One Step to the Superbowl; New York Jets travel to Pittsburgh to face the Steelers




After knocking off the Superbowl favorite New England Patriots in Foxboro last week, the New York Jets travel to Pittsburgh this Sunday hoping to upset the odds once again against the Steelers.

The Steelers earned the right to host the AFC Championship game after defeating the Baltimore Ravens in a dramatic come from behind victory last week.

The Jets have already come out of Heinz Field with a victory this season after beating the Steelers 22-17 in the regular season. They somewhat stole that game from the Steelers who were missing key players on both sides of the ball and were a dropped pass winning the game.
Miller is Roethlisberger's safety valve

Matt Spaeth dropped the pass in question in the back corner of the endzone with no time left on the clock. Spaeth was playing due to the absence of starting Tight end Heath Miller. Miller was described this week by his quarterback as being the "best tight end in the game" and will make a big impact this week but not as big as the other Steeler missing that day.

Troy Polamalu did not have a great game against the Baltimore Ravens last week but has a chance to take advantage of Mark Sanchez, who has never played against the unique safety before, and swing the game in the Steelers favor.

The Steelers game was the first game in which the Jets changed their offense to a more Sanchez-friendly design. They have continued since then with the same game-plan that has been so effective throughout the playoffs. This won't be enough against a full strength(minus Aaron Smith) Steelers defense that is determined to avenge that regular season defeat.

View Image
Clark believes his teammate is the
best safety in the league.
Polamalu is a vital cog in Dick LeBeau's defense. In the past two seasons the team is 14-4 when Polamalu plays but 5-7 when he does not. Statistically the team is better in every category when he plays but the biggest difference between a Troy-less defense and when he's on the field is his knack for making impact plays in big occasions.

Last week Ryan Clark was the catalyst in the secondary forcing a fumble and picking off a pass but he is always the first to highlight Polamalu's play "Is he the best defensive player in the league, according to me? Without a doubt" Clark claimed after the Jets won in Heinz Field. Clark also stressed that the difference between the teams was just "one big play."


One big play is Troy Polamalu's speciality.

Polamalu(43) points to his son in the
crowd after sealing the AFC crown
in 2008
The last time the Steelers made it to the AFC Championship Polamalu showed off this speciality by picking off Joe Flacco to seal the Steeler's victory. Polamalu is what makes the Steelers' defense so difficult for younger quarterbacks to figure out. His pre snap positioning on the field has nothing to do with where he will eventually end up(it's generally where the ball ends up) and you cannot rely on whether he will be in coverage or blitzing.

Polamalu even drastically improves the Steelers' numbers against the run which will be important as the Jets had relative success against the team in the regular season matchup. Don't expect the Jets to run the ball on the Steelers as well this time around. I say well but they only managed 106 yards on the ground in the last matchup. The Steelers gave up only 62.8 rushing yards per game, third best in league history, and needless to say the best in the league.

Mark Sanchez scored a rushing TD
against the Steelers in their last game
This puts the game on Mark Sanchez's shoulders in a way that has never happened before. Sanchez will need to hold onto the ball longer in order to note Polamalu's position which should give the Steelers all pro rushers to bring him down. The importance of Sanchez's matchup with Polamalu cannot be stressed enough.

It is a different story on the Steelers' side of the ball as the hometown team will look to take advantage of the Jets' safeties. The Steelers showed that they could move the ball through the air on the Jets defense during the last game by sending receivers across the middle. Ben Roethlisberger looked to Emmanuel Sanders often in that game as Sanders had 7 receptions for 78 yards predominantly over the middle. Expect Heath Miller to take some of those receptions away from Sanders this week as the Steelers come with the same game-plan.

Mike Wallace showed the ability to beat Antonio Cromartie in the last matchup as he put up 7 receptsions for 102 yards. Wallace should be taken out of the game by Cromartie this week but Roethlisberger has plenty of other options, better options than Tom Brady or Peyton Manning had, in Miller, Sanders, Antonio Brown and Hines Ward. Spreading out the Jets defense is often the best way of putting points on the board but Rashard Mendenhall will be holding his hand high come Saturday night.
Emmanuel Sanders Emmanuel Sanders #88 of the Pittsburgh Steelers makes a catch against the Carolina Panthers during the preseason game on September 2, 2010 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Emmanuel Sanders has
been a revelation in his
rookie season.

Mendenhall ran for 99 yards and a touchdown in the last game on only 17 carries(an average of over 6 yards). This is a feat not likely to be repeated but Mendenhall has had a great season and will bring balance to the Steelers' offense that the Jets cannot cope with. Neither the Patriots or Colts were anywhere near as balanced as this offense.

The Jets celebrated last week as if they had won the Superbowl, and in a sense they had because this team was put together to beat the Patriots, whereas the Steelers simply looked to the next game.

There is too much going against the New York Jets for them to progress to the Superbowl so expect the Steelers to be playing for their third Superbowl ring in the past decade in Dallas this February.

Sports Central Winner
Pittsburgh Steelers.

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