The New York Jets have done the unbelievable. They knocked future Hall-of-Fame quarterbacks Peyton Manning and Tom Brady from the playoffs in back-to-back weeks on the road. Now, they look to add Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers to the list in the AFC Championship Game.
They already met previously in Pittsburgh this season, with the Jets winning 22-17 in a nail-biter. With that knowledge, plus the fact the Jets have just taken down the previously-unstoppable New England Patriots, it is no surprise that a lot of people are taking the Jets.
Yet, there is one thing that will be different in this game than the previous meeting.
Strong safety Troy Polamalu for the Steelers will be playing. The Steelers defense is a totally different creature with Polamalu in the lineup. He allows them to be more creative and he demands so much attention from the offense. That extra second spent making sure of his location on the field can be the difference between a touchdown and an interception, a first down and a sack.
The Colts and the Patriots lack a player like that. Quarterback Mark Sanchez for the Jets will have to know where No. 43 is on the field all day, even if he is not at full health. He will drop into a zone, cover a receiver in man-to-man, or blitz. He has a knack for making game-changing plays at the crucial moment.
The Steelers are going to have to contend with a defense that absolutely stymied Tom Brady and the Patriots last weekend. They were able to get to Brady with blitzes and with just three rushers. The Steelers offensive line is definitely not the best in the league, so Roethlisberger will have to contend with pressure most of the day.
However, there is no question that he is one of the few quarterbacks who can handle that kind of pressure. His ability to improvise in the pocket and his size allow him a couple extra seconds that most quarterbacks cannot. He is used to blitzes and lots of pressure from playing the Baltimore Ravens twice a year.
Jets head coach Rex Ryan has to hope that his defense can get pressure on Roethlisberger without having to blitz so he can drop eight defenders into coverage. That will be the way that the Jets can beat the Steelers. However, the counter to that will be draw plays to running backs Rashard Mendenhall and Mewelde Moore. The Steelers have the weapons to beat the Jets if they blitz and if they back off into coverage.
In the battle of defenses, I have to take the Pittsburgh Steelers because of Troy Polamalu and Ben Roethlisberger. Polamalu allows the Steelers to play a better defensive style and Roethlisberger is so good in close games against pressure.