Friday, September 14, 2012
W2W4: Jets at Steelers
By Rich Cimini
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Maybe we should call them the 48ers. Who could've imagined the Jets hanging 48 points on the Bills in the opener?
That seems like a distant memory now because the Jets have a formidable task in front of them -- the Steelers (0-1), who don't want to become the first Pittsburgh team since 2002 to start 0-2. A loss would set off panic along the shores of the Three Rivers, where the spoiled locals are accustomed to football excellence. By the way, the Steelers have won nine straight home openers.
Kickoff is scheduled for 4:25 p.m. Sunday. Here is What to Watch For:
1. Air Sanchez. QB Mark Sanchez, coming off one of the best games of his career, should have opportunities to make plays in the passing game. It won't be as easy as last week -- the Bills' pass defense was softer than Rex Ryan's old belly -- but they can exploit matchups outside. Steelers CB Ike Taylor was targeted six times in Week 1, and he allowed five completions for 119 yards -- a perfect 158.3 passer rating, according to ProFootballFocus.com. CB Keenan Lewis wasn't much better.
That, of course, was against Peyton Manning. It also came without S Ryan Clark, who returns to the Steelers' lineup. His presence allows S Troy Polamalu to freelance near the line of scrimmage. The key is avoiding Polamalu and protecting Sanchez from OLBs LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison. (Polamalu and Harrison are both questionable to play.) The Steelers don't have any softies like Mario Williams.
2. Pressuring Big Ben. The Jets should go to school on the Steelers-Broncos tape. QB Ben Roethlisberger struggled against pressure, completing only 6 of 14 passes for 60 yards and an interception against five or more pass-rushers, according to ESPN Stats & Information. The Jets didn't blitz a lot last week, but they can dial up the pressure packages on a moment's notice. Keep an eye on S LaRon Landry, who could be unleashed as a blitzer. New offensive coordinator Todd Haley is trying to get Roethlisberger to get rid of the ball quicker, but Big Ben tends to revert to his old ways, moving in the pocket and taking on all comers.
3. Beware the no-huddle. The Steelers are crazy if they don't try it. Against the Broncos, they used the no-huddle extensively, controlling the ball for huge chunks of time. With Roethlisberger calling his own plays at the line, they had four drives of 10-plus plays, scoring each time. The no-huddle would test the Jets' conditioning and their ability to communicate on defense. That latter could be an issue, considering they have two new safeties. Basically, it'll come down to third down. The Steelers converted 11 of 19 in Week 1. If it weren't for Manning's brilliance, they would've won going away.
4. Get plastered. There will be tremendous pressure on the Jets' corners, especially without Darrelle Revis. Kyle Wilson will start, with Ellis Lankster moving into the No. 3 role. That could be a major problem against the Steelers' explosive receivers, Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders -- aka The Young Money Crew. Look for the Steelers to attack Wilson, especially when he's on Brown. When Roethlisberger breaks containment to keep pass plays alive, the Jets will resort to "plaster" coverage -- i.e., the corners are taught to plaster themselves to the closest receiver in a scramble situation.
5. Better tackling. This is a must for the Jets, who allowed a league-high 195 rushing yards last week -- including 127 after contact, per ESPN Stats. The supposedly faster and sleeker Bart Scott was one of the main culprits, missing three open-field tackles on C.J. Spiller. Granted, many of the breakdowns came in garbage time, but that's still no excuse for a defense that considers itself one of the best. It was a point of emphasis all week, but you can't practice live tackling. Steelers RB Jonathan Dwyer isn't as good as the man he's replacing, the injured Rashard Mendenhall, but he's not easy to bring down. He averaged 4.8 yards per carry in the opener, including 2.7 after contact.