By Dale Grdnic
PITTSBURGH — Sure, the Pittsburgh Steelers could be without safety Troy Polamalu for the next game, but they still have a lot of talent on both sides of the line who can get the job done.
And if the Steelers (10-3) win key matchups against the New York Jets (9-4) Sunday — kickoff at 4:15 p.m. at Heinz Field — they should continue to dominate the Jets. The Steelers are 15-3 in the series since 1970 with a 6-0 mark at home and a playoff win as well. Among the three road losses was the last meeting, a 19-16 decision Nov. 18, 2007, in overtime.
Jets QB Mark Sanchez vs. Steelers ILB James Farrior
While Sanchez has shown some improvement during his second NFL season, he hasn’t been able to come through with big throws on a regular basis. And the Steelers should be able to take advantage of that inconsistency.
“He’s not a bad quarterback by any means, but he’s still young,” Farrior said. “He can make the throws, but his decision-making just isn’t there yet. He definitely has a lot more playmakers around him this season, but he’s struggled a little bit of late. Hopefully, we can keep that going.
“But we have to stop the run first. They have to try to run. They have no choice, but we’ll be ready to stop them. They have a Pro Bowl center, and Casey’s going to have his hands full with him. But Casey can handle it. So, that’s going to be critical for us to win that battle in the middle.”
Jets C Nick Mangold vs. Steelers NTs Casey Hampton and Chris Hoke
With Mangold and fullback Tony Richardson leading the way, the Jets likely will challenge the NFL’s top run defense (60.1 yards per game) with running backs Shonn Greene and LaDainian Tomlinson pounding the ball. The key for the Steelers will be if Hampton or Hoke can handle Mangold off the snap.
“Yeah, he’s a strong guy, very physical, but he’s not going to push me around,” Hampton said. “And we won’t let anybody push us around. That’s why we’ve been so good at stopping the run around here. Not just this year, but every year since I’ve been here. The past 10 seasons.”
The Steelers also would love to run Rashard Mendenhall all afternoon, so Ben Roethlisberger doesn’t have to test his gimpy foot too often. But a key to that for the Steelers will be determined by their success on the offensive line.
Jets NTs Sione Pouha and Marcus Dixon vs. Steelers C Maurkice Pouncey
“Their starting guy, Pouha, he’s a big, veteran guy (6-foot-3, 325 pounds, sixth season),” Pouncey said. “And the other guy, Dixon, is tall, but not as big (6-4, 295). And he’s a first-year player, so they’re a little different. But Pouha, he’s tough to move, just like Hamp, so it’s great for me to go up against him in practice. That gets me ready for anybody in the league.”
If Roethlisberger gets time to throw, the Jets could be in for a long day. All the receivers contributed last week, and the Steelers need another overall effort to be successful against the Jets.
Jets ILB Bart Scott vs. Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger
Scott can drop into coverage and rush the passer equally as well, so Roethlisberger has to be aware of him throughout the game.
“And he’s a big hitter,” Roethlisberger said. “His hit on me when he was with the Ravens, that’s still probably the hardest hit I’ve ever taken. It took a while for me to come back from that one.”
If Roethlisberger can avoid Scott and the Jets’ other pass-rushers, it could be a big day for the Steelers’ offense. However, even with time to pass, Roethlisberger will have to deal with the top cornerback tandem in the NFL.
Jets CBs Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie vs. Steelers WRs Hines Ward and Mike Wallace
“Man, those guys are dominant,” Ward said. “Both of those guys, Cromartie and Revis, they’re the best tandem that Mike and I and all the other guys will probably face all year. They have a lot of talent. I’m a big Revis fan.
“I watched him at Pitt and remember him going crazy against West Virginia when he had a huge punt return. I’m just a big fan, but he’ll be a tough matchup for us this week. He and Cromartie are tough to beat.”
The Steelers’ secondary also has to be in shut-down mode Sunday.
Jets WRs Braylon Edwards and Santonio Holmes vs. Steelers CBs Ike Taylor and Bryant McFadden
“They’re No. 3, and we’re No. 4 in defense in the league,” Taylor said. “Ever since Coach Rex has been over there, one thing they’ve had is a good defense. And that’s the same thing with us. We’ve always had a good defense. So, it should be competitive on both sides on defense.
“It’s going to be a good game to watch on defense, but both secondaries will have their hands full as well. Santonio, he’s a good receiver and the same with Edwards. They can make plays, but we have to stop them. I don’t think they can beat us deep, but we’ll see what happens on Sunday.”