Three keys for the Steelers to avoid another upset at the hands of the Jets

Pittsburgh Steelers Hines Ward (C) celebrates with teammates after scoring a touchdown against the Baltimore Ravens during the second half of their NFL AFC Divisional playoff game at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA, 15 January 2011. The Steelers defeated the Ravens 31-24, and will advance to the AFC Championship game. EPA/DAVID MAXWELL fotoglif902601

One factor that the Jets have to their advantage this week is that they’ve already beaten the Steelers in Pittsburgh once this season (22-17 in Week 15). But things could prove to be more difficult for New York this time around.

Below are three keys for the Steelers to avoid another upset.

1. The O-line must rebound.
The play of the O-line continues to be the biggest question mark surrounding this team. Flozell Adams was sick last week with the flu and could barely stand up, which is why he struggled so much against the Ravens. Ramon Foster deserves praise for moving to tackle when Adams left the game, but he continues to be a marginal blocker. Jonathan Scott gave up a handful of pressures and a sack against Baltimore and while Maurkice Pouncey played well overall, he had trouble moving the Ravens’ big defensive tackles at the goal line. In fact, the entire Steelers’ O-line had trouble at the goal line, which includes Chris Kemoeatu (who also made some stupid decisions after the whistle had been blown). What’s interesting is that the Steelers gained 377 total yards against the Jets in Week 15, which included 146 on the ground. They also had touchdown drives of 96 and 74 yards, so they’ve already proven that they can move the ball on Rex Ryan’s stingy defense. But can the O-line elevate their game after last week’s performance? They better, because Ryan has proved over the past two weeks that he can put together some of the best defensive game plans in the NFL.

2. Special teams needs to be much better.
Special teams played a major role the first time these two teams met. Returner Brad Smith took the opening kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown to give New York a quick 7-0 lead, which set the tone for the rest of the game. Smith suffered a groin injury against the Colts and sat out last week’s game against the Patriots, but he should be back this Sunday. That said, he might not return kicks because Antonio Cromartie has been exceptional in that role the last two weeks. Cromartie retuned a 47-yard kickoff in the fourth quarter against the Colts to help set up Nick Kolk’s 32-yard game-winning field goal as time expired. Even though Smith has already burned Pittsburgh once this year, Cromartie has more speed and breakaway potential. No matter who receives kickoffs this week, the Steelers’ coverage units must be better. That includes their punt coverage unit, which did a rather weak job containing Jerricho Cotchery in Week 15.

3. Polamalu must avoid injuries.
In the first game between these two teams, Pittsburgh’s secondary gave up a couple of big plays in the passing game without Polamalu (who was nursing an Achilles/ankle injury) roaming the secondary. As is often the case when Polamalu doesn’t play, the Steelers’ defense didn’t create any big plays. Their pass rush was non-existent, they failed to generate any turnovers and they allowed 106 rushing yards. But Polamalu will be in uniform this Sunday and he needs to stay on the field throughout. If he does, the Jets’ offense could have a difficult time moving the ball both through the air and on the ground.

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