CB Ike Taylor vs. WR Santonio Holmes
They say they’re friends off the field, and it almost looks like a sibling rivalry on the field. Taylor has gotten the better of Holmes in their previous two meetings overall, and if not for a slip on the Heinz Field turf, Holmes’ 8 catches for 101 yards and 1 touchdown would look far less. After seeing Taylor on the ground, Holmes turned his route up field, and QB Mark Sanchez hit him for a 45-yard touchdown in the AFC Championship game in January, 2011.
Holmes’ skill set is outstanding, but it plays right into Taylor’s. Despite not being the biggest receiver in the league, Holmes is at his best in traffic. Taylor loves the physical battle with receivers near the line of scrimmage, and Holmes will give him that. The key will be Taylor reading the play-action the Jets will incorporate and be wary of Holmes’ ability to go deep as well.
WR Mike Wallace vs. CB Antonio Cromartie
With a game under his belt, Wallace is re-adjusting to the game he’s played at an outstanding level for the last three seasons. The Jets play a lot of man coverage, and the Steelers are going to try to get Wallace isolated on Cromartie – who will likely spend time covering Wallace and Antonio Brown.
Cromartie isn’t Darrelle Revis – who will miss Sunday’s game with a concussion – but isn’t a slouch either. The Steelers will likely try to establish the run the way they did against Denver, but will try to take some shots, particularly since they own the advantage in this match-up.
OLB Chris Carter vs. LT D’Brickashaw Ferguson
Carter will make his second consecutive start over injured James Harrison Sunday, and he’ll face a far different offense than the one he saw in Denver. The Jets run a lot of motion and look to set up play-action passing. Carter will have to set the edge at a similar level of success Harrison always has due to the Jets’ desire to run power and traps.
Ferguson will have to get a body on the quicker Carter, particularly when the Jets go into their Wildcat formation with QB/TE Tim Tebow behind center. Harrison struggled on the edge defending Tebow in the Broncos’ read-option package in last year’s playoffs, which is something Jets coach Rex Ryan likely noticed on film this week. They may want to run a play or two early with Ferguson out from to see how disciplined Carter will play the run.
C Maurkice Pouncey vs. C Nick Mangold
This game will likely come down to whichever team can establish the tempo via their power running games. The success of each team’s ability to run can often be traced to the play of their respective centers. The Steelers got beat by Denver’s defensive line in Week 1, which was quicker and shot gaps consistently. The Jets are big and powerful up front, and whether Pouncey is reaching to the next level or even pulling, he’s going to have to step up if the Steelers get their ground game going against a tough Jets defense.
Mangold is as athletic and strong as any other center in the league. While the Jets may not have had a statistically prodigious Week 1 on the ground, they ran often (36 carries for 118 yards), and it opened up roll-out passes for Sanchez off play-action. Mangold’s pass protection as well as his ability to lead Sanchez on the move was a big part of the Jets’ offensive success in Week 1.