Coming off back to back wins against Peyton Manning and the Colts, and Tom Brady and the Patriots, Jets fans are confident that their team can breeze past Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers and secure their spot in the Super Bowl.
But in truth, the Jets are in for a tough game against the second seed in the AFC. The Steelers have the best running defense in the NFL, allowing just over 60 rushing yards per game. In their week 15 match-up which the Jets won 22-17, Ladanian Tomlinson and Shonn Greene combined for 89 rushing yards, but the Steelers were missing their top defender, safety Troy Polamolu, and this week, yards on the ground will be hard to come by.
This means tat the brunt of the offense will fall on the shoulders of Mark Sanchez and his receivers. Sanchez seems more comfortable in the playoffs though and is coming off a 16-25 game where he threw for 194 yards and three touchdowns against the Patriots.
Sanchez has plenty of options to throw to including Santonio Holmes, who is due for a big game against his former team, Braylon Edwards, who had 100 yards last game against the Steelers, Dustin Keller, who has to capitalize on the Steelers’ inability to cover tight ends, and tomlinson who caught hi first TD reception in the playoffs since 2008 last week.
The Steelers have a great run defense, but the Ryan showed last game that they weren’t afraid to run the ball, and you can expect the Jets to run it this week in order to set up their passing game. If the Jets refrain from turning the ball over again, they should be able to put up enough points to win.
On defense, the Jets also stop the run well, though they had diffculties stopping Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall last time as he ran for 99 yards and a touchdown.
The more important factor will be the Jets ability to get consistent pass rushh on Roethlisberger. Both starting offensive tackles for the Steelers are injured which should allow easy access for pass rushers Calvin Pace, Shaun Ellis and Jason Taylor. Safety Drew Coleman(30) has also caused some trouble for opponents and sacked Roethlisberger twice last game (and forced two fumbles which were recovered by the Steelers). Roethlisberger is strong and can move around, but if the Jets secondary can confuse Roethlisberger like they did Brady, then their rushers will get to the quarteback eventually.
Rex Ryan and the defense disguised their coverage perfectly last game and even the great Tom Brady was confused enough to throw an interception.
The key matchup will be cornerbac Antonio Cromartie against receiver Mike Wallace. Wallace is one of the fastest players in the NFL and leads the NFL in average yards per reception. Wallace had 102 yards last game. On the other side, Roethlisberger’s most trustworthy target Hines Ward will most likely be covered by Darrelle Revis and will not play much of a role.
The last factor for the Jets will be their ability to stop the Steelers’ pass rush. The Steelers have the best group of blitzing linebackers in the league, and have terrorized opponents quarterbacks all year long. But Sanchez has been sacked only once this postseason and only once in their last matchup against the Steelers. Tackle Wayne Hunter has done a great job filling in for injured Damian Woody, and if the line can give Sanchez time to throw and their backs room to run this week, then the Jets have a good chance to win and avance to their first Superbowl since Superbowl III.
Prediction: Jets 20, Steelers 16