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Four Names to Know in the AFC Championship Game

Getting beyond Mark Sanchez and Darrelle Revis to find keys to Jets victory

By Josh Alper
|  Friday, Jan 21, 2011  |  Updated 4:27 PM EDT
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You can't throw a rock in this town without hitting someone talking about how well Mark Sanchez needs to play if the Jets want to advance to the Super Bowl on Sunday.

They're right. If Sanchez doesn't play well, there's not much chance of Rex Ryan making Super Bowl media day the most entertaining event in the history of the NFL. It kinda goes without saying that the quarterback needs to play well in order for his team to win, though, especially when you're playing a good Steelers team that could well beat you even if Sanchez has another terrific performance.

So let's look beyond the obvious, which also includes Antonio Cromartie locking down whoever isn't on Revis Island, and find some other guys who have to bring their A games for the Jets to go to the big game. We've isolated four guys from four different parts of the team -- offense, defense, special teams, coaching -- whose performance will go a long way toward dictating how happy we'll be come Sunday night.

Brian Schottenheimer: Schotty has heard a lot more criticism than praise from the gallery over his run as the man in charge of the Jets offense. These pages have featured plenty of it and almost all of it has been well deserved. He gets far too clever, doesn't stick with things that are working and alternates between having too loose and too light a rope on Sanchez.

He deseves more praise than he's gotten for his work over the last six quarters, however. The second half of the Colts game was a thing of beauty as Schotty realized the Jets could simply steamroll an overmatched defense without needing to deviate from plain vanilla play calls until, of course, the big throw to Braylon Edwards before the winning field goal.

The Patriots defense required a different approach and, again, Schotty was up to the task. He swapped different formations, used multiple tight ends and even mixed in some Wildcat to keep the offense balanced and the defense guessing. He'll need to do that again on Sunday so that his offense stays a step ahead of the playmakers on Pittsburgh's defense, but he'll need to avoid the temptation to think of the whole thing as a chess match with Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau. Schottenheimer needs to be creative enough to put his players in a position to succeed without putting a premium on anything other than execution.

Wayne Hunter: Whatever Schottenheimer dials up, it will require a strong game from the offensive line to make it happen. Hunter, starting at right tackle in place of the injured Damien Woody, will be a big part of that. He'll have to open holes in the running game and he'll have to deal with James Harrison and LeMarr Woodley rushing Sanchez off the edge. He'll get help with the latter, but Hunter will be on the spot all day long.

Sione Pouha: The Jets had a lot of success bringing the blitz against Ben Roethlisberger in Week 15 and, generally, the Steelers quarterback has struggled this season when faced with a big pass rush coming at him. Taking that kind of risk requires putting Pittsburgh into unfavorable down-and-distance combinations and that makes Pouha very important. The nose tackle doesn't make a ton of plays in the Jets defense. His job description is occupying blockers so that others can make tackles in the run game. If Pouha does that on Sunday, and he's been very good this season, the Steelers will be looking at tough third downs that the Jets can exploit by turning up the pressure.

Steve Weatherford: In Week 15, Weatherford was the MVP for the Jets in their win. He consistently pinned Pittsburgh deep and helped set up Jason Taylor's safety when Mewelde Moore had to run out of his own end zone. Those were vital additions in a tight battle where field position mattered a great deal. Weatherford was not nearly as sharp against the Patriots last weekend and his inability to get the ball where he wanted helped set up a big Julian Edelman return. If this game plays out anything like the earlier matchup, Weatherford will have to be better or the Jets will lose a big advantage.

Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City and is a contributor to FanHouse.com and ProFootballTalk.com in addition to his duties for NBCNewYork.com. You can follow him on Twitter.

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