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How Jets can reach the Super BowlHeavy blitzing against Ben Roethlisberger is the key to New York's successEmailPrintComments5By Vince Verhei

Football Outsiders

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AP Photo/Charles Krupa

Mark Sanchez's efficiency has helped the Jets to two playoff road wins this postseason.

The New York Jets won 11 regular-season games despite quarterback Mark Sanchez ranking near the bottom of the league in most passing statistics. They've now pulled off a pair of playoff upsets, winning on the road against the Indianapolis Colts and the New England Patriots, largely because Sanchez's numbers have improved across the board.

Why has Sanchez looked so good the past two weeks, and what can the Pittsburgh Steelers do to put a stop to the Jets' streak?

We can answer those questions with data from Football Outsiders' game charting project. Our game charters have recorded the number of pass-rushers on almost every play of the season (we're still missing a half here and there from the last weeks of the year), and we can measure the average gain each team has produced against each rush package it has faced. We can also measure Success Rate, the percentage of plays that gain meaningful yardage toward a first down. A 15-yard play on third-and-20 will boost a team's average gain, but it will still lead to a punt and can hardly be considered a success unless it improves field goal range.

Against three or four pass-rushers, the Jets averaged 6.3 yards per play (19th in the league) with a Success Rate of 42 percent (23rd) -- not very good but not devastatingly bad in either category. Against five pass-rushers, their average gain fell to 5.8 yards per play (though their ranking actually climbed a few spots to 17th) and their Success Rate held steady at 42 percent (ranking 20th) -- not much difference there. When opponents big blitzed with six or more pass-rushers, the Jets were doomed. They averaged only 3.9 yards per play (28th), and their 28 percent Success Rate was only a few percentage points ahead of the Carolina Panthers for the worst in the NFL. The key to beating Sanchez: throwing the house at him.

The Jets were fortunate to open the postseason with games against Indianapolis and New England, two of football's most blitz-averse defenses. The Colts big blitzed on 3 percent of opponents' pass plays all season, less often than anyone except the Green Bay Packers and Washington Redskins. The Patriots were much more aggressive, big blitzing 7 percent of the time, although that still ranked 21st in football. Given time to read defenses, Sanchez was at his best, completing 61 percent of his passes for 6.8 yards per attempt, up from 55 percent and 6.5 yards per pass during the regular season.

This week Sanchez and the Jets play Pittsburgh, a team with a reputation for blitzing that is and is not accurate. The Steelers have blitzed with five rushers 30 percent of the time, the fourth-highest rate in the league. However, they have big blitzed 5 percent of the time -- only four teams big blitzed less often. To ensure their best odds of victory on Sunday, the Steelers should send every available black helmet charging into the Jets' backfield.

Coincidentally, the Steelers' own quarterback is susceptible to blitz packages. Since Ben Roethlisberger returned from suspension in Week 5, the Steelers have excelled against three or four pass-rushers, averaging 7.7 yards per play with a 53 percent Success Rate -- second in the league by just a few decimal points in both categories. Against five rushers, that Success Rate falls to 39 percent (24th in the league), and 40 percent against big blitzes (20th). It's important to point out the Steelers still pick up a lot of real estate -- 6.9 yards per play against five rushers (6th in the NFL), 6.0 against big blitzes (13th) -- so if you blitz them, they will collect big plays. The Jets will have to live with that, though, because blitzing is their best bet to get Pittsburgh's offense off the field.

Last week, Roethlisberger benefited from playing a defense that was very average, strategically -- the Ravens were 13th in percentage of five-man rushes and 14th in big blitzes. This week, though, he faces one of the most aggressive units in the NFL. The Jets rushed five on nearly a third of all plays, more often than anyone except the Cleveland Browns. The Jets big blitzed 14 percent of the time, the fourth-highest rate in football.

If both teams stick with their usual defensive game plans, Sanchez will look better than expected, while Roethlisberger will disappoint. That could be the key to the Jets' third straight upset -- and an appearance in the Super Bowl.

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Well good, this is what Rex does best. No more of this read & react sh** we were forced to use to beat Manning and Brady. Send the big guys. Oh, and only use corner blitzes sparingly unless its to try to strip the ball. I doubt any of our corners can bring Ben down on his own.

Edited by Jetsfan80
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Honestly, I want the Steelers to blitz big.

I think with the way our receiving core has been playing lately from BE and Holmes on the skinny post, to Keller in the seam and LT out of the backfield...I cant believe I'm saying this...I'm actually quite confident Sanchez can make them pay. Our Oline, is great at picking up the blitz and if Sanchez can recognize it early and check someone into where the open space will be from the blitz, I think he should really make them pay.

As far as Big Ben is concerned. I think dropping back in coverage is a bad idea and its why we almost lost the last time we played them. If you recall, when we dropped back, they were getting a ton of yards...when we blitzed, we were forcing throws short and getting to Big Ben. We stopped them on 2nd and long with a blitz from Coleman. Then we dropped back in coverage on 3rd and 24...and they picked it up. Rex in the presser said coverage was the right choice...I beg to differ. If Spaeth doesnt drop a TD, coverage lost you that game.

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Well good, this is what Rex does best. No more of this read & react sh** we were forced to use to beat Manning and Brady. Send the big guys. Oh, and only use corner blitzes sparingly unless its to try to strip the ball. I doubt any of our corners can bring Ben down on his own.

Going to have to give Coleman at lost a chance or two. The fast little f'er has been doing great on the blitz lately, and he stripped Ben twice last time around.

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Going to have to give Coleman at lost a chance or two. The fast little f'er has been doing great on the blitz lately, and he stripped Ben twice last time around.

Coleman is who I had in mind too to try to strip the ball. Seeing him come flying in on a QB's blindside unblocked is a thing of beauty.

Edited by Jetsfan80
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Honestly, I want the Steelers to blitz big.

I think with the way our receiving core has been playing lately from BE and Holmes on the skinny post, to Keller in the seam and LT out of the backfield...I cant believe I'm saying this...I'm actually quite confident Sanchez can make them pay. Our Oline, is great at picking up the blitz and if Sanchez can recognize it early and check someone into where the open space will be from the blitz, I think he should really make them pay.

As far as Big Ben is concerned. I think dropping back in coverage is a bad idea and its why we almost lost the last time we played them. If you recall, when we dropped back, they were getting a ton of yards...when we blitzed, we were forcing throws short and getting to Big Ben. We stopped them on 2nd and long with a blitz from Coleman. Then we dropped back in coverage on 3rd and 24...and they picked it up. Rex in the presser said coverage was the right choice...I beg to differ. If Spaeth doesnt drop a TD, coverage lost you that game.

This...well this and the OP...Roethlisberger loves to air it out and has always been uncomfortable having to dissect a defense with short passes...the problem with him is that if you do blitz him you better be able to bring him down when you get to him.

As far as Sanchez handling their blitz...that's probably going to be the difference in the game. If he can handle it, then we're good to go. Agreed that the way our WRs are playing will really help, and I feel like there hasn't been a Keller sighting in weeks.

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Honestly, I want the Steelers to blitz big.

I think with the way our receiving core has been playing lately from BE and Holmes on the skinny post, to Keller in the seam and LT out of the backfield...I cant believe I'm saying this...I'm actually quite confident Sanchez can make them pay. Our Oline, is great at picking up the blitz and if Sanchez can recognize it early and check someone into where the open space will be from the blitz, I think he should really make them pay.

As far as Big Ben is concerned. I think dropping back in coverage is a bad idea and its why we almost lost the last time we played them. If you recall, when we dropped back, they were getting a ton of yards...when we blitzed, we were forcing throws short and getting to Big Ben. We stopped them on 2nd and long with a blitz from Coleman. Then we dropped back in coverage on 3rd and 24...and they picked it up. Rex in the presser said coverage was the right choice...I beg to differ. If Spaeth doesnt drop a TD, coverage lost you that game.

What would have lost us that game - had we lost - was continually going out of bounds and attempting passes when we had a late 4th quarter lead and badly needed to run the clock down.

Truth is we got lucky on the PI no-call (think it was Lowery).

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Well good, this is what Rex does best. No more of this read & react sh** we were forced to use to beat Manning and Brady. Send the big guys. Oh, and only use corner blitzes sparingly unless its to try to strip the ball. I doubt any of our corners can bring Ben down on his own.

From Mike Pettine's presser:

•He joked that of all the players he could possibly throw at Ben Roethlisberger, the most successful — so far — has been the 5-9, 180-pound Drew Coleman. In their last meeting, Coleman had two sacks on the mammoth Roethlisberger.

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From Mike Pettine's presser:

•He joked that of all the players he could possibly throw at Ben Roethlisberger, the most successful — so far — has been the 5-9, 180-pound Drew Coleman. In their last meeting, Coleman had two sacks on the mammoth Roethlisberger.

Keep in mind that Coleman had 3 career sacks going into that Steelers game. Since then, he's wracked up 4 sacks in 5 games. Not too shabby.

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