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Friday, January 21, 2011

Steelers-Jets Preview

First off, my Dad's friend, Drew, from Pittsburgh wrote a great article on Ben that was featured this morning on Check it out:

Ok, to the game -- the anticipation is killing me. We're only two wake-ups away from the best football weekend of the year: Championship Sunday.

My counterpart might be writing something up on the lesser conference, but just for the hell of it I'll say Packers 34 Bears 21. Go Bears! And by that I mean Aaron Rodgers, not the Chi-- you get the idea.
Now on to the main event.

Midway through the thrid quarter of last Sunday's Jets-Pats game I tried to prepare myself for both potential outcomes. If the Pats win, I thought, that's good. It's the way it should be. The two best teams in the AFC going at it. I want another shot at them after being so humiliated early this year. If we want to be the best, we have to beat the best, blah blah blah. And at least Sanchez will be out of the playoffs.

If the Jets win, that's good too. They match up much better with the Steelers and we won't have to play Brady. We'll be at home. And the Jets barely beat the Colts. And the Colts aren't good. We got this one, right?

After the final gun, I still couldn't quite convince myself I was happy the Jets won. I still believe the Steelers have a much better chance of beating the Jets than they would have the Pats, but there's something fishy going on inside my stomach about this game.

For one, I hate the Jets. And as I said before, I'd rather see the Pats in the Super Bowl than the Jets. I just don't want to live in a world where a QB as mediocre as Mark Sanchez become a Super Bowl Champion.

All week the experts have been going back and forth, studying the stats and their previous match-up in week 15. But 49 hours before kick-off, these are the factors I think will decide the AFC:

- Sanchez's Decision Making:
To me, this game comes down to Mark Sanchez doing stupid things. If he does stupid things, I like the Steelers big. If he doesn't do stupid things, it's going to be close. My fantasy first drive goes like this:

Steelers win toss and defer
Jets return kick to 26 instead of for a TD
1st and 10: Tomlinson runs up the middle for 1 yard gain
2nd and 9: Green to the outside for 2 yard loss
3rd and 11: Sanchez underthrows Edwards

It all comes down to the Steelers Defense first stopping the Jets running game. I am convinced that if the Steelers can force Sanchez to throw the ball more than he wants to, he's going to make at least one big mistake. I invision him dropping back on third and longs, getting pressure, running to his right, throwing to his left and getting picked off about 11 times. A lot of people are saying, and with good reason, that the Steelers may have a hard time moving the ball. I think this is possible. The Jets defense as we saw last weekend is legitimate. And you know Ryan is going to have a good defensive plan. This is why I think its imperitive that the Steelers win the turnover battle and that the defense if not scoring directly, sets up the offense in good field position.

- Where does Revis play?
When they met in Week 15, Revis covered Hines Ward and completely neutrilized him. But it doesn't take a genius to realize Ward is no longer the Steelers most dangerous receiver. Mike Wallace's blinding speed makes him a much bigger threat. Wallace torch Antonio "A**hole" Cromartie in Week 15 for a 100+ yard game. It wouldn't surprise me to see Revis switch to Wallace's side and let Cromartie take the slower Ward. If Revis is on Wallace, it might considerably hamper Ben's ability to hit Wallace long. And he likes to take at least a few shots to him every game.

Man, he's fast.

- Steelers O-Line vs. Jets D-Line:
Ben Roethlisberger is a good QB. Give him time and he'll make plays. The key for the Steelers is to either A. give him enough time to get a throw off before having to run around in circles while making that Three Stooges sound or B. give him somewhere to scrample too if he does have to leave the pocket. We all know Ben is the best at breaking tackles and extending plays. But that ability is dependent on having space to escape to. His skill is evading the pass rush and finding refuge in an open space outside the pocket and making his throw from there. But when he has a rush coming at him from all sides and he tries to spin away from a lineman only to find Shaun Ellis there to greet him, the play is over. The O-Line has to find a way to give him enough time to find his talented corps of receivers. The RBs are going to have to come up big in pass rush because Ryan loves to blitz all the freaking time.

- Tackle Return Men:
The Jets opening kick-off in Week 15 was returned for a touchdown. The Steelers lost 22-17. That's the game. Tackle returners before the 35. JUST DO IT!

- Week 15 Means Nothing:
At this point, the Jets week 15 win shouldn't matter to either team. The Steelers were missing their best defensive player in Troy and arguably Ben's favorite target in Heith Miller (especially in the Red Zone). The Steelers had three shots from the 10 yard line to win that game back in December. And while they didn't get it done, I don't think there's anyone on this Steelers team that thought the Jets were a better team that day. And I don't think any of them think that now.

- Stop Santonio:
Steelers fans are the last people who need to be told what a game changer Santonio Holmes is. He's cocky and brash and probably a bit of a chump, but the dude makes plays in crunch time. And when the Jets are down 4 with 3 minutes left, the Steelers better be all over him. After his catch in the Super Bowl and last week, there's no telling what freakish physical tricks he's capable of. Don't let him beat you.

- Who Wants It More?:
I really think this is what it might come down to. Are the Jets going to be as fired up without having spent the week throwing insults around like a 7th grade girls bathroom? If the Steelers take an early lead and things are down at halftime for the Jets are they going to be too exhausted to come back? Do they really want to kill the Steeelers the way they did the Patriots? At least we know Bart Scott does. He's the former Raven who reportedly "put a bounty" on Hines Ward's head.

Are the Steelers as hungry as the Jets? Having won it only two years ago, is there any part of that recent success that will prevent them from going as hard as humanly possible?

This really is a fascinating matchup. It's going to be a chess match. Every play will have significance in the big picture.

I'm a pessimist when it comes to sports. I think I like to expect the worst and then be overcome with joy when things go well. That said, I feel like the Steelers are going to get it done. I think they are hungry. I think Hines is going to come out there and pop Revis on a block like he did last week with Ed Reed. I think James Harrison is going to freaking crush LT's tinted visor. And I think Troy is going sneak up to line of scrimmage, sprint in untouched and go Tommy Trojan all over Mark Sanchez and his super-model moles.

I'm learning to forvige
Except in this case

But I could be wrong. The Jets could very well take this game. What struck me during last week's win over the Pats was in about the middle of the third quarter, it felt like everyone in the stadium and on TV all at once went, "Holy Crap. This might actually happen." It went from being one of those exciting come-back wins by the Pats to, "I don't think they're gonna come back. The Jets are actually doing this." From that moment things just became incredibly urgent. And every second that went by and they didn't come back made it all the more real and imminent. It started to suck all of the hope and energy from the team. It's like when you're at a urinal in a crowded bathroom at a ballgame and it's just not coming out. People are waiting behind you, wondering what the deal is. Every second that goes by it gets harder to pee.

"Ok, it'll just take a sec. Hmmm. Still nothing....still nothing. Ok, now it's awkward. Out with it. Come on!'

Eventually you have to admit defeat, zip up and try again later. And that's exactly what the Jets did to the Pats.

I think the Jets are in the same position this week, the have the ability to create the same "pee" effect. Every minute the Jets lead, their confidence and swagger grows and the other team's shrinks. Similarly, every minute they Jets are behind, they're bad attitudes become inflamed and they pout. They reak of bad energy when things aren't going well.

The key for the Steelers is to get a lead, force Sanchez to throw the ball a lot and catch balls on offense and defense.

If all goes according to plan: Steelers 24, Jets 14

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