Bombs away? No way
Throwing deep against the Jets is a risky proposition - if the pass rush doesn't get you, Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie will.
Despite the risks, opponents attempted a few bombs per game against the Jets. Some teams took their chances when Revis was injured, or tried their luck against New York's not-so-great nickel defenders. Others teams, such as the Steelers, derive much of their offense from bombs and had no choice but to go deep a few times.
During the regular season, opponents attempted 79 passes against the Jets that traveled 25 or more yards in the air. The results: 14 completions, 448 yards, five touchdowns and six interceptions. That's a 17.7 percent completion rate and an efficiency rating of 40.16. The league completion percentage on 25-plus-yard passes is 32.6 percent, almost twice the rate against the Jets. The league efficiency rating on 25-plus-yard passes is 72.3.
Like I said. Risky.
Only a handful of quarterbacks had any success throwing deep against the Jets. Jay Cutler completed four long passes for the Bears; file that away for the Super Bowl. Joe Flacco completed three bombs and drew two pass interference penalties, though the Ravens couldn't do much else. Most opponents were not nearly as effective: Kyle Orton was 1-of-7, Brett Favre was 1-of-8, and even Tom Brady was 1-of-8 with two interceptions (plus a pass interference penalty) during the regular season.
Take the bomb from Big Ben, and you take away much of the Steelers offense. The Jets aren't likely to give up the kind of game-changing bomb the Ravens allowed in the fourth quarter of the divisional playoffs. The Steelers will have to counter with a very un-Steelers like weapon: the screen pass.
The long and short of it
Guess who attempted more passes behind the line of scrimmage this season: Ben Roethlisberger or Tom Brady?
The Jets are very aggressive on defense and will fall for the occasional screen. Unfortunately, the Steelers couldn't get their super-short passing game in motion in Week 15. Roethlisberger attempted five passes behind the line of scrimmage. Two fell incomplete, two resulted in no gain and a loss of one. The only successful short pass was a five-yard toss to backup tight end Matt Spaeth. The Jets shut down both the shortest and longest passes the Steelers attempted. No wonder they came out on top.
First things first
The Jets run the ball on 62.6 percent of first-down plays, one of the highest ratios in the NFL. They run well on first down, averaging 4.33 yards per carry.
The Steelers have the toughest first-down run defense in the league, allowing just 2.52 yards per carry. The Steelers' run defense is so tough that opponents stop trying, rushing on first down just 41.2 percent of the time.
Everything the Jets do on offense flows from those first down runs: by forcing second-and-medium and third-and-short, they keep their entire playbook open, forcing opponents to worry about everything from LaDainian Tomlinson off tackle to the Braylon Edwards bomb to the Brad Smith Wildcat. Similarly, the Steelers defense is predicated on that first-down stop: When the opponent is forced to pass, the lunatic blitzing can commence.
Steelers defenders will tell you there is always room for improvement. The AFC Championship game will be a defensive battle, and the Steelers need a near-shutout to give their offense a chance. That starts with the first-down stuffs.
Mike Tanier writes for NBCSports.com and Rotoworld.com and is a senior writer for Football Outsiders.