So much good can come out of this AFC battle should the Steelers win, but they will have to do it without All-World strong safety Troy Polamalu. The game is a near must win for the Jets to stay alive in the AFC Wild Card picture. This game will be a defensive battle for sure and points will be a premium. Below are what we deem to be 7 keys to the game for the Steelers to beat the Jets in week 15.
Hunt The Hunter - The Jets will start Wayne Hunter at right tackle in the place of the injured Damien Woody and LaMarr Woodley must be licking his lips prior to the game. Hunter gave up 3 sacks to the Miami Dolphins last week when he entered for the injured Woody and his start Sunday in Pittsburgh, will be his first. Right guard Brandon Moore can only help Hunter so much and the Jets may be forced to have tight end Dustin Keller help chip and block more and it could keep him out of his pass pattern or get a late start in it. Look for the Steelers to really overload the Jets right side and send various blitzes and both early and late downs. Ziggy Hood, Lawrence Timmons and Woodley all have possibilities of big games on that side and the Steelers need it from them.
Make Safeties Dance - The Jets come into the game banged up and inexperienced at the safety position as Eric Smith out with a concussion and James Ihedigbo may play limited with a hurt ankle and knee. That leaves Brodney Pool and Dwight Lowery as the two players slated to get the most snaps at safety. The Steelers really want to make these guys read and react on every play and perhaps force them into a mistake like reading the eyes or pump fake of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Both the corners Jets corners, Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie are great, but there will be times when they need help over the top. Revis also has had a hamstring problem this week as well.
Bring The USC Out Of Sanchez - You can take a quarterback out of USC, but you can\'t take the USC out of a quarterback. The Steelers did a great job of forcing errors from Carson Palmer, another USC quarterback, last week and look to keep Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez on his downward spiral. The defense will likely want Sanchez to beat them underneath and be patient, something he has yet to show he can do in the NFL. They will also give him numerous looks blitz wise and hopefully force him into some throws like Palmer made last week. The last thing they want is for him to get into any type of rhythm with former Steelers receiver Santonio Holmes.
Improve Road Grading - The Steelers have not been good or consistent all year in their run blocking. Running back Rashard Mendenhall has to stop having to break so many tackles in his own backfield as well. Mendenhall hasn\'t had a run of more than 22 yards in the past four games and the Steelers offense thrives on big plays. The Steelers want to run with power to the right side and it is time that Maurkice Pouncey, Ramon Foster, Flozell Adams and both tight ends make it happen. The Jets have a solid run defense, but the Steelers offense needs to be able to prove they can run at will in December. Something they have yet to be able to do. It must start Sunday.
Stop The Yellow Fever - The Steelers have been penalized 17 times in their last four games for offensive holding. They have luckily overcome the holding penalties to win all four of those games, but the holding penalties can\'t continue. Mike Tomlin said as much this past Tuesday in his presser saying, "What we need to do is cut down on the actions that are triggering the flags, which is grabbing and restricting the jersey coming away from the body," Tomlin said. "We\'ve got to do a more detailed job of playing technical." Let\'s hope Jonathan Scott and Chris Kemoeatu got that message.
Force Backs To Edge - The Steelers defense can not be lax against a Jets offense that will want to try to establish a running game early to take pressure off of Sanchez. The Steelers want Jets running backs are LaDainian Tomlinson and Shonn Greene to have to bump runs outside and the Steelers interior front must control the gaps and force them to make a living on the edges. The Steelers have yet to allow 100 yard rusher this year and are only giving up an average of 60.1 yards per game on the ground and 2.93 yards a carry. The Jets are currently running the ball 47% of the time, and average only 32.8 rush attempts per game. They still rank as the league\'s sixth-best rushing offense, but those numbers are dramatically down from the 2009 version that led the NFL in rushing yards. The Steelers linebackers must feast on the ball carries and not miss tackles.
Redzone Blues - The Steelers have to stop settling for field goals in the redzone as that lets teams hang around and be only 1 or 2 big plays away from tying the game or winning it. Redzone trips in the Sunday afternoon will likely not be plentiful as the Jets defense is still one of the best in the NFL despite the injuries. Offensive coordinator Bruce Arians admits the offense needs to stop trying to score on just one or two plays when they enter the redzone and they must try to run first inside the Jets 20. Touchdowns will be huge in this game and the Steelers will need at least two to likely win. Field goals likely will not do the trick.
Steelers Jets Game Prediction - If the Steelers defense can play up to the same level they have played over the last few weeks, you have to like their chances regardless of howw the offense performs. If the offense can knock off the penalties and the sacks, the Steelers offense should be able to finish a few drives. I think this game will be a nail bitter once again for the Steelers as likely will let the Jets hang around until late. I like a late Steelers drive to end in a touchdown here and perhaps a big play by the defense to end a last minute Jets drive. Steelers should cover.
Final Score: Steelers 17 Jets 10