Tough task ahead for Steelers

The New York Jets come in to the AFC Championship game against the Steelers this Sunday at Heinz Field having defeated the Indianapolis Colts and New England Patriots on the road in the first two rounds of the playoffs.

Not an easy task, especially going against two of the NFL's top quarterbacks in Peyton Manning and Tom Brady.

And now the Steelers have to find a way to figure out the Jets defense, which does a good job of mixing things up and confusing opponents.

"They are really giving trouble to the offensive line and the quarterback," said wide receiver Hines Ward. "Their whole motto is to play man-to-man and try to confuse the quarterback and hopefully a guy comes free here or there to get a quarterback sack, pressure the quarterback and force a quarterback to make a perfect throw against man-to-man coverage. It has just been their whole defensive scheme all year long. "

The Jets defeated the Steelers 22-17 on December 19 at Heinz Field and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger knows that it won't be any easier this time around.

"The first time, obviously, they came in here and put a hurting on us at home," said Roethlisberger. "They have a lot of great players from inside the line to the linebackers to the secondary. They try and confuse. I think that's the biggest thing that they do, and part of Rex Ryan's mastermind coach, I mean he did it with Baltimore when we played them and now he's doing it here with the Jets. It's just bringing guys from all over the place. You don't know where people are lining up, how to identify; it's a big challenge for us this week.

"This whole defense is so good. It's hard to single out one guy to stay away from because they have 10 other guys, and sometimes it seems like 15 other guys out there that you have to deal with."

When Antonio Brown pulled in Ben Roethlisberger's long ball on third down, basically off his helmet, last week against the Ravens to put the Steelers in position to score the game-winning touchdown, a lot of people who hadn't followed the Steelers all season took notice of the rookie receiver.

But that catch was something that has come to be expected from Brown and fellow rookie receiver Emmanuel Sanders as the season progressed.

"They don't get many opportunities, especially Antonio Brown," said Ward. "He does a phenomenal job when he gets the ball in his hands. He is very explosive with the ball in his hands so we try to get him out into space. Converting that third-and-19 – he caught it with the Steelers' emblem in his right hand – I was just happy for him. I was more elated. Emmanuel is really coming on strongly. When we play the Jets, he will probably end up with the third corner on him. He is a guy who we will probably need to make a lot of plays."

And while the expectations are high for the rookie combo now, it was a little different before the season starter.

"I think if I said yes I'd probably be lying," said Roethlisberger when asked about if he expected them to come on so strong. "You hope that you can get that, but to expect rookies to be able to contribute and do the things that they do is a tall order. But I think the extra time and effort that they put in speaks volumes for why they've been able to do it."

The last time the Steelers faced the Jets they were without two key players, tight end Heath Miller and safety Troy Polamalu. Both will be on the field this time and their teammates are looking forward to that.

"It's huge," said Roethlisberger. "Heath Miller is the best tight end in the game. I don't want to take anything away from D.J. (David Johnson) or Matt Spaeth, who played well last time, but Heath Miller is a special player, and he opens up, even when he's not getting the ball, he opens things up for the guys on the outside and he's a great safety valve for me."

What Miller means to his offensive teammates, Polamalu means to the defense.

"You can't account for his instincts and the plays that he makes from just free lancing," said linebacker James Farrior. "He is a guy who is going to be doing things a little bit differently sometimes. He goes on his own sometimes and sees something that nobody else might see and most of the times he makes plays. He is going to be out there doing what he does best, and that's being around the football. That's something that you cannot account for."

Four players did not practice for the Steelers on Wednesday: S Will Allen (knee), WR Arnaz Battle (illness), CB Bryant McFadden (abdomen), and Polamalu (achilles). Defensive end Aaron Smith (triceps) was limited in practice.

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