AFC Championship Game 2011: Keys To Steelers Victory Over the New York Jets
How spoiled are Pittsburgh Steelers' fans? This Sunday will be the 7th AFC Championship game the Steelers will play since I've been born. That includes 14 playoff appearances in 23 years.That's more impressive when you consider that the NFL only allows six teams from each conference to make the postseason, and when you account the free-agency aspect of it.
The New York Jets road the AFC Championship has been impressive. They've defeated two of the most successful franchises and quarterbacks of our generation, on the road nonetheless. They talk the talk and for the most part of have very much backed it up. My former colleague even pointed out that if they would go on to defeat the Steeelers this Sunday, would be eerily similar to the 2005 Pittsburgh Steeelers.
Despite the Jets being the media darlings of this match-up, and riding a hot streak, I like the Steeelers to win on Sunday. Not because I'm a Steeeler's fan, and not because I hate Rex Ryan and his foot obsession, but because I believe the Steeelers are the better team.
Jets Secondary Versus The Steelers' Receivers
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Last week the Jets did a great job of disguising coverages against Tom Brady. They were equally as effective against Peyton Manning when they defeated the Colts. So far in the playoffs they made two of the greatest quarterbacks of all-time look lethargic .
They will have a different task against Ben Roethlisberger and his receivers. I'm assuming that Antonio Cromartie will watch Mike Wallace for most of the game. Cromarite is a very good athlete and one on cover guy who can make big plays.
The Steelers should run some crossing patterns and some shorter routes to start the game. Keep Cromartie guessing. If he's not sure what's coming his way he can be beaten deep with a double move. This game the Steelers actually have to set up the deep pass to Wallace.
Assuming that Cromarite is on Wallace that means that Darrelle Revis will be watching Hines Ward. Hines will have a hard time getting open if this happens, so crossing patterns, pick-plays, and screens will have to be used to help him get open.
When the Jets go to a zone defense, then Ben should look for Hines. The Jets do not play zone defenses nearly as well and Hines should be able to find the soft spots.
With Wallace and Ward having tough match-ups for most of the game, Big Ben might look to rookie receiver Emmanuel Sanders way a few times. Sanders should get some good match-ups and might have a chance to make a few plays.
Special teams play will be huge in this game just as it was in the last game. Both kickers Shane Suisham of the Steelers, and Nick Folk of the Jets missed field-goals last week. I can see field-goals being a big part of the game this week. A missed field-goal could very well be a major reason why one team wins, and why one team loses.
Staying with special-teams, when the Jets and Steelers met in the regular season they sure had a big impact on the game. The opening play was a Brad Smith kick-return for a touchdown. I thought that play won the game for the Jets. Got them an early lead and took the wind right out of the stadium.
The Steelers have had below average special-teams for a while now, and every time they punt or kick to the Jets, I'll be holding my breath.
Smith didn't play for the Jets last week but I'm guessing he's going to be suited up this week. I also wouldn't be surprised if the Jets send Santonio Holmes out to return a punt or two.
Lastly both defenses have been playing well, so field position will be crucial. It seems as if the Steelers are constantly starting from the 20 or inside of it. It's a lot harder to score and maintain long drives when you're constantly starting inside your own 20.
On the other side it would be great to see the Steelers pin the Jets deep in their own territory. With a young Mark Sanchez going up against a tough defense in a hostile environment, he might make a big mistake in that situation.
Jets Offensive Line Versus The Steelers Front Seven
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The Jets might very well have the most talented offensive line in the NFL. Center Nick Mangold is a beast. They're strong and athletic, and are good at both pass and run blocking.
In the regular season between these teams I thought the Jets offensive line did a great job protecting Mark Sanchez and won a lot of battles up front. Sanchez was only brought down for a sack once by the Steelers.
In that game the Jets ran the ball for 106 yards and averaged 3.9 yards per carry. If the Jets go over 100 total yards rushing again they will win this game on Sunday. The Jets are arrogant and will try to run against the vaunted Steelers defense.
If the Steelers front seven play anywhere close to as good as they did last week against the Ravens the Jets might not be able to move the ball.
LaMar Woodley was ineffective in the first meeting, so I hope to see him causing chaos this time around.
If the Steelers can stop the run early and get a lead they will win the game. They will cause Mark Sanchez and the Jets to be a pass-first team, and get to send the dogs after him.
It's very cliche but this game will be won up front in the trenches.
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Mark my words Heath Miller will be huge in this game for the Steelers. Since Ward and Wallace have touch match-ups on the outside, Ben should look to Miller early and often.
Miller missed the first meeting in the regular season due to a concussion, but he's healthy now and playing great.
Matt Spaeth started in place of Miller against the Jets and the first meeting and was a huge factor. Unfortunately for the Steelers, him being a factor was a not a good thing. Spaeth was targeted eight times against the Jets, yet only caught three passes for 27 yards.
Spaeth had at least four drops, including one that if he lets go, goes to Emmanuel Sanders for a game-winning touchdown. I'm not blaming Spaeth for the loss, I just believe that if Miller is in the Steelers might have won.
Miller is one of the best all-around tight-ends in the NFL. He's a good blocker, has reliable hands, and is a very underrated route-runner.
If the Jets play the Steelers how I think they'll will then Miller should have a lot of chances to make big plays for the Steelers.
Bruce Arians Please Don't Call Stupid Plays
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It's to the point that I believe the Steelers move the ball in spite of their offensive coordinator, Bruce Arians. I used to defend him all the time but lately I just think he's an awful play-caller.
He always seems to call that one play that hinders a good drive. For example, last week against the Ravens the Steelers were on the move and in Ravens territory. Then Arians calls one of the worst designed reverses I've ever seen. The play went for a loss and the Steelers came away with no points.
Trick plays should be an after thought. I Steeler fans love the Antwaan Randle-El trick plays but I hate them. Unless the offense is doing nothing, there's really no need for them.
Of course hindsight is 20/20 and if the plays work he looks like a genius, but let's be honest here, the Steelers offense goes through its individual talent more than the play-calling.
Sometimes I wish the Steelers would just let Ben Roethlisberger call the plays. Last week on a 3rd and 19, with the game on the line, Ben changed the play and completed a 54 yard bomb that helped set up a Rashard Mendenhall game-winning touchdown.
Ben is one of the best qb's in the league and is by far the best player on the Steelers offense. Let him control the game.
If the Steelers would utilize the no-huddle more often they would probably score at least 6 more points a game.
The Jets have a good defense and are very aggressive. The Steelers need to set up and utillize play-action. Ben, Arians, and the Steelers also have to go after the match-ups. If the Jets are in man then I'm staying away from Revis and Cromarite.
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Troy Polamalu didn't play against the Jets in the regular season. I think we saw how different the Steelers defense is without him. The Steelers had just one sack and forced zero turnovers against a qb that is known to cough up the ball.
Last week it seems as if everyone on the Steelers defense made a big play besides Polamalu. Partly because the Ravens tried their best to stay away from #43, and partly because Troy isn't 100% healthy.
I personally didn't think Troy played a very good game against Baltimore. He missed at least three open field tackles and didn't make any big plays. That being said, him being on the field makes this defense better in all aspects.
Every time Sanchez comes up the line he's going to be trying to find Troy, and he's going to try and stay away from him. That gives the other ten players on the defense a chance to make plays.
Everything about the Steelers defense is completely different when Troy is in the lineup. The players have more confidence, including Troy's partner in the secondary Ryan Clark.
Even the play-calling is better when Troy is playing. I for one believe that Dick LeBeau isn't as aggressive when Troy isn't in with his play-calling. He doesn't dial up as many blitzes and plays a very soft and safe coverage.
With Troy in there he can either use him to play deep and bring a blitz, or he can call plays that has Troy has the primary play-maker. Since Troy might not be fully recovered yet I think the game-plan will be similar to the one against the Ravens.Having Troy as the deep man, and having the rest of the defense playing very aggressive.
One thing for sure is that just by having Troy on the field this time around will make things a lot different.
Santonio Holmes and Braylon Edwards
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What a game these two had last week against the Patriots. Both Santonio Holmes and Braylon Edwards scored impressive touchdowns last week, helping the Jets advance to the AFC Championship.
Although Holmes already made his return to Pittsburgh as a "non-Steeler" in the regular season, I'm sure he and most of the fans find it as a big deal. Holmes was a very big part in the Steelers Super Bowl XLIII victory and was let go by the organization because of his off the field actions.
I'm sure Holmes would like nothing else than to make a game-changing play against the black and gold and defeat them in a game that decides who gets to go the Super Bowl.
I'm assuming that Ike Taylor will be watching Holmes for much of the game and those two are already at a a war of words.
"I'm not going to hesitate to lay him out," Taylor said, according to the New York Post. "No question at all. You know why? Because he ain't going to hesitate to crack on me if he gets a chance. I love him and that's my boy, but when we get between those white lines, it's a whole different deal. I'm going to try to be as disrespectful as possible once we get between those white lines. Friendship doesn't enter into it then."
If Taylor can contain Holmes for much of the game, Sanchez will likely look Edward's way. Edwards is becoming a big time receiver and had a very good game against the Steelers last time these two teams met, catching eight passes for 100 yards.
Bryant McFadden's injury doesn't make things any easier.McFadden missed practice this week while nursing some injuries from last week's game against the Ravens.McFadden's health is critical to the Steelers keeping their secondary intact.
Make Mark Sanchez Uncomfortable
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I already mentioned that the Steelers didn't force any turnovers in the first meeting between these two teams. Not only that but they only sacked Sanchez once and failed to make the, at times jittery Sanchez feel uncomfortable.
Sanchez had one of the best games of his career last week, but he hasn't done it consistently enough for anyone to make a solid prediction on his performance.
The Steelers can not let him feel comfortable on Sunday. They have to hit him every chance they get. They have to make him realize how big this game is and where he's playing at.
This also goes to the fans. That stadium needs to be deafining on Sunday.
Lastly if the Steelers can get Sanchez to make a crucial mistake early in the game they might be able to run away with it. The Jets shouldn't be able to run the ball very effectively against the Steelers, so it's going to mostly comedown to how Sanchez plays.
Is Sanchez ready for this moment? Is he ready to come in and defeat the best defense in the NFL on the road in Pittsburgh, in the AFC Championship?
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The Steelers will be able to trot out their two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback, who may also be playing the best football of his career.
Ben Roethlisberger is playing at a very high level and seems to be on a mission to right all of his wrongs. Last week against the Ravens, Big Ben threw two touchdowns with zero picks and a QB rating of 101.8 and threw a 54-yard bomb on a third-and-19 that helped the Steelers move on in the playoffs.
Even more impressive is the way Roethlisberger is taking care of the ball. He hasn't thrown an interception in his last five games and has only one pick in his last eight starts. Taking that a step further, Ben hasn't thrown an interception in his last 170-plus attempts.
If both defenses play well this Sunday, which QB is more likely to have a good game? Obviously the more experienced and better of the two, and that's Big Ben. Which of the two is more likely to persevere through a poor start or if something goes bad? Ben.
I also believe that Sunday's game will be close and probably won in the fourth quarter, which once again gives Big Ben and the Steelers the edge. Since he's been in the league, Ben has the most fourth-quarter comebacks and game-winning drives.
Lastly, I expect a big game from Ben because I believe he's playing with a chip on his shoulder. He's trying to avenge his poor choices off the field and is trying to prove that he deserves to be mentioned with the likes of Tom Brady and Peyton Manning.
I expect it to be a close and good game Sunday and for Ben to once again give the Steelers another clutch performance and lead them to another Super Bowl appearance.