Gridiron Gab AFC Championship Game Preview – New York Jets at Pittsburgh

And so it comes down to this. Not many felt the Steelers would be there, but here they are, for the fourth time in seven years, the Steelers are a step away from the Super Bowl. In their last three, they have won two, losing once to the Pats back in Ben Roethlisberger’s rookie season of 2004. The Steelers have a new foe ahead of them, the loud and brash New York Jets, who have already beaten the Colts and Patriots enroute to getting to this point. Here we go with our keys and pick for the title game at sub-zero Heinz Field Sunday night.

1. Pressure Sanchez a Lot More Than Five Weeks Ago – It’s been something that has been harped on all week, and there’s no doubt that the effort in getting to Mark Sanchez the first time around wasn’t enough. The Steelers registered one sack for no yards, and the Jets QB had plenty of time to throw and make plays, which he did. It may be more blitzes, or maybe just more determination to make a play. The presence of Troy Polamalu will help in the pressure, as it could make Sanchez hold the ball more. Also the Jets will be without tackle Damien Woody, who is out due to injury. James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley will both be huge keys for the Steelers, and if they have big days, the Steelers are going to win.

2. Extend the Plays – This of course falls on Roethlisberger, who does that as well as any quarterback in the NFL. The Jets in wins over the Colts and Patriots both weeks were able to get pressure up the middle on Manning and Brady, and Roethlisberger is very good at escaping that pressure and getting outside to make plays. The Steelers WR’s and TE’s know that a play with Ben is never over, and if the Jets start to get pressure up the middle, it will be the job of the Steelers QB and the pass catchers to come back to the ball and make plays.

3. No Cheap Giveaways – Last week the Steelers got themselves in a hole 21-7 on a couple turnovers. In the first game of the Jets they allowed a kick return for a score to start the game. It’s crunch time, and turnovers and special teams mistakes have historically killed the Steelers when they have lost AFC Title games in the past. The Jets are the underdogs, and some turnovers and issues on special teams can make it not only an even game, but give the edge to New York. The weather will be cold, but that’s no excuse to put the ball on the ground or to have picks and issues on special teams. If the Jets win, you can go back to this key as more than likely a reason they did.

Prediction – It’s been one heck of a ride for the black and gold. From the 2009 collapse, to the suspension of their franchise QB, to the way the team has rallied behind their all-world safety, Roethlisberger, and the emergence of two rookie WR’s that have had big plays over the past few weeks. The Steelers again have a shot to make it to the dance, their third in six seasons. The Jets are going to be a tough foe, but they have their weaknesses, and the Steelers are the better team. Usually the veteran QB steps up in these types of games, and while the Jets are boasting about having been here, no one has more experience in the final four than the Steelers. It’s going to be a knock down drag out fight, and while the Jets think they have enough to win this game, I have a feeling the Steelers have a couple big plays left in their bag for a trip to Super Bowl XLV in search of their record 7th Super Bowl. Steelers 24 New York Jets 20

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