By Dale Grdnic
PITTSBURGH — The last time the Pittsburgh Steelers played the New York Jets, Dec. 19, 2010 at Heinz Field, the visitors came away with a 22-17 victory.
But the Steelers weren’t outplayed. They gave up a kickoff return for a score to open the game, which accounted for the points difference, while the Steelers tallied more total yardage and first downs. Also, the Steelers did not have tight end Heath Miller or strong safety Troy Polamalu, impact players on both sides of the line.
The Steelers (13-4) expect to have a full roster available when they play the Jets (13-5) in the AFC championship game Sunday at 6:30 p.m. at Heinz Field.
“From an injury standpoint, we’re in great shape,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said Tuesday during his weekly press conference. “Jonathan Scott’s going to be all right. Will Allen’s got a knee sprain. He’ll be limited during the early portions of the week, and then we’ll see where that takes us. Bryant McFadden has an abdominal strain.
“So, he’s going to be limited as well. And we’ll limit Troy (Polamalu) like we always do. So, if we’re going to err, we’re going to err on the side of caution. We’ll make sure that Troy’s at Heinz Field Sunday at 6. Flozell is doing better with his illness. Aaron Smith is going to practice this week, but we’ll see where that practice participation takes us.”
Tomlin added that Smith
wasn’t ready to play last week, so he was listed as doubtful. And even if he can go against the Jets, he’ll be limited to a snap count and likely won’t start ahead of second-year pro Ziggy Hood.
“That?s going to be a limited number of snaps,” Tomlin said. “The guys that have replaced him, like Ziggy Hood, have more than met the standard. They deserve to continue to play, but it?d be nice to add that tool to the toolbox. (And) hopefully, (Hood’s) best games lie ahead. It was a good game.”
The Jets have run the ball well in recent weeks, and they tallied 106 yards on the ground against the Steelers. That’s better than the near-record 62.8-yard average the Steelers allowed rushing this season. In an earlier home loss, the Steelers allowed 103 yards rushing to the New England Patriots.
“I’d try to run it again,” Steelers free safety Ryan Clark said about the Jets. “They were successful with it. I think if you look at them, too, they’re running the ball to keep other offenses off the field.
“When you have a blitzing and attacking type of defense, if you can keep your play count down, if you can keep the number of plays you have to play down, you have your guys fresh and they’re able to continue playing hard, continue to run to the ball, continue to pursue. And so I think that’s the way they’re looking at it, trying to get back to that ground and pound mantra.”
LaDainian Tomlinson led the Jets with 49 yards rushing on 11 carries against the Steelers in the previous Jets win, while Shonn Greene added 40 yards on 12 carries. The two give the Jets a solid one-two punch to keep the Steelers off-balance and possibly open things up for quarterback Mark Sanchez.
“When you look at these guys offensively, they have a two-heading running back attack with Tomlinson and Greene,” Tomlin said. “They complement one another very well. They utilize both guys. And I think I heard it said that under ideal conditions Coach Ryan would like to see both guys getting 20 totes.
“I know that’s kind of been their personality since they’ve been there. They led the league in rushing a year ago, and I’m sure they were pretty high in that category again this year.”
The Jets averaged 144.5 yards rushing in their two playoff victories against the Indianapolis Colts and New England Patriots, and they were fourth in the NFL with 148.4 yards rushing per game during the regular season.