Head to head: Steelers LB James Harrison vs. Jets LT D'Brickashaw Ferguson
That's how many sacks the Steelers had on Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez in the Dec. 19 meeting at Heinz Field -- a surprisingly low number for a team that led the National Football League with 48 sacks in the regular season.
That is also the number of times the Jets had a third-down conversion opportunity longer than 9 yards against the Steelers. And they were faced with 13 third-down chances.
Both occurred on the same play in the Jets' 22-17 victory. Linebacker James Farrior had the only sack on Sanchez on a third-and-18 from the Jets' 46 in the first quarter.
"We don't want to have those guys in third-and-manageable situations," Farrior said. "We definitely want to get them in third-and-long situations where they're going to have to make Sanchez throw the ball."
The Steelers are hoping to put the Jets in more of those third-and-long situations in today's AFC Championship Game at Heinz Field. In the first meeting, seven of the Jets' third-down opportunities were third-and-5 or shorter, allowing Sanchez to keep the Steelers guessing with run or pass options.
The Steelers had a good chance at another sack on third-and-9 at the Jets' 46 in the fourth quarter, but safety Ryan Mundy missed Sanchez on a blitz and Jets receiver Braylon Edwards caught a 16-yard pass to keep alive a field-goal drive that would give the Jets a 20-17 lead.
"They made sure they kept it third-and-manageable with quick-game throws," said outside linebacker James Harrison. "If you do the quick game, it gets your quarterback time to get the ball out and you don't have to worry abut too much pressure getting to him. It gets you 4 to 5 yards a hit on first and second down and makes third down manageable. We're going to have to find a way to correct that."
Harrison could be the perfect solution. And just in time.
After going five games with just a half-sack, Harrison had three sacks in last week's 31-24 divisional playoff victory against the Baltimore Ravens -- a career high for him in five postseason starts. What's more, he also had two tackles for losses and spent a large portion of the game disrupting the Ravens' backfield.
"I don't think we called any more pressures than normal," said Farrior, the defensive captain. "I ... think he did a great job with his one-on-one battles with the tackle. Sometimes they let a running back block him, which isn't a good idea for any running back, and he took advantage of those opportunities."
Harrison, who has been selected to four consecutive Pro Bowls, should have a good one-on-one battle against the Jets. He will line against two-time Pro Bowl left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson, the fourth overall pick in the 2006 draft.
"It's big ... very important," defensive end Brett Keisel said about applying pressure on Sanchez. "We didn't get to him last time, and I think that is something we have done well, as of late, is getting the quarterback."
Maybe even more bothersome to defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau is that the Steelers didn't force any turnovers against the Jets in the first meeting.
"You always need a little more pressure on the quarterback," LeBeau said. "I think more important than that, we didn't get any turnovers in that game at all. We have to turn the ball over a little, get pressure on the ball."
Harrison is a good place to start.
First Published January 23, 2011 12:00 am