Let\'s not sugar coat this game. This is for the right to go to Dallas and play in Super Bowl XLV. The Steelers get the luxury of playing at home on Heinz Field on a freezing Pittsburgh night. The Jets are coming off a big win against their division rival. This will be a slobber-knocker of game for sure. Below are what we deem to be 7 keys to the game for the Steelers to beat the Jets and advance to Super Bowl XLV.
Get Heathy - Heath Miller missed the week 15 game against the Jets because of a concussion suffered against the Ravens. He was missed dearly. His replacement, Matt Spaeth, was targeted 8 times in the last meeting and only caught 3 of the targeted passes. The Steelers want Miller matched up on either Jets linebacker David Harris or Bart Scott if possible, but Miller can also give a safety fits in addition. With Mike Wallace, Hines Ward and Emmanuel Sanders getting most of the attention by the Jets secondary on Sunday, Miller should have quite a bit of room to work both underneath and in the middle seem part of the field vertically. He could perhaps be the difference maker in this game. Look for him to be targeted at least 8 times in this game. Miller also provides a big lift in the run blocking department. Last time in two tight end sets, it was Spaeth and David Johnson forced to handle those chores.
Oline Repeat Week 15 - The last time these two teams met in week 15, was one of the best games the patch worked line has had collectively this season. Outside of the missed Jonathan Scott block for a safety late in the game, the line pretty much did their job and did it well. Scott had a pretty good showing last week against the Ravens Terrell Suggs and this week should not be as tough of match-up one would think against the aging Jason Taylor and the average Bryan Thomas in pass protection. Flozell Adams missed the second half against the Ravens with the flu and the extra rest might have been a blessing in disguise combined with the early exit in week 17 against the Browns and the bye week in the playoffs. Chris Kemoeatu had perhaps his best showing all season against the Jets last time around and center Maurkice Pouncey should be very effective in the second level against the Jets linebacker core. Run blocking will be the biggest concern in this game for the Steelers, who have not been great at that part of the game over the last part of the season.
Jets Safety Dance - Running the ball well early in the game will force the Jets to hopefully pull a safety up in support of the run. The Jets would rather give two safety help over the top to protect corners Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie from the deep shots to Wallace, Sanders and Antonio Brown. Any time that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger can catch a safety cheating down, expect him to take a shot deep, much like the Colts Peyton manning tried to do a few weeks ago in the Wild Card round. Cromartie can be run be run past if the Steelers get the right match-up. I look for Revis to mostly draw Wallace this time around as opposed to Cromartie, who had Wallace responsibilities back in week 15. The Steelers must make the Jets safeties get involved in the game on Sunday as it is one of their weaknesses on defense.
Specialer Teams - Make no mistake that the special teams have been less than special lately. The decline can almost be traced back to the last meeting with the Jets in week 15 when Brad Smith returned the opening kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown. That was really the difference in the game. Special teammer Will Allen was hurt last week against the Ravens and is in jeopardy of missing the game on Sunday. Keyaron Fox and Keenan Lewis both cost the special teams units last week with penalties and the lane coverage on kicks and punts have been under the line as well. Jeremy Kapinos and Shaun Suisham need to make every kick count.
City Of Troy - If the corners can do their job and free safety Ryan Clark can hold down the over the top help, it will free strong safety Troy Polamalu up to make his splash plays via his free lance style. Polamalu missed the week 15 game and while Ryan Mundy was OK as a replacement, he did not bring the ability to make plays like Polamalu can. Mundy missed a sack and the Steelers were very careful how they used him. Polamalu is like having a 12th player on the field at times as he contributes that much.
Young Money Crew - Sanders and Brown will likely be given every opportunity to contribute in this game as the Jets want to take out Wallace and Ward. The Jets love to get teams in predictable down and distances so they can get 5 and 6 defensive backs on the field to run with all of the receivers. The rookies will have favorable match-ups on Drew Coleman and company and must get separation as well as catching everything thrown their way.
Stop LT & Greene - The Jets want to run first. Shonn Greene and LaDainian Tomlinson combined for 89 yards on 23 carries the last time these two teams met. They were the only team in 2010 to have that type of success running the ball against the Steelers. Brett Keisel, Ziggy Hood, Casey Hampton and all 4 linebackers must do a better job of winning the one-on-one match-ups against a good Jets offensive line and put the Jets in predictable passing downs where Mark Sanchez will be forced to make plays series after series. The less the Jets have to pass, the better chance they have to win. Especially if the game is close in the 4th quarter, or God forbid they should have the lead. Tomlinson is also deadly out of the backfield and Lawrence Timmons and James Farrior must each do their job when assigned to spy him.
Steelers Jets Game Prediction - I think this is a game that the Steelers can win as long as they do not try to give it away early like they did last week against the Ravens. They played well against the Jets the last time the two met and were minus both Miller and Polamalu in the game. They also gave up a kickoff return to start the game and an easy safety late in the game. Despite all that, the game was still almost won by Roethlisberger on the Steelers final drive. I see a Steelers pick 6 in this deciding it and the Steelers win by a touchdown and cover.
Final Score: Steelers 23 Jets 16