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Friday, January 21, 2011
Final Word: AFC Championship

By James Walker

Conference Championship Final Word: Jets-Steelers | Bears-Packers

Five nuggets of knowledge about Sunday's Jets-Steelers  AFC Championship Game:

Heath Miller
Heath Miller's ability to exploit matchups with linebackers could be key in Sunday's game.
Heath returns: A big missing component on offense for the Pittsburgh Steelers during their Week 15 loss to the New York Jets was starting tight end Heath Miller. He was out with a concussion and is one of Pittsburgh's most underrated players. Miller made the Pro Bowl last year and is very good in the running game and passing game. New York's strength is its two cornerbacks, so Miller must win the battle against Jets linebackers and safeties. He led the Steelers with five receptions in last week's divisional-round victory over the Baltimore Ravens.

Rookie contributions: Pittsburgh is getting a tremendous boost from its rookie class, particularly in the second half of the season. First-round pick Maurkice Pouncey made his first Pro Bowl as a rookie, and first-year receivers Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown continue to make big plays in the passing game. Sanders, a third-round pick, caught four passes for 54 yards in his playoff debut. Brown, a sixth-round pick, caught three passes for 75 yards, which included a 58-yard reception late in the fourth quarter to set up Pittsburgh's winning touchdown against Baltimore. "To expect rookies to contribute and do the things that they do is a tall order," Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said this week. "But I think the extra time and effort they've put in speaks volumes of why they've been able to do it."

Stuffing the run: Pittsburgh's run defense was by far No. 1 in the league during the regular season, allowing just 62.8 yards per game. But the Jets were able to rush for 106 yards against Pittsburgh in Week 15. Expect that to be a major focal point for the Steelers in this rematch. Pittsburgh wants to make New York one-dimensional and force the Jets to throw the ball more than they want with second-year quarterback Mark Sanchez. The Ravens averaged just 1.9 yards per carry in the divisional round, which helped lead to quarterback Joe Flacco getting sacked five times. The Steelers want to get similar pressure on Sanchez.

Is Suisham ready? Lost in Pittsburgh's postseason run is the fact that kicker Shaun Suisham has struggled lately. Suisham joined the Steelers in Week 11 and made his first 10 field goals. But he has missed kicks in two of his past three games, including a 43-yard attempt at the end of the first half against Baltimore that could've been costly. Suisham must be ready to make the big kick if needed Sunday at Heinz Field, which is a very tough place to kick in January.

Heinz Field advantage: Speaking of Heinz Field, the Steelers caught a break last week with New York's upset over the top-seeded New England Patriots. That forced the road to the Super Bowl to travel through Pittsburgh. The Steelers haven't been their usual selves at Heinz Field, losing three times after going 6-2, 6-2 and 7-1 there the previous three seasons. Heinz Field was rocking last week and players credited the wild atmosphere for their second-half dominance against Baltimore.