Mammoth match of the weekend part one: Steelers vs. Jets

Sam breaks down the AFC Championship game from Turin, Italy, surrounded by empty jars of Nutella. Photo: Associated Press

Italy, January 20, 20100  — I’m homesick, peons. Being that I’m studying in Italy for the semester, I’m ostracized from the sports-obsessed culture of good ol’ U.S.A.; instead, I must embrace a culture of ridiculously good food, wine, and naps.

It’s been a struggle.

Don’t fear, though; my devotion to devouring the playoffs has never wavered. You’ll find my good friend Nathaniel and I firmly entrenched in our seats Murphy’s Irish Pub (we go for the real Italian experience, you see) at 9:00 p.m. with a mug of stout ready to take in two rounds of excellent American football.

And more Bart Scott. ‘Specially you, Tom Jackson.

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) scrambles for a first down as he is tackled by New York Jets linebacker Calvin Pace during the first quarter of an NFL football game in Pittsburgh. (Photo: Associated Press)

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) scrambles for a first down as he is tackled by New York Jets linebacker Calvin Pace during the first quarter of an NFL football game in Pittsburgh. (Photo: Associated Press)

By God’s grace, I have escaped Steeler country for this playoff run. From afar, therefore, Balls Without Discretion will enjoy this one play out.

Let’s get judgmental:

Quarterback

Mark Sanchez, to his credit, has at least been better than Alex Smith, the guy I have a tendency to compare Sanchez to. Some games, in fact, he’s downright dirty (whoops). His first sparring with the Steelers in week 15 wasn’t spectacular – 19/29 for 170 yards and no touchdowns or picksl; but it was efficient enough to derail Pittsburgh’s formidable big-game D, and (more important) quell the god-forsaken “Black and Yellow” song by Wiz Khalfia (you know, the one that just repeats black-and-yellow-black-and-yellow 400 times and makes you want to punch a kitten).

Will that kind of effort from Sanchez be good enough, however? Dubious. Troy Polamalu was nearly as invisible as Tramon William’s pro-bowl invitation, so look for him go vintage Troy and sprawl himself all over the field.

That’s bad news for the Sanchize.

Then, of course, there’s the hefty man wearing number seven for Pittsburgh who’s rather familiar with games of this magnitude. Thanks to their diabolical game plan, Ryan and defensive coordinator Mike Pettine were able to screw with Tom Brady’s head and make him look like J.P. Losman (Bills fans applaud Ryan, as that’s quite a feat).

But Roethlisberger is at least a bit more mobile than Brady, and he’s an absolute load in the pocket, so he shouldn’t be as addled as the porcelain Brady. Then again, he’s pretty dumb. Still, he’s more seasoned than Guy Fieri’s cranberry sauce for games like these, so I like the dump-train that is Roethlisberger.

Edge: Steelers

Running Back(s)

It’s been well-documented in the chronicles of Balls Without Discretion (BWD: this column that you are reading) that I have an unhealthy preference for Rashard Mendenhall. It’s gotten weird a couple of times. But to justify my man-crush, I present to you the first drive of last week’s win over the stalwart Ravens: three straight goal-line carries to punch in the score. He’s a bruiser who doesn’t give a crap about the near-indomitable wall of Haloti Ngata, Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs.

Almost – almost, peons – Campbell-like. And, in the sacred book of BWD, that is deserving of unwavering affection.

Edge: Steelers

Receivers

The Steelers’ recent depth has been impressive, with Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown (as far as eclectic sports names go, they’re top-tier) coming through with huge plays in clutch situations. Darelle Revis will probably be assigned to Mike Wallace, which will surely be a key match-up; will the self-proclaimed Island be able to keep up with the speedster? This is even more riveting than Cats.

The Jets’ receiving corps, however, run even deeper. Santonio Holmes, Braylon Edwards and Dustin Keller will catch most of Sanchez’s passes, but Jerricho Cotchery, who has long been a favorite of BWD, might be the best out of the bunch.

He had a great game against the Pats last week – five catches for 96 yards – including turning one short pass into a 58 yard haul that set up the touchdown from Sanchez three plays later. Holmes, Edwards, and Cotchery are better than Hines Ward, Mike Wallace and Sanders/Brown.

Oh, and Holmes’s touchdown catch last week was good. Like, really freaky naughty. I think it gave me a hernia.

Edge: Jets

Offensive Line

Suggs lit up the Maurkice Pouncey and company last week for three individual sacks. Though Suggs is a monster,  that spells trouble for Mike Tomlin, as his line is more porous than an Italian army.

Fear the impending wrath of Vernon Gholston.

The Jets O-line, meanwhile, gave Sanchez ample time to dance around the pocket, blocked for 77 yards by Shonn Greene, and didn’t allow a single Pat to break through the line and knock down the QB.

Not a bad performance.

Edge: Jets

Defensive Line

This is the part in the preview where BWD defers to the immaculate knowledge of coldhardfootballfacts.com and their wise Defensive Hog Index, an ultra stat that entails yards per attempt, negative pass plays and opponents’ success rate on third down.

The Steelers are currently ranked first overall, as they have been for most of the season.

As Kenny Byrne writes in his SI.com weekend preview, the teams with the higher Defensive Hog Index rating went 4-0 last week. Good enough for me.

Edge: Steelers

Linebackers

The famed foursome – James Harrison, Lamaar Woodley,  Lawrence Timmons and James Farrior – continued their domination last Sunday, with 16 tackles, four sacks and three passes defended between them. Plus, Ray Rice was allowed no more than 32 yards.

Anytime you make Ray Rice look like Ki-Jana Carter, you’re doing pretty well.

David Harris, who is an underrated ‘backer, I think, played a great overall game against the Pats – nine tackles, a pass defended and an interception – and Calvin Pace and Bart Scott should get some pressure on Roethlisberger. Reports are that Ryan will have them practice dragging down a baby elephant in preparation for Sunday.

Still might not be enough.

Edge: Steelers

Secondary

Now it gets interesting.

On one sideline stands Darelle Revis, widely recognized as the league’s most formidable cornerback, who is so feared that quarterbacks barely throw passes in his direction anymore. Yet trolling the other sideline is Troy Polamalu, possibly the league’s most impactful defensive player, who is seemingly able to divide himself into 16 different people and conquer the opposing offense.  

Suppose Revis and Polamalu offset each other. Then you have Ryan Clark, the hero of the Divisional round for Pittsburgh, and Antonio Cromartie, who held Mike Wallace to a paltry 32 yards in week 15. (Update: Wallace gained 102 yards in week 15. Not nearly as impressive.)

Seriously, man: this is like choosing between pizza and kebab. Impossible.

As of Thursday morning, Ryan is nix on who will cover Wallace. ESPN’s KC Joyner thinks that the speedy receiver can inhabit the Island of Revis, who is supposedly susceptible to quick slants and dashes. BWD would love that match-up to happen, as it would be more exciting than a Ron Artest poetry reading.

Remember, peons: Polamalu didn’t play in the Steelers’ loss to the Jets in week 15. When he plays, Pittsburgh wins. Chances are his ‘fro and he will be rearing to engulf the guys in green on Sunday.

Edge: Steelers

Coaching

This is a clash of styles, here. Mike Tomlin and company are from the old-school, and therefore use proven strategies to kick ass. But then there’s boisterous Rex Ryan and his crew who design game plans on LSD; game plans that have been able to confound Peyton Manning and Tom Brady in successive weeks.

Not going to mess with this one.

Edge: Push

There you have it. Not quite Patriots vs. Steelers, but I think it’ll do. Stay tuned for BWD’s insightful breakdown of Packers vs. Bears.  

-KB-


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Samuel Bovard

Sam Bovard is a weird dude on the cusp of adulthood. His immaculate capacity for sports knowledge has terminally crippled his social skills, leaving him paralyzed in large groups, and halted the growth of his maturity at age thirteen. But he's just fine with that. He is currently a student at Grove City College, just outside of Pittsburgh. Follow Sam on Twitter@Free_Samson. You know, if you want to.

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