For the Jets to advance to Super Bowl XLV in Dallas, they’ll have to face one of their toughest challenges all season, a rematch with the Pittsburgh Steelers and their two-time Super Bowl winning quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger.
Unlike some of the quarterbacks the Jets have faced this postseason, Roethlisberger is a big challenge physically for the Jets defense as they try to stifle a potential Hall of Fame quarterback for the third straight week.
“We don’t look at him as a diva quarterback,” said linebacker Bart Scott on Thursday. “We look at him as a football player. He’s a quarterback willing to take the hits.”
Most quarterbacks become skittish after a few big hits. It was a key factor in the Jets’ upset victory over the Patriots last week. Despite playing max coverage with a lot of extra defensive backs and only 3 or 4 pass rushers, the Jets were able to sack Brady 5 times and make him uncomfortable in the pocket. Brady was ineffective and unable to get into a good rhythm the whole game.
But Roethlisberger will not be intimidated by pressure, hurries, quarterback hits, and sacks. At 6’5, 241, Big Ben is incredible difficult to tackle, and can often shake off the first defender and extend plays with his feet.
No quarterback is better when a play breaks down than Roethlisberger. Dealing with a beat-up offensive line, the Jets should be able to get pressure on number 7, but the key for the visitors is going to be tackling the football.
In their week 15 meeting in Pittsburgh, Jets defensive back Drew Coleman sacked Roethlisberger twice, both times knocking the ball out of his hands while Big Ben was still standing up. Coleman is listed at 5’9, 180, so it’s unlikely that he’s going to plow through Roethlisberger and bring him down to the ground by himself.
The big keys for the Jets defense are to contain Ben Roethlisberger, do not allow him to make plays deep downfield, and tackle the football when they have a sack opportunity. The Steelers recovered both fumbles on Coleman’s two strip-sacks in the last meeting.
The Jets also forced a few fumbles last week against the Patriots and were unable to recover any of them. The law of averages says that those balls are going to bounce our way at some point, why not this week?
On offense, one of the big key strategies for the Jets is to control the clock and not turn the ball over. Winning the time of possession battle is big, winning the turnover battle is huge. Against one of the best defenses in the league, not just this year, but in many years, Brian Schottenheimer will have his hands full.
In the week 15 meeting, Schottenheimer saved the Jets’ season by calling one of his best games ever as Jets offensive coordinator, including the brilliant bootleg fake on 4th-and-1 near the goal line that tied the game up at 17 and gave the Jets the momentum they needed in one of the great regular season wins in Jets history.
I think it’s safe to say, the Steelers won’t be fooled that easily the second time around.
Sanchez was an incredible 9 for 9 passing in the middle of the field last time, as the Steelers clearly missed safety Troy Polamalu, who sat out the first meeting.
Polamalu is back this time, and he is one of the most difficult players in the league for a young quarterback to read. A lot of times, Polamalu is free-lancing his responsibilities, so even his own teammates don’t know what he’s doing on a given play, much less the quarterback.
The Steelers allowed an incredibly low 1004 rushing yards in 16 games in the regular season, just 34 yards more than the 2000 Ravens (970) for the fewest yards allowed in a 16-game season in NFL history.
Only two teams rushed for over 100 yards against the Steelers, the Patriots in week 10, and the Jets in week 15. Every other team was held to under 75 yards rushing, as the Steelers finished with an incredible 62.8 rushing yards allowed per game.
To put that in perspective, the Bears and Jets were 2nd and 3rd in rushing yards allowed, at 90.1 and 90.9 yards per game, respectively.
The Steelers faced a Ravens team last week that is built very similarly to the Jets and held them to only 35 rushing yards, and an incredible 126 yards of total offense.
While the Ravens had a terrible day offensively, needless to say the Jets will have to be much better than that to win on Sunday.
The Jets must convert key third-downs and try to find creative ways to run the football. The Steelers were the best up-the-middle run defense in the NFL, which is no big surprise. They allowed only 2.9 yards per carry up the middle, the only team under 3 ypc.
If the Jets can establish a running game, that will allow Mark Sanchez to make plays without being one-dimensional.
The one area where the Jets can exploit a big advantage over the Steelers is special teams. Brad Smith ran back the opening kickoff of the game 97 yards for a touchdown in the last meeting, on a play where he was barely even touched as Rob Turner and the rest of Mike Westhoff’s return team opened up a huge hole down the right sideline for Smith.
Antonio Cromartie has been a godsend the last two weeks filling in for the injured Smith, with big returns to help the Jets close out both of their road playoff victories. Now, Smith returns from his groin injury, and I wouldn’t be too surprised to see both men back on returns at some point, just to give the Steelers something to think about.
It is absolutely going to be a total team effort for the Jets this Sunday. The better team will be going to the Super Bowl. The stakes could not be much higher. Rex Ryan has assured the fans that the team will be ready to play. If they can execute their game plans, I trust Rex Ryan and company to lead this team to the promised land.