Keys to winning the AFC Championship

Yesterday, we broke down the keys to the NFC Championship game at Soldier Field. Schemes, X’s and O’s, etc. to get you ready for Bears-Packers. Today, let’s flip over to the AFC and talk Jets-Steelers. Three keys for each squad as they look to earn that right to play in Super Bowl XLV.

Click here to read my breakdown on the NFC Championship game.


Troy Polamalu ICONThe Steelers' Troy Polamalu.

1. Beat the Jets’ protection schemes: Pittsburgh is going to use overload pressure schemes with zone and man concepts in the secondary. Multiple looks, different fronts and pressure off of the edge. The key for the Steelers is using their pre-snap disguises to create some confusion in the protection schemes. The result? Free runners at QB Mark Sanchez. The player to watch: Troy Polamalu. He excels as an underneath defender in his zone drops and we know he can get to the QB. The league’s top safety should be on display this Sunday.

2. Don’t allow Edwards to get over the top: The Jets want to throw quick, simple reads in their route concepts. Work the ball inside and run the slant, option, Hi-Lo concepts (underneath crossers), etc. Get the ball out of Mark Sanchez’s hands and let his receivers work in open space. But don’t forget about the vertical route schemes with Edwards. The 9 (fade), post and deep 7 (flag). Pittsburgh can’t give up a fee play to the Jets’ WR.

3. Challenge Cromartie: Double-moves. Take advantage of his overly aggressive play and challenge his technique. I think highly of Cromartie as a CB, but he does get sloppy at times when we break down technique. Plays too tall and will get carless with his eyes. Ben Roethlisberger has to take some shots down the field vs. Cromartie. Work WR Mike Wallace outside of the numbers and try to pick up some explosive plays that can flip the field.

New York

Shonn GreeneICONThe Jets' game plan should provide Greene and Tomlinson with plenty of carries.

1. L.T. and Shonn Greene: Not easy to run the ball vs. the Steelers’ defense. We all know that, but that doesn’t discount the impact of sticking with the run game for the Jets. Think number of carries over total production, because running the football will slow down the pressure from Pittsburgh and provide Sanchez with multiple play action opportunities. Sanchez made some big throws in the win over the Patriots this past Sunday (which he will have to do again this Sunday), but a consistent effort to running the ball takes some of the stress off of the young QB. Both Tomlinson and Greene need to see the ball on Sunday in the Jets' game plan.

2. Take Heinz Ward out of the game plan: Ward is an interesting matchup for the Jets and still plays at a high level because of his ability to convert routes and come back to the football when Roethlisberger extends the play. I’m interested to see how Rex Ryan approaches this. From my perspective, I put Darrelle Revis on Ward. Don’t allow him to work the underneath routes on third downs that move the chains. With Revis, you eliminate that threat from the Steelers’ offense.

3. Keep Roethlisberger in the pocket: The Jets were able to play their Cover 1 schemes last week and get to Tom Brady. Does that change vs. Roethlisberger? I do see a Jets game plan that is more pressure oriented, however this defense has to keep Roethlisberger in the pocket. Don’t allow him to break contain and force him to step up into the A and B gap pressure. Looks great on the chalkboard during the week, but getting Roethlisberger on the ground will be a challenge for the Jets.

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