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GAME TIME: 6:30 p.m. ET on CBS
LINE: Steelers by 3.5
New York Jets (13-5)
Opponent Final 2010 Defensive Ranks
Pittsburgh Pass Defense—2010: Yards Allowed/Game, 12th (214 Yds/Gm)—TDs Allowed, Third (15)
Pittsburgh Rush Defense—2010: Yards Allowed/Game, First (62.8 Yds/Gm)—TDs Allowed, T-First (5)
New York Jets Offensive Cast
Mark Sanchez (QB Playoff Week 3 Ranking: No. 4)
Final 2010 Season Stats: 278/507 – for 3,291 yards, 17 TDs and 13 INTs
The Sanchize continues to surprise even his biggest supporters as this week, Sanchez becomes just the second QB in NFL history to lead his team to the conference finals during each of his first two years in the league (the other is none other than Ben Roethlisberger!). Basically, what the guy lacks in overall talent, he more than makes up for in charisma and leadership.
When these two teams met in Pittsburgh back in Week 15, Sanchez had the kind of day you’d expect against a hard-nosed defense like the Steelers: 19 for 29, 170 yards, zero TDs and zero INTs. However, the Jets ended up winning the game due in no small part to a game-tying seven-yard TD run by Sanchez deep in the third quarter.
The question for Sunday’s game is not whether Sanchez will put up great stats or not, because he won’t. The question is, can the kid from Long Beach, Calif. play error-free ball once again and lead his team to a Super Bowl berth over the mighty Steelers? The answer is yes, but only if his teammates can follow suit.
LaDainian Tomlinson (RB Playoff Week 3 Ranking: No. 5)
Final 2010 Season Stats: 219 carries for 914 yards and six TDs || 52 receptions for 368 yards and no TDs
The offense still seems to be doing a good job of splitting the workload between Tomlinson and Greene, but like last year during the Jets playoff run, the edge in carries has swayed toward the bigger, more physical Greene. Expect more of the same against the brutish Steelers this week as the Jets will have to win the battle in the trenches if they want to take this game on the road.
Shonn Greene (RB Playoff Week 3 Ranking: No. 4)
Final 2010 Season Stats: 185 carries for 766 yards and two TDs || 16 receptions for 120 yards and no TDs
Shonn and his punishing style of running should end up with a good amount of carries and some decent final numbers this Sunday, but with the Steelers allowing so few yards on the ground this season, you can’t expect too much.
If Pittsburgh decides to let Sanchez take his shot at winning this one, Greene will without a doubt be stuffed at the line more often than not. However, with the front seven all bunched in tight, we also could see a long run or two take place if he can sneak by the initial set of defenders.
Santonio Holmes (WR Playoff Week 3 Ranking: No. 4)
Final 2010 Season Stats: 52 receptions for 746 yards and six TDs
Holmes is still seeing a good amount of passes come his way, but the amount of short slants and quick screens make it difficult for him to do any serious damage. Because Sanchez is still sporting a bit of a sore shoulder, Holmes will likely see much of the same this weekend leaving little room to make any real high-impact plays.
However, Santonio has always been a big-game player, and given that this game happens to be against his old team with an added bonus of a Super Bowl berth on the line, all bets are off and anything goes.
Braylon Edwards (WR Playoff Week 3 Ranking: No. 3)
Final 2010 Season Stats: 53 receptions for 904 yards and seven TDs
If there’s one chink in this vaunted Steeler defensive armor, it’s in the passing game, particularly against the bigger, more physical receivers. Marques Colston, Terrell Owens and Anquan Boldin all had nice games against the Steelers earlier this year, as did Edwards in their Week 15 matchup when he came away with team-highs of eight catches, 11 targets and 100 yards.
If Sanchez has enough time in the pocket and strength in his arm to throw it Braylon’s way, watch for the ego-driven receiver to have something to talk about by game’s end.
Jerricho Cotchery (WR Playoff Week 3 Ranking: No. 11)
Final 2010 Season Stats: 41 receptions for 433 yards and two TDs
Jerricho is still the most dependable wide receiver on this team, and he was used as such last week against the Patriots in coming out with team-highs in targets (7), catches (5) and yards (96). The Jets may have to turn to a ball-control type of game this Sunday, so look for Cotchery to be used wisely in the offensive game-plan once again.
Brad Smith (WR Playoff Week 3 Ranking: No. 14)
Final 2010 Season Stats: Four receptions for 44 yards and no TDs || 38 carries for 299 yards and one TD
Smith’s groin is still a bit banged up so he’s not expected to be used very often this weekend. If he’s able to return kickoffs, he’ll have a slight chance to create some havoc, but don’t expect him to do much out of the Wildcat formation.
Dustin Keller (TE Playoff Week 3 Ranking: No. 3)
Final 2010 Season Stats: 55 receptions for 687 yards and five TDs
Keller will likely be used as more of a blocker in this game to create some holes for the Jets backfield and to give Sanchez more time to throw the ball downfield. He’ll get a few dump-offs in the process, but don’t expect much as the Steelers have been pretty good all year in defending opposing tight ends.
Pittsburgh Steelers (13-4)
Opponent Defensive Ranks
New York Jets Pass Defense—2010: Yards Allowed/Game Sixth (201 Yds/Gm)—TDs Allowed T-19th (24)
New York Jets Rush Defense—2010: Yards Allowed/Game Third (90.9 Yds/Gm)—TDs Allowed T-12th (11)
Pittsburgh Offensive Cast
Ben Roethlisberger (QB Playoff Week 3 Ranking: No. 2)
Final 2010 Season Stats: 240/389 – for 3,200 yards, 17 TDs and five INTs
Roethlisberger is another QB that never ceases to amaze. After missing the first four games of the season (suspension) while dealing with injuries throughout the rest, once again he has led his team on a deep playoff run and now has a chance to go to (and win) his third Super Bowl in seven years. Unreal.
Last week against the Ravens, Big Ben played well enough to win throwing up 226 yards and two TDs without an interception. Against the Jets back in Week 15, he also played pretty well throwing for 264 yards and a TD with zero interceptions, but couldn’t come away with a win.
If the Steelers want to get by the streaking Jets this Sunday, Ben is going to have to pull the hero-card and beat Revis Island & Co. with some regularity. I expect a pretty good game, but whether or not his beat-up offensive line can give him enough time to throw will tell the story.
Rashard Mendenhall (RB Playoff Week 3 Ranking: No. 1)
Final 2010 Season Stats: 324 carries for 1,273 yards and 13 TDs || 23 receptions for 167 yards and no TDs
The Jets rush D is third in line behind the Steelers in terms of domination, so Rashard will have his work cut out for him again this weekend. He did just fine against them in their first matchup putting up 99 yards and a TD on 17 carries, and you know Pittsburgh won’t stray from using Mendy, so he’ll at least get the touches to produce.
This could turn into a battle between the trenches, so how Mendenhall fares might just determine the outcome of this game. I expect his ferocity to step forward and answer the call.
Mike Wallace (WR Playoff Week 3 Ranking: No. 2)
Final 2010 Season Stats: 60 receptions for 1,257 yards and 10 TDs
Wallace will likely have the undesirable job of toting Darrelle Revis around in his jockstrap all game this Sunday and with a matchup like that, there’s no doubt the rest of the sporting world will be eyeing them just as closely.
Mike actually had a really good game in their first tilt putting up 102 yards on seven catches (10 targets), but you can’t really expect the same with Revis playing as well as he is right now. The fact of the matter is, Wallace really does have the physical gifts of the Gods, so even against this New York pass D, anything is possible.
Hines Ward (WR Playoff Week 3 Ranking: No. 8)
Final 2010 Season Stats: 59 receptions for 755 yards and five TDs
Ward’s speed and skills have diminished to the point where he’s having a tough time getting open in space, but that doesn’t mean he can’t get the job done. In fact, Ward has crossed the goal-line two weeks in a row now for the Steel Crew while his TD last weekend ended up tying the game heading into the fourth quarter.
Even though I don’t expect too much out of the seasoned vet this Sunday, I wouldn’t put it past him to make a difference when it counts. His best remaining qualities are his overall toughness and blocking ability, of which will be needed regularly come Sunday.
Emmanuel Sanders (WR Playoff Week 3 Ranking: No. 12)
Final 2010 Season Stats: 28 receptions for 376 yards and two TDs
The electric third-round pick out of LSU seems to have taken over as Roethlisberger’s No. 2 receiver as his speed and play-making ability are simply too awesome to ignore. Last weekend he tied for the team lead with seven targets while hauling down four passes for 54 yards. Not too shabby for your playoff debut, and I expect it to be even better this weekend.
In the Week 15 game against the Jets, Sanders had a whopping 13 balls thrown his way and turned them into seven catches for 78 yards. Even if for some reason the Steelers stick Cromartie on him, I can still see a good six or seven catches out of Emmanuel this Sunday.
Antwaan Randle El (WR Playoff Week 3 Ranking: No. 15)
Final 2010 Season Stats: 22 receptions for 253 yards and no TDs
Randle El isn’t used very much as a receiver in this offense, but if Pittsburgh decides to run a trick play or two, you can be sure Antwaan and his variety of skills will be involved.
Heath Miller (TE Playoff Week 3 Ranking: No. 2)
Final 2010 Season Stats: 42 receptions for 512 yards and two TDs
The Jets defense held opposing tight ends to the third least amount of catches per game this season, so Miller isn’t likely to be too much of a factor. He wasn’t available in Week 15 against the Jets, but his replacement, Matt Spaeth, did catch a TD pass against them, so Miller might be a decent red-zone threat this Sunday.
Matt Spaeth (TE Playoff Week 3 Ranking: No. 6)
Final 2010 Season Stats: Nine receptions for 80 yards and one TD
Spaeth did a fine job filling in for Miller while he was out for a couple of games during the season and even caught a touchdown against this Jets D, but with Heath back in the lineup, he won’t be used as more than a much-needed blocker this weekend.