The AFC Championship will have the feel of a classic late 70’s slugfest with a pair of old school style teams. The Jets pulled a 22-17 upset of the Steelers in Wk 15 winning in PIT for the 1st time since 1970. PIT was without TE Miller & SS Polamalu and the defense struggled to mount an effective pass rush (1 sack, 2 QBH) vs Sanchez (170 yds 66%). PIT had a 378-276 yd edge but were done in thanks to 3 key mistakes. They gave up a 97 yd KR TD to open the game and down 3 with 2:38 left RB Moore was tackled in the EZ for a safety. PIT forced the Jets to go 3&out getting the ball back at the 8 with 2:08 left. Roethlisberger led them to the Jets 10 but on the final play of the game TE Spaeth went for a ball intended for another wide open PIT receiver and it went incomplete. PIT is 6-2 in its other home games TY outgaining foes by 51 ypg (+11 TO’s) with a 25-17 avg score. The Jets are the 1st team since the 2002 Titans to beat Manning/Brady in B2B weeks. They are 7-2 in road games TY outgaining them by 42 ypg (-3 TO’s) w/a 25-24 avg score. Vs common foes the Jets went 7-3 w/a 342-277 yd edge (+15 TO’s) for a 23-17 avg score. They faced the NFC North with DEN/HOU while PIT got the NFC South with TEN and OAK. PIT went 8-2 vs the common foes w/a 342-282 yd edge (+9 TO’s) for a 25-18 avg score.
After having the most rush att’s in ‘09 (607), NYJ trimmed them to 534 TY in the reg ssn as they opened the playbook to take adv of Sanchez being in the system for the 2nd yr and the FA pickups. The result was a mixed bag as Sanchez hit 54% (6.7 ypa) with a 12-20 ratio LY vs 55% (6.5) with a 17-13 ratio TY in the reg ssn. He has read D’s better, but his progress was slowed by a shldr inj vs PIT. Sanchez has avg’d 184 ypg (60%) w/a 7-3 ratio w/ just 1 200 yd passing game in the playoffs. Tomlinson is an asset on 3rd Dn’s and in blitz pickup with Greene failing to make an impact there. LY the Jets had the #31 pass attack (149 ypg) but had a decent improvement TY (22nd, 209 ypg) although they still haven’t had a 1,000 yd rec S/’07. They have spread the ball around more as 4 players have at least 52 rec’s. The Jets have had the same OL for 13 gms TY and they got RT Woody (knee) back vs the Colts. Ryan cut his teeth on D and after finishing 1st LY (+1 TO), they were 3rd (+9 TO’s) TY. NYJ are all’g an impressive 92 ypg (3.6) rush TY. The muscle of the D is its LB unit with Scott setting the tone and Harris being a drastically underrated ILB. The Jets use a 3-man OLB rotation to stay fresh for pass rush sit’s with Thomas, Pace and Taylor comb for 16.5 sks (20 ideal for OLB’s in 3-4). LY the Jets were fearsome in pass D all’g 52% (5.4 ypa) with an outstanding 8-17 ratio but TY Revis hasn’t been himself. They’ve all’d 51% (6.5) with a 24-12 ratio as offenses have more tape to study. NYJ have my #5 ST’s unit with P Weatherford having a strong year (50% punts In20) and Smith (28.6) having a great year on KR’s.
PIT opened 2010 3-1 without Roethlisberger thanks to some great defensive work which held foes to 289 ypg with a 21-12 avg (+7 TO’s). With their QB, PIT has outgained foes in 10 of 12 gms (NO/NE) in the reg ssn by 98 ypg (2nd overall) with a +9 TO mark (24-15 avg score). Thanks to the bye week and easy lead in gms vs CLE/MIA, Roethlisberger finished with a 17-5 ratio not throwing more than 1 int in a game. PIT has been very balanced with a 348-398 run-pass mix since his return thanks to Mendenhall who is the team’s first 1,200 yd rusher S/’07. Mendenhall had 26% of PIT’s offense TY with Moore being a standout 3rd Dn back again. Wallace has evolved into the primary rec option finishing 5th in rec yds and 2nd in ypc in the NFL. Ward is now the possession WR here with excellent blocking skills and Miller is the prototype balanced TE. PIT is used to dealing with a patchwork OL in recent years with only LT Adams and star rookie C Pouncey starting all 17 gms for a unit that gave up 1 sk every 12 att’s in the reg ssn with Roethlisberger. PIT missed being the #1 overall D by 84 yds but finished 1st vs the run (62.8, 3.0), sks by with 48 (1 every 12.4 att’s) and pts all’d (232). PIT’s DL is geared to occupy the opposing OL and allow the LB’s to flow to the ball with DE Smith being regarded as one of the top 5 of the last decade. PIT has long set the standard for 3-4 LB’s with Woodley and Harrison again combining for 22.5 sks in the reg ssn. After giving up a 22-12 ratio LY, PIT’s #2 pass D is one of 3 to have more int than TD TY. PIT finished 18th in my ST’s rankings TY improving their coverage units but the PR is weaker.
The shoe is on the other foot as the Jets used the motivation of LY’s playoff loss vs the Colts and the humiliation of a 45-3 loss earlier this season vs the Pats. They now face a team that they beat just a few weeks ago although Pittsburgh finished with 378 yds including 147 yds rushing which are both the highest totals the Jets have allowed TY. The Jets are now traveling for the 5th time in 6 weeks while the Steelers have traveled only once since Dec 5th and, of course, had the opening playoff week bye. The Steelers are not afraid of Ryan’s defense and in the L/2 gms at home, when he was the DC at BAL, they scored a combined 61 pts. While it is noted that the Jets are 5-1 in playoff gms under Ryan all on the road, the Steelers are the most successful franchise in NFL history and will punch their ticket to yet another Super Bowl.