New York Jets vs. Pittsburgh Steelers: AFC Championship Pre-Game Analysis

The New York Jets did the unexpected in the playoffs, and they won against the New England Patriots at Foxboro nonetheless.  However, they will face their own shadow in the shape of the Pittsburgh Steelers.  Both of these defenses have been incredibly stiff in the post-season.  The Jets defense have conquered two elite quarterbacks, Indianapolis Colts Peyton Manning and New England Patriots Tom Brady, in the playoffs.  The Steelers Ben Roethlisberger is below that caliber, but he is physically harder to bring down than either Peyton Manning or Tom Brady.  Meanwhile, the Pittsburgh Steelers defense held its own against Joe Flacco, Ray Rice and their rival the Baltimore Ravens.

Now to the pre-game analysis:

Quarterbacks

In the post-season, so far, the Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger had 226 yards passing, 2 touchdowns and a 101.8 quarterback rating.  He is currently ranked 5th overall in terms of quarterback rating in the post-season. During the regular season, Roethlisberger had 3,200 yards passing, 17 touchdowns, 5 interceptions.  On the other side of the ball, in the post-season so far, the New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez currently has 383 yards passing, 3 touchdowns, 1 interception and a 91.6 quarterback rating.  During the regular season, Sanchez had 3,291 yards passing, 17 touchdowns, 13 interceptions and a 75.3 quarterback rating. Roethlisberger and the Steelers get the edge, but both quarterbacks should be harassed constantly in this game. 

Running Backs

The Pittsburgh Steelers Rashard Mendenhall was brutally effective during the regular season. During the regular season, he had 1,273 yards rushing, 13 touchdowns and averaged 3.9 yards per carry.  He was ranked 7th in terms of rushing yardage and 2nd in terms of touchdowns overall in league.  However, he has fallen in the playoffs, as Mendenhall is only ranked 11th in terms of overall rushing yardage at 46, but he currently tied with New York Jets running back LaDanian Tomlinson in terms of touchdowns at 2. The New York Jets tandem of LaDanian Tomlinson and Shonn Greene were not as powerful during the regular season.  During the regular season, LaDanian Tomlinson had 914 yards rushing, 6 touchdowns and averaged 4.2 yards per carry; and his partner Shonn Greene had 766 yards rushing, 2 touchdowns and averaged 4.1 yards per carry. In the off-season, however, both Jets running backs have been surprisingly effective.  LaDanian Tomlinson currently has 125 yards rushing, 2 touchdowns and averaging 4.8 yards per carry. Shonn Greene meanwhile has 146 yards, 1 touchdown and averaging 4.1 yards per carry. Tomlinson is currently ranked 4th in rushing yardage in the post-season while Greene is ranked 2nd.  The New York Jets get the slight edge in this one, but all three running backs will have difficulties establishing themselves.

Wide Receivers

The New York Jets wide receiver tandem of Braylon Edwards and Jerricho Cotchery have exploded in the post-season.  Edwards is currently ranked 4th overall in the post-season in receiving yardage at 114, averaging 19.0 yards per reception and 2 touchdowns to his name.  Cotchery is currently ranked 5th overall at 113 receiving yards and 16.1 yards per reception.  During the regular season, Edwards had 904 yards receiving, 7 touchdowns and averaged 17.1 yards per reception; and, Cotchery had 433 yards receiving, 2 touchdowns and averaged 10.6 yards per reception.  On the other side of the ball, the Steelers duo of Mike Wallace and Hines Ward haven’t been making many waves this post-season yet.  During the regular season, however, Mike Wallace had 1,257 yards receiving, 1o touchdowns and averaged 21.0 yards per reception; and he was ranked 5th in terms of receiving yardage overall when the season ended.  His partner Hines Ward had 755 yards, 5 touchdowns and averaged 12.8 yards per reception.  The receiver corps of the Pittsburgh Steelers is a bit more effective ounce per ounce, and they get a slight edge. But the Jets have the more versatile group.

Tight Ends

The New York Jets tight end Dustin Keller has been slightly more effective in the post-season so far. In the post-season, Keller has 57 yards receiving and averaging 9.5 yards per reception. During the regular season, he had 687 receiving yards, 5 touchdowns and averaged 12.5 yards per reception.  On the opposite side of the ball, Steelers tight end Heath Miller currently has 39 receiving yards and averaging 7.8 yards per reception.  During the regular season, Miller had 512 yards, 2 touchdowns and averaged 12.2 yards per reception. Given these numbers, Dustin Keller and the New York Jets get the slight edge.

Defenses

This is the litmus test for both teams — and how they will test their opposing quarterbacks.  Both have had playmakers on their defenses throughout this season so far.  Now they will be put to the test…During the regular season, the stalwart New York Jets defense was 6th against the pass and 3rd against the run, and they were ranked 4th overall in the league. The Jets defense has found playmakers in the off-season.  The Jets David Harris and Eric Smith are both ranked 1st and 2nd at tackles in 21 and 20 respectively.  Jets linebacker Calvin Pace is currently ranked 4th in sacks at 2 in the post-season.  During the regular season, the Pittsburgh Steelers defense was ranked 12th against the pass and 1st against the rush and was 2nd overall in the league.  In the post-season, linebacker James Harrison is 2nd in the league in interceptions at 3, and safety Ryan Clark has had one interception and is currently tied for second. The New York Jets gets the slight edge, as it has conquered two tough opponents in the New England Patriots and the Indianapolis Colts successively.

Coaches/Intangibles

New York Jets coach Rex Ryan had played mind games through talking trash.  When he first performed this tactic against the New England Patriots, his team was destroyed in week 13.  However, in the past divisional game against the New England Patriots, he defeated the New England Patriots with his defense.  Rex Ryan has demonstrated flexibility in using his resources. This past week against the New England Patriots, he used his defense to win the game, and the previous game against the Indianapolis Colts, he used his two running backs LaDanian Tomlinson and Shonn Greene to win the game for him.  On the opposite side of the ball, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin tends to rely on Ben Roethlisberger’s arm more often than not.  He tends to give up on the run easier than Rex Ryan does.  The edge goes to Rex Ryan and the New York Jets because he has faced two elite opponents of past seasons in the Indianapolis Colts and the New England Patriots.  More importantly, he defeated his rival Bill Belichick, and the Patriots defeat has given his team a boost in morale. 

The Edge

The edge goes to the New York Jets 27-24.  The New York Jets balanced approach has paid off in the playoffs, and it should give them the time for the last field goal to win the game.

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