- Rich Cimini, ESPN Staff Writer
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The Jets know how to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers. They did that, too. (But not when it mattered most.)
Unfortunately for the Jets, those two accomplishments and $5 won't buy them a 10-pound bag of rock salt in snowy North Texas, the scene of Super Bowl XLV. But it does give them an insider's perspective of Sunday night's showdown in Jerry Jones' pigskins palace -- aka Cowboys Stadium.
The Jets are one of five teams that played both the Steelers and Packers in the regular season. In those common-opponent matchups, the Steelers went 3-2, losing to the Jets and New England Patriots. The Packers went 2-3, including a four-point defeat to the Patriots in which Aaron Rodgers didn't play because of a concussion.
Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis likes the Steelers because of their big-game experience and, in his opinion, their edge at wide receiver.
Running back LaDainian Tomlinson favors the Packers because of their explosive offense.
Quarterback Mark Sanchez, too, thinks the Packers will win because "they're deadly in the passing game. I mean, sick."
Rodgers, in his third year as a starter (after replacing some old guy named Brett), has blossomed into an elite passer. He has 10 touchdown passes in the playoffs, an NFL record for a quarterback in his first three postseason starts.
But on Halloween, at the New Meadowlands Stadium, the Jets made him look ... well, below average.
They held Rodgers to 15-for-34 passing for 170 yards, frustrating him with a mix of pressure and coverage. The Jets did a fantastic job of keeping him in the pocket, which will be a huge key for the Steelers. The Packers converted only two of 14 on third down. If the Steelers can do the same, they will be bringing their seventh Lombardi trophy back to Pittsburgh.
Thing is, the Steelers don't have a cornerback like Revis, who shadowed No. 1 receiver Greg Jennings in the second half and essentially eliminated him from the game. The Jets lost the game, 9-0, because their offense was a no-show. They dropped five passes (two by Santonio Holmes) and Sanchez struggled against the Packers' blitz, compiling a passer rating of only 14 when Green Bay sent five or more rushers.
The Jets seemed intimidated by the Packers' physical cornerbacks, Charles Woodson and Tramon Williams, both of whom made interceptions by ripping the ball away from receivers. The Woodson-Williams tandem will be a huge challenge for Steelers wideouts Hines Ward and Mike Wallace.
No doubt, it's a terrific defensive matchup, as the Steelers and Packers finished 1-2 in points allowed, respectively.
"To me, those defenses are great defenses and they cancel each other out, they really do," Tomlinson said Green Bay and Pittsburgh. "If you cancel out the defenses, which team has a better offense? In my opinion, the more explosive offense is Green Bay. Aaron Rodgers is playing unbelievable right now, throwing the ball all over the park."
Interestingly, Revis said the Steelers' receivers are more dangerous than those of the Packers. Specifically, he noted their deep speed (see Wallace) and their ability to re-route when quarterback Ben Roethlisberger gets outside the pocket and starts improvising.
"Ben and their offense, they get the edge because they extend plays," Revis said. "They have routes off their regular routes when he scrambles, and that can mess up a secondary if you don't latch on to a guy and cover him the whole down."
The Jets used a "plaster" technique against the Steelers. In other words, defenders in zone coverage are instructed to identify the closest receiver and stick to him as soon as Roethlisberger starts his scrambling thing. The plaster coverage produced mixed results.
In their 22-17 win at Pittsburgh in December, cornerback Marquice Cole executed it flawlessly on the Steelers' final play, picking up tight end Ben Spaeth in the end zone and breaking up a fourth-down pass from the Jets' 9.
In the AFC Championship Game, however, the Jets failed to get it done in crunch time. On a critical third down, Roethlisberger eluded the Jets' pressure and made a brilliant, on-the-run completion to Antonio Brown, who beat linebacker David Harris. And that was that: Steelers 24, Jets 19.
The Packers are predominantly a man-to-man coverage team, which means they could have problems against Roethlisberger's improv act. At the same time, the Steelers' secondary might struggle when Rodgers spreads the field with four- and five-receiver formations. The Jets contained him by using six, sometimes seven defensive backs. That's not the Steelers' forte.
Nevertheless, Revis believes the Steelers will win, and not because he grew up in the Pittsburgh area.
"Just because they have the experience," he said. "They've been there and done that. Ben has won two [rings] and they have the experience of being in the Super Bowl. The experience of their team, you can see it. They go to the playoffs every year and they're always close to the AFC Championship Game."
The same could be said of the Jets, except ... well, you know.
1dEric D. Williams