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Pregame Zone Blitz: The Long Awaited Holmes-Coming

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If the Patriots present a difficult match-up for the Steelers, then the Jets present pretty much the opposite.

All three of these teams, Pittsburgh, New England and the Jets are talented, and have jockeyed position at the top of most rubes' power-rankings at times this season. The Patriots, with QB Tom Brady, bring a very difficult match-up challenge in the passing game against the Steelers defense.

The Jets, with their power running scheme, and quarterback who's as green as his jersey, match up very poorly with the Steelers defense.

Until you remove SS Troy Polamalu from the equation. A weakened Steelers defense could give the Jets a reason for hope, but when you factor in a key injury to RT Damien Woody, as well as the circus-like atmosphere surrounding the Jets this week, it's difficult to predict how this will pan out.

Defense on defense in this week's PZB, some stats that show great defense, bush-league tactics and the return of our former XLIII Hero. 

Opponent Web Sites/Forums

How does it go, Coach Ryan? Pride goeth before the fall? You're now calling your defense out for a gem of a performance in a loss against Miami.

What did you say about Mark Sanchez being a Super Bowl-caliber quarterback? Last time PZB checked, Super Bowl champions direct wins over teams that gain 131 yards of offense, like Miami did in Week 14.

You buried a football after the Patriots gave you as savage a beating as you've ever taken. Are you planning to bury your strength and conditioning coach next? Something called "Sal Alosi" proved your arrogance and lack of discipline is, in fact, a bad thing. You now have your staff tripping active players on the sideline. Excellent leadership, coach.

John B. of Gang Green Nation does provide some interesting comparison prospective for Sanchez.

Then again, he also says it's not a question of if offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer is relieved of his duties, it's when.

Ryan even sat in on the offensive meetings this week, saying he's giving support to his offensive staff.

Last Game

PZB never claims "smartest person in the room" status. Maybe the more appropriate phrase is "sharpest knife in the drawer. With about 12 minutes left in the third quarter, I sliced my hand with a paring knife while trying to remove the cap on an old bottle of air freshener (it was like welded on there, I swear). SteelerWife had to escort me to the good people of Fairview Ridges hospital.

Being the fantastic, devoted spouse that she is, she ignored the blood all over the floor, and managed to activate the DVR to record the remainder of the 10-7 game. Being in the Minneapolis market, there wasn't a game on CBS originally scheduled to air. Since the roof of the Metrodome took on a metaphoric symbol of the Vikings season, and collapsed under itself, the game was moved to Monday, thus, not airing on FOX. CBS then put the Steelers game on at noon.

Problem was, the local cable providers hadn't updated their digital cable lineup to reflect the Steelers game, so she recorded what was supposed to be the "Wide World of Winter Sports in Vancouver." Since that wasn't airing, I returned with five stitches, no mobility in my thumb and two hours of dead air recorded.

It's the first interceptions by Troy Polamalu and LaMarr Woodley that I didn't see live, but I would probably be making comments on Polamalu's increasing Defensive Player of the Year candidacy, and how Troy stole Woodley's Defensive Player of the Week award.

Polamalu's got two of those in a row now, the knives of our palatial estate have been removed for my protection, and we're just gonna move onto the Jets.

Us Against The World

How utterly ridiculous is it that James Harrison makes a football act and gets fined $75,000, and Richard Seymour, despite whatever happened to provoke him, slugs a player on national TV in full view of the cameras and knocks him to the ground -- and gets fined $25,000. Weak. Very weak.

Peter King

In case you haven't noticed, and judging by the fact you have eyesight, you've noticed, the NFL is protective of its quarterbacks. All quarterbacks, that is, except Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger, and Philadelphia's Michael Vick.

Interesting how those are the two quarterbacks who are sought after by the law as much as by opposing defenders. Does that factor into Joe Referee's decisions to allow both Roethlisberger and Vick to be pounded on more than a heavybag at Cain Velasquez's place?

If not, the NFL better come up with something more logical. PZB can't find another reason why there is clearly a set of rules for some quarterbacks, and some for Roethlisberger and Vick. Roethlisberger was hit in the head multiple times yesterday, including a blatantly late hit by SS Roy Williams.

To put this into context, James Harrison hit Bills QB Ryan Fitzpatrick approximately one-third of a second after he released the ball. There was 1.3 seconds between Roethlisberger releasing the ball, and Williams colliding with him.

Yes, PZB timed it. Four times as long for Williams, but Harrison picked up a 15-yard penalty as well as a $25,000 fine.

It's yet another example of extremely poor officiating, as judged by their grasp of the rules they're paid to interpret correctly. Plain and simple, if the refs aren't in position to make these calls, they need to find a way to be in the right place. If they're incapable of regulating the game equally for all teams, the league needs to find people who can.

But let's keep piling it on, because the Steelers blew the doors off the Bengals' Ship of Dysfunction after the horrendous no-call on Roethlisberger.

Opponent Spotlight: WR Santonio Holmes

We meet again, Tone...

Last time we talked about Santonio Holmes, it was with jaw-gaping shock after we learned the Steelers received a 5th round pick for its leading receiver in 2009. While Goodell's Sword of 1 Year Suspension still hangs over Holmes' head, he has made up for his four-game absence quite well with the flamboyant Jets.

He's been the bright spot of the Jets offense in the second half of the year, with game-winning touchdowns against Houston and Cleveland, and his big play against Detroit set up the game-winning field goal in overtime.

He missed four games, but he won them three others. Not a bad investment for the Jets, who gave Pittsburgh a fifth-round pick for the embattled receiver who's still one puff away from a year suspension and is playing in the last year of his contract. The Steelers converted that fifth round pick into a trade to Arizona for CB Bryant McFadden and a sixth round pick. That sixth round pick was WR Antonio Brown.

Brown has a kickoff return for a touchdown this season, and Holmes is aiming for a special teams splash play of his own Sunday. Per Rich Cimini of ESPNNew York, he plans to return a punt for a touchdown.

No one ever doubted his ability (and his former teammates say he was a good locker-room guy). The issue was the fact he was the target of an investigation exploring an alleged incident where Holmes was accused of throwing a drink in a woman's face at a club in Orlando. One morning not long after that, Holmes noted, on Twitter, it was "time to wake n bake." Sandwiched between those points of public embarrassment, Holmes tweeted to one of his followers that he "...shud try finding the worst thing that you could drink n kill urself."

PZB isn't entirely sure how much that is still lingering around the Super Bowl XLIII MVP, he seems very much like the same receiver today he was being the Steelers top receiver last season. The main issue, though, is the fact a large majority of his catches come on the same pattern; a slant underneath the linebackers.

Holmes is about as dangerous after the catch as any receiver in the game, and if he breaks loose, all you're going to see is a vapor trail. But if the Steelers defense is able to cut that route out of the Jets depleted repertoire, they may not have much to fall back on. Holmes' ability between the numbers far outweighs his talents outside of them, a rarity for a big-play receiver, and the Jets don't have too much to boast in the vertical game, despite having such outstanding physical talents on offense (WR Braylon Edwards, TE Dustin Keller and WR/RB Brad Smith).

While the crowd at Heinz Field is likely to present a mixed chorus of cheers and boos immediately for Holmes, the boos will drown out the cheers quickly. They'll reach meltdown status the first time they see him pick himself up off the ground, motion for a first down - an action that used to make us all cheer. It's likely he'll put up some offensive numbers, because, well, that's what Tone does. Love him, hate him, dodge glasses thrown by him or smoke pot with him, he makes his presence known.

Steelers Spotlight: OLB LaMarr Woodley

Be wary of match-ups that clearly favor one player.

That's PZB's way of staying grounded in wake of what is, on paper, the best match-up Woodley has ever had. Jets RT Damien Woody has been playing at a Pro Bowl level this season, but with arthroscopic surgery this past week, he's likely lost for the remainder of the regular season. His back-up, Wayne Hunter, isn't exactly at Woody's level.

Against Houston in Week 11, Hunter was pushed into the backfield so often, a casual observer would have thought he was a running back. The trio of strong pass-rushing ends of the Texans, Mario Williams, Antonio Smith and Mark Anderson, feasted on Mark Sanchez all game; as if Hunter was paid to allow them easy passage to the quarterback.

The Jets are in flux right now. In their last three games, they've seen Sanchez's pass attempts rise from 28 against Cincinnati, to 33 against the Patriots in a brutal loss and 44 in a loss to Miami in Week 14. His completion percentage has also dropped from 57.1 to 51.5 to 38.6. Miami sacked him six times last week.

Hunter allowed three of those sacks.

As for Woodley, he played at an AFC Defensive Player of the Week level in Week 14 (two sacks and one interception, mostly caused by the fact Carson Palmer was terrified of seeing him rush, so he just got rid of the ball as quickly as he could), so neither Hunter nor the Jets should be concerned about him. Ahem.

If Woodley is able to own the defensive left edge, the Jets will have a really difficult time running the ball. That, in turn, forces Sanchez to be the difference-maker, and there isn't a quarterback not named Tarvaris Jackson who is colder than the alleged "Sanchize."

Expect the Jets to play much of the game in max protect, lending as much help as possible to Hunter, and attacking the flats behind the rushing Woodley with RB LaDainian Tomlinson and TE Dustin Keller. Bengals QB Carson Palmer tried the same thing last week, and Woodley scored a touchdown.

I See You: I see you, Antwaan Randle El. That catch was sick. Like, Whooping Cough sick. Or something. More than anything, it's what it represents. People have been dogging you all year because you're becoming less a part of the offense, which is due to the emergence of Manny Sanders and Antonio Brown.

I defy anyone to argue with PZB, though, that either of them, or Hines Ward, could have caught that pass. Your athleticism is well-known, having been a late draft pick by the Chicago Cubs in 1997, one of the most successful college football players of all time and having done enough to stay in the NFL for nine seasons.

That ball, out of Roethlisberger's hands, didn't look like it had a chance to be caught by anyone. During an offensive drought, mired by poor pass protection and inconsistent offensive production, you snared a wildly overthrown pass that could have been intercepted had you not pulled it down. While the offense didn't convert it to a touchdown (haven't done that in seven quarters now), you at least helped set up a field goal.

No one expected you to come back to Pittsburgh and catch 75 passes. What we did expect was for you to contribute positively, which you have, pretty much every game. If it hasn't been said enough, welcome back, we look forward to more of your big plays.

Key Stats

  • In four Jets losses this season, they've scored 18 points.
  • The Jets haven't scored an offensive touchdown in 139 minutes and nine seconds (nine quarters and change)
  • The Steelers haven't scored an offensive touchdown in 112 minutes and six seconds (seven quarters and change
  • Pittsburgh has won their last two, the Jets have lost their last two
  • Pittsburgh's magic number to clinch the AFC North is 3. Any combination of Steelers wins and Ravens losses will give Pittsburgh its sixth AFC North championship since the division was formed in 2002.

Quick-Hitters

If The Playoffs Started Today: 1. New England; 2. Pittsburgh; 3. Jacksonville; 4. Kansas City; 5. Baltimore; 6. New York Jets. Jets at Jaguars; Ravens at Chiefs

TCF Bank Stadium: A good friend of mine has Vikings season tickets, and I try to get to a game a year with him. Between Vikings and Steelers primetime games, we usually plan it for the Steelers bye week or when one is playing on Monday Night. Week 15 vs. Chicago on MNF was our plan this year. After the Metrodome (the cover over Mall of America Field) tore and collapsed under the Snow-Nami, the team has announced it will be moved to the University of Minnesota's TCF Bank Stadium. That's a structure that was winterized a few weeks ago, and is in a cocoon of ice and snow as I type this. I wasn't sure how big on that I was, but the team then announced, despite the fact they had sold 54,000 tickets in the form of season-ticket holders prior to the Snow-Nami, admission to the game would be first-come, first-serve, general admission seating for anyone who wants to go.

Apparently, that's how the Minnesota Vikings treat their season ticket holders. They make you pay for pre-season games, and they don't even guarantee you a seat when their POS stadium is unplayable. Needless to say, my friend and I are both in agreement that there's no way in hell we're going.