Steelers Vs. Jets: Hines Ward Willing to Do Whatever it Takes to Help Steelers Advance to Eighth Super Bowl in Franchise History

January 21, 2011 – 9:00 am by Michael Bean

Almost there, my friends. Just over two days remain until kickoff in this year’s Conference Championship Games. The Packers and Bears will get things started on Sunday afternoon, then it’s the Steelers and Jets on early Sunday evening at Heinz Field. The two historic AFC squads met in Week 15, with the Jets holding on late for a 22-17 win. Future Hall of Famer Hines Ward had just two catches for 34 yards in the loss, but with Darrelle Revis focused in on locking down Ward, there was success for the other Steelers’ playmakers on the outside. Will the Jets be content giving up a few plays to guys like Mike Wallace and Emmanuel Sanders in order to limit Ward’s effectiveness? Or will Rex Ryan use Revis a bit more creatively this time around and concede slightly more production from Ward? It’s just one of the many intriguing match ups and strategic decisions that will shape Sunday’s AFC Championship Game. Should be a dandy.

Ward joined Bonnie Bernstein and Greg Buttle on ESPN Radio New York to talk about how important he feels home field advantage will be this weekend even though the Steelers fared better on the road than at home during the regular season, what he’s expecting from the Jets defense that stymied the Patriots last week with new confusing looks, how much having Heath Miller back in the lineup will impact what the Steelers are able to do offensively, how a part of him wanted a chance at taking down the Patriots en route to the Super Bowl, if he thinks the offensive line will be able to pave the way once again for some success in the running game, and what he thinks he can do individually to help the Steelers advance on to the Super Bowl.

On how important he feels home field advantage is in the AFC Championship Game considering the Steelers were 7-1 on the road and just 5-3 at home:

“I think it matters a lot. I think guys feel more comfortable playing at home and our crowd was rocking int the Baltimore game. They really fed off that energy, showed their support, and we finally came out and found a way to pull it out against Baltimore.”

On facing a Jets defense that stymied the Patriots last week and how the Steelers plan to stop the blitz packages they’ll likely throw at Pittsburgh:

“You know, we face our defense every day, and a lot of our practice was one-on-one, you know, our offense versus our defense. If we can pick up blitz schemes that our defense shows us, then we pick it up against anybody. I just think the difference is when we played the Jets the first time, we didn’t’ have Troy, we didn’t have Heath Miller. And those are two Pro Bowl players and having them back with us definitely makes us a better team. So it will come down to the blitz pick up and things like that, it just comes down to us doing what we’ve got to do and making sure we got a hat on a hat. And if we do that we’ll be fine.”

On just how much having Miller back will impact what the Steelers are able to do offensively:

“He impacts our offense tremendously, especially if they play a lot of man-to-man coverage. It’s all about match ups. Revis and Cromartie will probably be on myself and Mike Wallace, so having Emmanuel Sanders and Heath Miller on the other side will probably create some opportunities for those guys to make some plays. Heath’s a proven guy. Heath and I kind of control the middle of the field, and we put our speedster guys on the outside with Mike Wallace and Emmanuel Sanders and now Antonio Brown. So, it definitely gives a lot of teams in the NFL a lot of problems with match ups. It’s all about who you’re going to match up with and who you’re going to take away. The other guys are viable guys on our offense that can easily make plays for us so…”

Whether or not a part of him and the rest of the Steelers wanted to face the Patriots:

“Well New England is always going to bring everybody’s A-game; everybody wants to beat New England. They’re the cream of the crop, they’re proven, they’ve been there before, they’ve won Super Bowls and stuff like that. So I know that was a big game. I think the Jets really wanted that more than anything. They wanted to beat New England more than anything else. So for us, me personally, they put us out of the AFC Championship Game twice, so you definitely want to have some get back in that sense. But the Jets, they went on the road to beat not only the Colts, but New England in their own back yard. But for us, it’s going to be a challenge for us because I don’t want to lose another AFC Championship Game at home. That’s the worst feeling ever. I remember just like yesterday when the Patriots were celebrating on our field and that was the worst feeling ever. So hopefully we’re going to do everything we can to make sure that doesn’t happen with the Jets.”

Whether or not he feels the Steelers’ offensive line will be able to pave holes in the running game as well as protect Big Ben sufficiently:

“I just feel like the guys that we have are starting to jell together, starting to play with a lot of confidence. And the first game when we played the Jets, we ran the ball pretty well — Mendenhall had a pretty good day in the running game. So for us, it’s just about being balanced. We really don’t know what Rex is going to bring us with his defensive scheme, or if they’re going to take away this or that. But I think if we’re able to be balanced, we’re going to have a great chance to win this game because you know the corners are going to do all they can to take the passing game away. But one thing when you blitz Ben, you have to worry about him getting outside the pocket, and that’s something different than the Jets had to worry about the first two games with Peyton and Brady. Those two guys will give themselves up and worry about that play on the next play. But with Ben, he’s going to try to get everything he can on each and every play that he possibly can. So I think that’s the difference in the quarterbacks that the Jets have to face and worry about.”

Everybody knows what Mark Sanchez needs to do to help the Jets win…but what does Ward need to do in order to help Pittsburgh advance on to the Super Bowl:

“For me, I’m always going to have my battles with Revis. I’m a big fan of his and he definitely makes it hard because even when I do get open, the quarterback’s not even looking on that side because he doesn’t even want to mess around with Revis. So I can’t get frustrated. I can see how Reggie Wayne and some of those guys got frustrated with their attempts, but that’s just the way it is. You’re only as good as your attempts, and if the quarterback is not looking your way, you can’t get frustrated as a player. So I’ll have to find another way to make an impact on the game, and if that’s by springing a block to help Mendenhall get in with a touchdown, or running the best decoy I can to help somebody else get open, then so be it. I don’t get caught up in stats, especially in this game; especially in one game away from a Super Bowl. I’m not worried about if I catch 100 yards, or even if I catch a ball, I just want to win. That’s how you get proven in this league — by getting to the Super Bowl and winning it. For me, I’ve been blessed to have the opportunity to win two Super Bowls, and that definitely is a great whirlwind. You want to experience that again. So for a lot of our veteran guys that have been there before, we definitely want to taste that experience again, but for L.T. and a lot of their guys that have never had a chance, I know this game is going to be big for both squads. So I know as a player, it’s definitely one you want to be in; and as a fan, it’s one you want to sit down and watch on Sunday.”

Listen here to Ward on ESPN Radio New York

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