New York Jets Vs Pittsburgh Steelers
Kickoff: 6:30pm(est) Sun, Jan 23 2011
Location: Heinz Field
Weather: Partly Cloudy and very cold conditions (18F) Low of (3F) *according to Accuweather.com
Five Things to Watch:
1. Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez against the Pittsburgh defense. In just his second year in the league, Sanchez has shown that he can handle the pressure of playing on the road and playing in pivotal playoff games with a 4-1 postseason record. Last week he outplayed the more experienced Tom Brady in New England, but he didn’t face the kind of pass rush he will see from the Steelers and the likes of James Harrison, Brett Keisel, Casey Hampton, Lawrence Timmons and LaMarr Woodley. Add in the fact that Pro Bowl safety Troy Polamalu is back after missing the first meeting and this is a much different task awaiting the young quarterback. Harrison, Polamalu and company are more than capable of making Sanchez revert to his rookie form when he tossed 20 interceptions in the regular season.
2. Jets wide receiver Santonio Holmes, against Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor. After four days of nothing but mutual respectful quotes emanating from both locker rooms, Taylor dropped the gauntlet on Thursday by boasting that he was going to “lay out” Holmes if he got the chance on Sunday. Even though the two former teammates are friends, Taylor expects trash talk to come from Holmes and he does not want to give the Super Bowl XLIII MVP an opportunity to get into a rhythm and fire himself up more. If Sanchez can exploit other areas of the secondary with tight end Dustin Keller and wide receivers Braylon Edwards and Jerricho Cotchery, that might open things up for Holmes, but expect Taylor to be on him like a blanket.
3. Steelers run defense versus New York’s ground attack. LaDainian Tomlinson and Shonn Greene last week against the Patriots in gashing the defense for long runs on first and second down, setting up Sanchez for easy third-down conversions. They will not find that kind of running room again on Sunday against the league’s top run defense, and if Hampton, Keisel, linebackers James Farrior, Harrison, Timmons and Woodley shut them down and make the Jets one dimensional, that will play right into the hands of Tomlin and defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau.
4. Steelers wide receiver Mike Wallace against Jets defensive backs. Wallace is without a doubt the fastest man on the field for either team, and Ryan will have to decide whether or not to put Pro Bowl cornerback Darrelle Revis on him and hope he can lock Wallace down like he did Reggie Wayne of the Colts in the wild card round or give that assignment to Antonio Cromartie and put Revis on Hines Ward. The problem facing the Jets is that without safety Jim Leonhard in the lineup, the back end of that secondary is suspect to the deep ball, and even if Revis or Cromartie can tie up Wallace a little bit, Roethlisberger showed last week that he has other options in Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown.
5. Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin against Jets head coach Rex Ryan. So Ryan delivered on his brashness and got past the Patriots and Bill Belichick. Now he’s had a hard time mustering up any vigor and vitriol for his Pittsburgh counterpart, who happens to be one of the coaches he really likes. Both are still early in their tenure, but Tomlin already has a Super Bowl ring to his credit and that’s where Ryan wants to take his Jets. This will be Ryan’s second straight appearance in the AFC Championship and he has enough players on his roster who remember how bad it felt to lose to the Colts last year that he shouldn’t have a problem getting them motivated. Unfortunately, Tomlin’s players consistently play hard for him, and after surviving that scare last week against the Ravens, he isn’t about to let another team come into Heinz Field and silence the Terrible Towels.