Sunday, January 23, 2011
Potential Steelers X factors
By James Walker
PITTSBURGH -- Everyone knows the importance of Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and Pro Bowl defenders Troy Polamalu and James Harrison. But those aren't the only players to keep an eye on for Pittsburgh.
Here are several potential X factors for the Steelers in Sunday's AFC Championship Game against the Jets:
1. Heath Miller, TE
Skinny: Miller did not play in the regular-season loss to the Jets in Week 15 but could play a big role on Sunday. New York's cornerbacks are very good, which means Roethlisberger could look underneath for Miller to take advantage of the Jets' safeties and linebackers. Miller led the Steelers with five receptions and a touchdown in last week's win over the Ravens.
2. LaMarr Woodley, OLB
Skinny: Woodley always steps up big in the playoffs. He's recorded at least one sack in all five career postseason games with the Steelers. Pittsburgh got only one sack on Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez in the first meeting and needs to turn up the pressure in the rematch. Woodley will join Harrison as the two biggest components to Pittsburgh's pass rush.
3. Emmanuel Sanders/Antonio Brown, WRs
Skinny: The Steelers have been fortunate to get great production from their rookie class, particularly late in the season. Sanders and Brown caught the Ravens by surprise, combining for seven receptions and 129 yards in their postseason debuts. Their matchups against New York’s third and fourth cornerbacks could be one of the quiet storylines in this game.
4. Ziggy Hood, DE
Skinny: Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin has been very complimentary of Hood in recent weeks -- and for good reason. The 2009 first-round draft pick is coming on strong late in his second season with Pittsburgh. Hood filled in admirably for injured defensive end Aaron Smith and has recorded a sack in three consecutive games. Hood had perhaps his best game as a Steeler in the divisional round with five tackles and a sack against Baltimore. He's also been stout against the run, which will be key against the run-heavy Jets.
5. Shaun Suisham, K
Skinny: Suisham has been a solid midseason pickup for Pittsburgh. But kicking in Heinz Field in January is no easy task, and Suisham has missed field goals in two of his past three games. With frigid temperatures expected, Suisham has to be ready if this rematch comes down to the kicking game.