward is a shadow of his former self and they have a bunch of ? other than that don't they? Mendenhall is great and should have a good game.
The reasoning: I was impressed (obviously) with the way the Jets played, but I was equally unimpressed with the Steelers' play against the Ravens. They drove down the field with ease to go up 7-0, but their next five drives ended fumble, punt, fumble, missed field goal, punt, with the Steelers gaining an average of 13.4 yards per drive. It was, really, one of the ugliest things you can see in a playoff football game, but from a Steelers-Ravens playoff game, we shouldn't have expected anything more.
The concerns: Rex Ryan told his players last week that they'd be playing in the second-biggest game in franchise history. So what does he tell them this week? "This one's not as big as last week's game, because we don't have any personal vendettas against the Steelers, but it's even bigger than last week's game because it actually means more! This is the one-and-a-halfth-most important game in franchise history!!"
With a team that was incredibly motivated to beat New England and had extra incentive after an emotional pep talk from Dennis Byrd, and with a team that isn't exactly devoid of distractions, I'm concerned that there may be a letdown. Football's about emotion as much as any scheming, and we all witnessed its power on Sunday night.
Pittsburgh grounds the Jets and their rushing attack enough to put MARK "Body Language" SANCHEZ in the center of the storm. That eye of the Tiger fades and Pittsburgh punches its ticket to Valley Ranch. Steelers 24, Jets 20.
Is Heath Miller really all that much of an asset? Really? I had the guy on fantasy team this year and he was a bust!!!
I think it's all about matchups and gameplan. As you saw his stats have been pretty good since he came back from that concussion. Jets knew the Pats had an advantage with their tight TE and slot receiver, so they game planned against that. Not so sure that the Jets will do the same thing against Pittsburgh.
I wouldn't base much of anything on a guy's fantasy numbers, as they tend to put far too much emphasis on touchdowns. Miller may not be an All-Pro but I can certainly see him possibly being a difference maker in this game.
DB Drew Coleman (knee; limited practice), DE Shaun Ellis (knee; did not practice), S James Ihedigbo (knee/ankle; limited practice), WR Brad Smith (groin; limited practice).
LB Jason Taylor (concussion; full practice), CB Antonio Cromartie (groin, full practice), CB Darrelle Revis (hamstring; limited practice), DL Mike DeVito (neck, full practice), WR Santonio Holmes (quad, full practice), C Nick Mangold (shoulder, full practice), DL Sione Pouha (back, full practice), QB Mark Sanchez (right shoulder, full practice).
DE Aaron Smith (triceps; limited practice).
S Will Allen (knee; limited practice), CB Bryant McFadden (abdomen; full practice).
S Troy Polamalu (Achilles; full practice).
New York Jets fans shouldn't be concerned with all the names on the AFC Championship Game injury report. Jets head coach Rex Ryan announced Friday everybody will play Sunday night against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Steelers list four names on their report. The two biggest are safety Troy Polamalu (probable, Achilles) and defensive end Aaron Smith (doubtful, triceps). Polamalu missed practice Wednesday and Thursday, but participated fully Friday.
Cornerback Bryant McFadden (abdomen) and safety Will Allen (knee) are questionable.
For the Jets, receiver Brad Smith (groin), defensive end Shaun Ellis (knee), cornerback Drew Coleman (knee) and safety James Ihedigbo (knee, ankle) are questionable.
"They're questionable. They're playing. OK," Ryan said after rattling off the injury report at the start of Friday's news conference. "That's pretty much it."
Listed as probable are quarterback Mark Sanchez (shoulder), receiver Santonio Holmes (quadriceps), center Nick Mangold (shoulder), defensive tackle Mike DeVito (neck), defensive tackle Sione Pouha (back), outside linebacker Jason Taylor (concussion), cornerback Darrelle Revis (hamstring) and cornerback Antonio Cromartie (groin).