By David Todd
Overview: The Steelers and Jets hooked up in the AFC Championship game at Heinz Field, their second meeting in a month. This time the Steelers were so dominate in the first half that despite a defensive meltdown and zero points in the second, they were able to hold on and earn their eighth trip to the Super Bowl. The Steelers defense, which held the Jets to one yard rushing before halftime, scored a late second quarter touchdown which proved to be the decisive score. New York made a game of it in the second half, but some gutsy playing calling by the Steelers on the final drive meant the Jets never actually possessed the ball with a chance to win or tie at any point in the second half. The better team won, but the Steelers never put the game out of reach, which one second half score would have done.
Maurkice Pouncey left in the middle of the first quarter with a high ankle sprain. Pouncey has said that he will definitely be there in Dallas, but don\’t bet on it. It is unlikely that Pouncey will practice before media day next Tuesday and then he will only have a few practices to prove that he can go. Pouncey relies heavily on his mobility so an ankle injury could really limit his effectiveness. The Steelers may have to make a roster move this week to be sure they have a backup to Doug Legursky if Pouncey can\’t go.
*Rashard Mendenhall ran for 121 yards and a touchdown on 27 carries (take that Peter King). All year Mendenhall has shown an ability to get tough yards near the goal line and he scored his third TD of the post-season on the Steelers opening possession with a hard 1-yard run. He also caught two passes for 32 yards. In The Terrible Podcast we discussed getting Mendenhall the ball in space because of his ability to outrun the Jets linebackers and overpower their corners. We saw it happen Sunday.
*Ben Roethlisberger\’s running continues to be the most overlooked facet of the Steelers offense. On 3rd-12 on the Steelers opening drive, Roethlisberger recognized the Jets man coverage and ran for 13 yards and a first down. Ben gets credit for keeping plays alive, but just as importantly, he is running more frequently when the opportunities are there and it has been an understated key to the offense\’s success.
*Isaac Redman continues to be productive when given the opportunity. After a 35-yard gain by Mendenhall on the Steelers third drive, Redman carried twice for 21 yards to help set up a field goal that gave the Steelers a 10-0 lead.
*The offensive line continues to do enough despite a rash of injuries. The Steelers hammered the Jets for 166 yards on the ground and Ben was only sacked twice. Doug Legursky did a solid job filling in for the injured Pouncey.
*Two big pass plays closed out the game and never gave the Jets the ball with a chance to win. While Ben did a good job on both plays, Heath Miller and Antonio Brown made excellent catches on difficult balls.
*As good as Legursky was, the two fumbled exchanges with Roethlisberger are unacceptable. One occurred on first down in Jets territory killing the Steelers offensive momentum and the second resulted in a safety.
*All four receivers all had trouble getting separation and combined for only 5 catches for 54 yards, by far their least productive game of the season.
*On the second drive Redman was stopped on a 3rd-1 at the Jets 32 and the Steelers turned it over on the next play. After two ball controlling drives being up only 7-0 felt like too little.
*Antonio Brown missed a hot read in the second half that almost resulted in an interception in Jets territory. Brown was pulled and replaced by Mewelde Moore who caught a big pass the next time the Steelers went five wide.
*The offense only had the ball for four possessions in the second half. One resulted in a safety on the first play, while another closed out the game. The Steelers only gained 56 yards on those four possessions with more than half coming on the last drive. Not the way to finish off an opponent.
*Held the Jets to one yard rushing in the first half after giving up a season-high 106 yards in their first meeting.
*Recorded both of their sacks and what proved to be the game-winning TD during a Jets possession with 2:00 left in the first half. It\’s worth watching Ziggy Hood on the TD. Hood could have picked up the fumble but saw William Gay also in the area and turned instead to clean out the only Jet close to the ball. Hood\’s excellent play over the second half of the season has probably gone under-recognized.
*Made a goal line stand in the fourth quarter that caused the Jets to go scoreless on a 17-play, 80-yard drive that consumed 8:00 minutes of clock.
*Casey Hampton and Brett KeiselV both batted down passes at the line of scrimmage, helping to slow the Jets passing game.
*After dominating the first half, allowed the Jets to drive 44 yards in the last minute to put points on the board, a big momentum boast for a team that had been completely outplayed and was getting the ball to start the second half.
*Allowed the Jets to go 90 yards in 2:47 to open the second half and completely nullify all the momentum that had been built up during the 24-3 first half. It also took the crowd out of the game for most of the second half.
*The Jets rushed for 69 yards and combined for 239 yards in the second half. Excellent play-calling had the Steelers on their heels.
*The pass defense was riddled in the second half while trying to protect a 24-3 lead. Mark Sanchez went 13-18 for 170 yards and 2 TDs.
*With 3:06 left and the Steelers ahead 24-19 Antonio Brown returned a kickoff 27 yards to the 41-yard line. The Steelers had their hands team on the field to protect against an onside kick, so Brown had to gain the yardage largely on his own. The excellent field position allowed the Steelers to open the play book and take an aggressive approach knowing they could pin the Jets deep in their own territory if they had to punt. This return and Roethlisberger\’s 13-yard run during the opening drive are probably the two most overlooked key plays of the game.
*Shaun Suisham\’s line drive kickoffs combined with excellent downfield coverage generally proved to be very effective (except the OB kickoff, see below), limiting the Jets to 41 yards in four returns.
*Suisham kicked one of the kickoffs out of bounds giving the Jets starting field position at their own 40-yard line.
*After forcing the Jets to go three-and-out for only the second time, Antwaan Randle El mishandled a returnable punt that could have set the offense up with excellent field position early in the second half.
*Unquestionably the most daring calls, and ones that would have been endlessly second-guessed were they not successful, were the completed passes to Heath Miller on 2nd-9 and Antonio Brown on 3rd-6 during the Steelers last drive. In each case the play design and execution was excellent. Before the last drive Bruce Arians asked Tomlin how he wanted to approach it and Tomlin said, “We aren\’t going to play not to win.” That gave Arians free reign and the Steelers were able to run out the clock. You have to wonder if the home playoff loss to Jacksonville in Tomlin\’s first year, which saw the Steelers in a similar situation, had an effect on Tomlin\’s decision-making.
*Dick LeBeau came in with a solid game plan shutting down the Jets running game in the first half.
*The Steelers kept penalties to a minimum, with only four for 25 yards.
*The defense was unable to get consistent pressure, with only two sacks which happened to occur two plays apart.
*The defense didn\’t respond well to the Jets second half adjustments and allowed New York back in the game.
Big Officiating Calls:
*The two big calls, a personal foul hit on Emmanuel Sanders and a roughing the kicker call, both were good calls and both went the Steelers way.
*The overturn of Heath Miller\’s 23-yard catch on the opening drive was questionable. The call on the field was a catch, but could have gone either way. The Steelers still scored a TD later in the drive.
*Super Bowl XLV against the Green Bay Packers in Dallas, Texas February 6th at 6:30 pm EST. The Steelers eighth Super Bowl appearance and third in the last six years.