Counting on Pressure, Protection at Heinz

The Steelers open up their home schedule this afternoon against the New York Jets. Even Rex Ryan knows what the Steelers will count on today at Heinz Field.

Rex Ryan could become a sportswriter if his predictions as coach of the New York Jets continue to sour.

Of course, lousy predictions are a media prerequisite. But Ryan's also verbal and opinionated, and he knows how to use stats.

"There are two stats that tell the story," Ryan said of today's 4:25 p.m. game between the Steelers and Jets at Heinz Field. "They really jump out at me in telling what it's like to play in Pittsburgh:

"Last year they had 35 sacks as a team. That ranked them right where we were, in the middle of the pack. But at home, they had 28 sacks. They would have ranked second in the NFL with that particular stat. They feed off that energy from the fans. It's really a great place to play, a great atmosphere.

"The other thing is that I think Ben Roethlisberger has a 107.0 quarterback rating in Pittsburgh. That's pretty impressive as well."

If anyone knows disappointment at Heinz Field, it's Ryan. He's lost two AFC Championship Games at Heinz Field, one as the defensive coordinator of the Baltimore Ravens in the 2008 season and one as coach of the Jets in the 2010 season.

The 2010 loss was actually the third consecutive loss for Ryan (two with the Jets) in the AFCCG, and after that 2010 loss Ryan came back last season and predicted his Jets would win the Super Bowl.

Instead, the Jets finished 8-8 amid a morass of finger-pointing by locker room lawyers who blamed Ryan's prediction for the start of the problems.

"When I made the guarantee of the Super Bowl, we had come off of going to two AFC Championships and we lost both of them. What else is there left?" Ryan said. "I felt it to be true, that if we could get in the Super Bowl we could win. So I made that statement. If it wasn't going to be successful, I thought it would come down on just me. That's where I was wrong. It never just came down on me. When you talked to our players and watched our players, I thought we played tight. I think that had a lot to do with it. It was an unnecessary burden that I put on my players, and I've learned from that."

The Jets believe they're back in contending form this season, and last week's 48-28 demolition of the Buffalo Bills is their proof.

The Steelers, meanwhile, got off to an 0-1 start and are expected to be at an emotional pitch in front of their fans for the home opener. That's likely the reason Ryan's looking so closely at a stats sheet that revolves around quarterbacks.

In his case, Ryan has two of them. The Jets added Tim Tebow to go along with Mark Sanchez at the position. Tebow, as a Wildcat quarterback/receiver last week, had 5 carries for 11 yards in a blowout win. Sanchez had a passer rating of 123.4.

"I really think what we saw in their last game is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what they are capable of with Tebow," said Steelers coach Mike Tomlin. "I think the game's circumstances allowed them to use just a portion of what they are capable of. It wasn't the whole sum of it. Nothing that they showed in the game was really groundbreaking or outside their personality, whether you are talking about their offensive coordinator, Tony Sparano, or what you've seen from Tebow in the past. We are treating it as simply the tip of the iceberg."

Tomlin also talked about keeping Sanchez in the pocket, where the Steelers' defense can take aim. But the Steelers are expected to be without Harrison today.

Harrison missed three of the eight home games last season, yet in those three games the Steelers compiled 11 of their 28 home sacks.

Replacing Harrison today will be the rotation of Chris Carter and Jason Worilds, an athletic pair who combined for only one sack in a combined 18 pass-rushes in Denver.

"Worilds will get nothing but stronger. He looked good this week. He played well in the game," said Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau. "Carter has played good through the whole preseason. They play with great energy and effort. They are both young players and are getting some on-the-job training. That's the NFL. When it's your turn to go, you have to step in and deliver. I am confident they will do that."

The Steelers are also expected to be without strong safety Troy Polamalu. This would mark the first time since Harrison ascended to the starting lineup in the 2006 finale that the Steelers will play without either of their former NFL Defensive Players of the Year.

The Jets' injury losses are equally heavy. They'll be without shutdown cornerback Darrelle Revis (three consecutive AP All-Pro first teams), outside linebacker Bryan Thomas (31 career sacks) and tight end Dustin Keller (8 catches, 64 yards in the 2010 AFCCG).

Revis, of course, is a major loss. Back in the 2010 AFCCG, he was a primary reason for Roethlisberger posting the worst passer rating of any of his home playoff games, and his worst passer rating at Heinz Field since 2006.

Roethlisberger's 35.5 rating in that game is well off of the 107 average Ryan calculated. It's unlikely the Jets can match that kind of defensive effort without Revis.

"He's the best in the world at what he does," said Tomlin.

The Jets will likely play man-to-man coverage with cornerbacks Antonio Cromartie and Kyle Wilson. The Jets' third cornerback today will either be 5-9 Ellis Lankster of West Virginia University or 5-8 second-year man Isaiah Trufant.

If Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery can't take advantage of the Jets' nickel and dime defenses, there's always the running game, as Ryan dutifully pointed out by providing one final stat before finishing his conference call.

"Both teams want to run the football, and both teams want to stop the run," Ryan said. "By the way, we are ranked 32nd in the league in run defense. That's something I thought I would never see."

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