- James Walker, ESPN Staff Writer
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PITTSBURGH -- The Steelers led the NFL in sacks this season with 48. But one of the few off weeks when they were nearly shut out in that category was Week 15, when they lost to the Jets.
Expect pressure to be a key component for Pittsburgh in the rematch with New York in Sunday's AFC Championship Game. The Steelers recorded just one sack against second-year quarterback Mark Sanchez in a 22-17 defeat in the first meeting.
Sanchez threw for only 170 yards and had a rushing touchdown. But he had great pass protection, throwing 29 times and only getting sacked once in addition to two quarterback hits.
"I don't think our pressures were as well as they could've been," said Pittsburgh linebacker James Farrior, who was the only Steeler to record a sack in the first meeting. "That's going to be the key to this game -- getting pressure on [Sanchez], forcing him in third-and-long situations and making him win the game."
In the regular season, Sanchez used a short passing game and got rid of the ball quickly to avoid Pittsburgh's blitz packages. It was similar to the approach the Jets' AFC East rival -- the New England Patriots -- used to defeat the Steelers in Week 10.
Without Pro Bowl safety Troy Polamalu (Achilles, calf) in the regular-season meeting, Pittsburgh's blitzes were more predictable. Look for Polamalu to help the Steelers mix up their pressures and potentially confuse Sanchez. Pittsburgh was effective in that regard last week against Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, who was sacked five times and threw for just 125 yards.
An early lead will be key for both teams. If the Jets score early, they would like to use a ball-control offense, which focuses heavily on their running game and allows Sanchez to make short, safe passes. If the Steelers get a sizable lead, Sanchez will be forced to drop back and try to win the game through the air, which plays right into Pittsburgh's blitzing defense.