The New York Jets found a way to win eleven regular season games despite Mark Sanchez ranking near the bottom in most passing statistics. However, the second-year pro has looked extremely good in the first two rounds of the playoffs against the Indianapolis Colts and New England Patriots, completing 61% of his passes. More impressively, the Jet defense has been able to keep two high octane offenses in check. Peyton Manning only threw for one touchdown while Tom Brady was sacked five times. This week, there’s one overriding key to a Jet Super Bowl appearance…

No, It's Not Fireman Ed

To put it simply: Win the Blitz Battle.

According to Football Outsiders, the New York Jets blitzed (five rushers or more) 33% of the time during the regular season, which ranked second in the NFL to the Cleveland Browns. The Pittsburgh Steelers, who have a history of speedy receivers, have shredded teams who have not blitzed them. When teams do not blitz, the Steelers average 7.7 yards per play and have a 53% success rate, which ranks second in the league. However, when teams send five or more blitzers, the Steelers success rate falls to 39% (24th). The Steelers do average 6.1 yards per play (13th) against these looks, so the Jets will get burnt by big plays, especially if Mike Wallace or Emmanuel Sanders gets open. Remember too that the Steelers have played musical chairs with their offensive linemen all season and gave way to six Raven sacks last week. Given Roethlisberger’s uncanny ability to create big plays with little pressure, expect to see constant blitzes from the Jets.

Ultimately, Sanchez’s success this season has depended upon the look the defense gave him. When facing three or four rushers, Sanchez has excelled. The Jets averaged 6.3 yards per play (19th) with a success rate of 42% (23rd). However, when defenses sent more than five rushers against Sanchez, the Jets averaged 4.2 yards per play (26th) and had a 28% success rate, which ranked second-to-last in the league. Basically, if the Steelers throw heavy blitzes at Sanchez, it’ll be a long day for the Jets.

While the Colts and Patriots display extremely dynamic offenses, their defenses offered little pressure. The Colts blitzed only 3% of the time against pass plays while the Pats blitzed 7% of the time. Both teams finished in the bottom third of blitzing frequency. In turn, Sanchez has been much better during the post-season than he has during the playoffs. Given more time to throw, Sanchez has completed 61% of his passes during the post-season compared to 55% in the regular season. In contrast, the Steelers have sent five rushers 30% of the time (4th). However, the Steelers ranked in the bottom fifth of the league in sending more than five rushers. If the Steelers buck their recent trends and start throwing the house at Sanchez, they’ll frustrate and confuse him. Remember too, Troy Polamalu did not play in the team’s first meeting.

Summary:

  • Watch the Steeler pressure early in the game. Are they bringing extra rushers?
  • Can Mark Sanchez beat the blitz? This is ultimately the key to the game.
  • Troy Polamalu. The guy is the best defensive player in football. His absence was clearly noticeable in the last Jet/Steeler meeting. Expect #43 to have that hair flying around all over the field.

I gave you the keys to stopping Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, and now Ben Roethlisberger. If the Jets can put constant pressure via their exotic blitz packages while Sanchez effectively beats the Pittsburgh blitzes, the Jets will be playing in Dallas in two weeks.