The throwaway that wasn't: Rookie QB Geno Smith is taking a lot of heat for his third-quarter interception into triple coverage, but there's more than one side to this story. For one, it wasn't a well-designed play.
Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg called an "all verticals" pass play, meaning all four receivers went deep. Smith has no safety valve, as RB Chris Ivory stayed home to block. Two of the four receivers were tight ends, and one of them -- the seldom-used Konrad Reuland -- is anything but a pass-receiving threat. TE Jeff Cumberland was Smith's first read on a post route. Initially, it looked like a mismatch, with ILB Vince Williams covering Cumberland. But S Ryan Clark did a nice job with over-the-top coverage on Cumberland. The Steelers were in a two-deep/man-under coverage. They knew what was coming, according to CB William Gay, who shouted to his teammates, "Vertical!"
Smith probably could've done a better job with his eyes, trying to maneuver Clark. Smith gave up on Cumberland and turned to Reuland in the corner. Smith's eyes brought Clark right to the play. It was a heady play by the veteran safety, who peeled off Cumberland and went for Reuland. Smith overthrew Reuland -- he claimed it was an intentional throwaway -- and Clark was backing up for the interception.
So, yes, it was a poor decision and a poor throw by Smith, who should've thrown it into the second row if indeed he was trying to throw it away. But he didn't have a lot of options on the play.
Better pass pro: Steelers LB LaMarr Woodley was chirping after the game, saying how they rattled Smith by hitting him early in the game. Frankly, I think he was exaggerating. Officially, Smith was hit six times, including three sacks.
The biggest hit came from rookie LB Jarvis Jones, who forced Smith into uncorking a flutter ball -- and it was intercepted by LB Lawrence Timmons. RB Mike Goodson did a terrible job of blocking Jones, resorting to the 'ol matador technique. It might have worked on the streets of Pamplona (ask Rex Ryan), but it nearly got his quarterback killed on the football field. As it turned out, Goodson was the one who got hurt, blowing out his knee as he tried to tackle Timmons on the return.
This was a trend in the game. The running backs didn't do a good job with pass protection. Bilal Powell allowed a sack and a pressure that contributed to another sack, and Tommy Bohanon allowed a pressure that led to a sack. The line's pass protection wasn't horrible. Unofficially, RT Austin Howard surrendered a sack and four pressures and RG Willie Colon allowed a sack and two pressures. In both cases, there were mitigating circumstances on the sacks; it wasn't like they were soundly beaten from the get-go.
The Old Master: I'm surprised the Steelers didn't blitz more often, but venerable defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau was able to keep Smith off-balance by emphasizing coverage over pressure. Unofficially, he sent five or more rushes on only 10 pass plays. Smith completed 5-of-8 and was sacked twice. Against four-man rushes, he was 10-for-21, including both interceptions.
This proves that a defense doesn't have to heat up a rookie quarterback to force him into a bad day. Smith will see a similar approach Sunday against the New England Patriots, not known as a heavy blitzing team.
Screen game: The Steelers relied heavily on screen passes to the receivers, tight ends and backs. Of Ben Roethlisberger's 30 pass attempts, 11 were screens -- and he completed 10. It didn't amount to a lot of yardage (42), but it succeeded in slowing down the Jets' pass rush. Only one screen went for more than 7 yards, so you can't say the Jets did a bad job of tackling, but it has to be frustrating for the front four. They'd better get used to it, because the Patriots are an excellent screen team.
Odds and ends: Smith threw an inordinate number of passes to the sideline, outside the painted numbers. A couple of thoughts about that: It shows the coaching staff has confidence in his arm strength, because some quarterbacks can't make those throws. It also was an indication that they missed TE Kellen Winslow (suspended) in the middle of the field. ... DE Muhammad Wilkerson looks quicker as a pass-rusher. He put a nice spin move on C Fernando Velasco, resulting in a QB hit. Later, he beat LG Ramon Foster for a sack with a nice swim move. Of course, Wilkerson missed the one that mattered most, letting Roethlisberger escape in the end zone. ... The "That Takes Guts" award goes to CB Isaiah Trufant. Only 5-foot-8, 170 pounds, Trufant threw his body in front of the 6-foot-5, 241-pound Roethlisberger on a scramble near the goal line.