AFC championship match up: Steelers vs. Jets
When the Jets have the ball: QB Mark Sanchez was part of the difference in the first meeting because he was near-flawless in his execution of play-action. He had the lowest completion percentage of any AFC QB in the regular season (54.8) but has been more effective in the postseason (60.7 percent, 383 yards, 3 TDs, 1 INT). WR Braylon Edwards has been a beast in the postseason, catching six passes for 114 yards and one touchdown. He was a problem for the Steelers in the first meeting when CB Ike Taylor was matched against WR Santonio Holmes. The Jets are averaging 144.5 yards rushing in the postseason. They rushed for 106 yards in the first meeting, the most against the Steelers' defense in the regular season. Part of the reason is Pro Bowl C Nick Mangold, who will be matched against NT Casey Hampton and does a good job getting to the second tier.
When the Steelers have the ball: Ben Roethlisberger's career playoff record is 9-2, and the reason is his ability to bring his team back from almost any situation. He hasn't thrown an interception in his past 190 attempts and he won't drop at the first hint of pressure like Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. Because CB Darrelle Revis was matched mostly on Hines Ward in the first meeting, Roethlisberger targeted WR Mike Wallace (10) and rookie WR Emmanuel Sanders (13) for 23 of his 44 attempts. CB Antonio Cromartie isolated on Wallace because he is fastest of the two corners, but Wallace caught seven passes for 102 yards. The Steelers rushed for 146 yards in that first meeting -- their fourth highest total in the regular season -- and RB Rashard Mendenhall averaged 5.9 yards on 17 carries. They will have to do that again to keep the Jets from dropping seven and eight players into coverage.
Jets special teams ... WR/KR Brad Smith hurt the Steelers in the first meeting, returning the opening kickoff 97 yards for a TD. Smith (groin) did not play last week, but his replacement, Antonio Cromartie, has averaged 31.8 ypr n the postseason. The Steelers allowed two long returns against the Ravens, including a 55-yard punt return for touchdown that was negated by penalty. What's more, they have committed a number of holding and illegal-block penalties, resulting in poor field position. Their longest kick return in the past eight games is 27 yards and the longest punt return in the past six is 11 yards.
This is the fifth appearance and second in a row in the AFC championship for the Jets, who are 1-3. Before their Dec. 19 victory at Heinz Field, the Jets had been 0-7 all time in Pittsburgh since the 1970 merger. The Jets are 8-2 on the road after going 6-2 during the regular season. ... The Steelers are 16-4 all time vs. the Jets, including 1-0 in the postseason. This is the Steelers' 15th appearance in the AFC championship, 11th time at home. They are 7-7 overall, 5-5 at home.
To win, the Jets must ...
1 Not give Ben a chance. They don't want to tempt fate again by giving Roethlisberger an opportunity to beat them in the final minute.
2 Handle Harrison. The Steelers sacked Sanchez just once in the first meeting and will likely amp their pressure with OLB James Harrison.
3 Take to the road. They already have beaten the top three QBs in the league on the road -- Roethlisberger, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady.
To win, the Steelers must ...
1 Get Sanchez off his mark. His efficiency and productivity in the postseason has been the Jets' biggest asset.
2 'Tone down Holmes. The secondary has to be sure the only Super Bowl-like catch their former teammate makes is the one he had last week vs. the Patriots.
3 Remember 2001. Don't let another trip to the Super Bowl be derailed by special-teams blunders, as it was vs. Troy Brown and the Patriots nine years ago.
First Published January 23, 2011 12:00 am