Steelers WR Emmanuel Sanders flips into the end zone for a touchdown as Jets CB Antonio Cromartie chases him in the second half.
A tale of two throws: This might be an oversimplification, but you could say the game came down to two wide-open passes. Ben Roethlisberger made his, Geno Smith didn't. In the second quarter, Smith wasted a great opportunity, overthrowing Stephen Hill (51 air yards) on what should've been a 77-yard touchdown. Hill, showing his vertical speed, blew past CB Ike Taylor and S Troy Polamalu, the only time the Steelers' aging secondary looked embarrassingly slow. A touchdown in that spot would've given the Jets a 10-6 lead, changing the complexion of the game. The misfire was emblematic of the type of day it was for the rookie, who completed only 2 of 10 passes of 15 yards or longer. Meanwhile, Big Ben capitalized on his chance, hitting a wide-open Emmanuel Sanders (35 air yards) for a 55-yard touchdown to make it 16-6 in the third quarter. Roethlisberger showed why he's a two-time Super Bowl champion. Smith showed his inexperience.
What's up with Cro?: This was another subpar performance for CB Antonio Cromartie, who allowed the long touchdown pass and was called for a 25-yard pass interference. This has to concern the Jets because they assumed Cromartie, coming off a Pro Bowl season, would be able to hold down the No. 1 corner job for the second straight year. It's one of the reasons why they felt good about trading Darrelle Revis. According to the Pro Football Focus ratings, Cromartie is ranked 101st among 103 cornerbacks. He has been targeted 41 times, tied for the fifth-highest total, and has surrendered three touchdowns. Interestingly, Roethlisberger went after Cromartie more than anyone else in the Jets' secondary. In case you're wondering, who is PFF's No. 1-rated corner? It's Revis.
Open the screen door: Opponents have discovered the Achilles' heel of the Jets' defense -- short, quick passes, neutralizing their pass rush. The Steelers staged a clinic on screen passes, throwing no fewer than 10, mostly bubble screens to wide receivers. The Jets should've expected this, as the Steelers used 10 screens in their previous game against the Minnesota Vikings. Rex Ryan and Dennis Thurman have to figure out a way to stop the trend, because the defense is getting sliced and diced. In the past three games, Jake Locker, Matt Ryan and Roethlisberger have completed 77 of 99 attempts for 732 yards, six touchdowns and no interceptions. That's a 117.7 passer rating. For a defense, that stinks.
What happened to MartyBall? Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, widely praised for his aggressive play calling in the first five games, got conservative. In the first half, he called 12 runs and 14 pass plays -- and the pass plays were of the dink-and-dunk variety. Ryan acknowledged the Jets tried to run the ball, perhaps thinking they could exploit the Steelers' 25th-rated run defense. Actually, their run defense is a lot better than the ranking, as the Jets discovered. Clearly, Mornhinweg has become more cautious with Smith over the past two games, perhaps because of a directive from Ryan in the aftermath of the Tennessee debacle. It worked against the Atlanta Falcons, but Smith struggled against a Pittsburgh defense that was determined to eliminate the deep strike.