Florham Park, NJ – This is what football types like to call a trap game.
The Jets, coming off an impressive comeback victory over the Atlanta Falcons on Monday Night Football, are at home on a short week to take on the winless Steelers.
It seems like a gimme win, a no-brainer, a tune-up before Tom Brady and the New England Patriots come to town.
Not so fast.
The Steelers may not have any wins, but they do have two-time Super Bowl champion quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. They have rookie running back Le’Veon Bell, who is one week healthier. And they also still have a proud, Dick LeBeau-led defense.
But more importantly, they’re hungry and coming off a bye-week, with ample time to do nothing but prepare for Geno Smith and the Jets.
No, this game is far from a gimme, it’s a statement game – for both teams.
It’s put-up or shut time for Pittsburgh (either win or it’s Drowney for Clowney time).
It’s also Smith’s best opportunity yet to prove he’s really for real.
Two weeks ago, Smith was a bust, a turnover prone rookie who many fans wanted to see replaced by the equally inexperienced Matt Simms.
Today, he’s a savior. A young phenom who led a game winning drive in the final two minutes on national television, tossed three touchdowns with no interceptions and completed 80 percent of his passes.
Which is he? A convincing win against a well-prepared Steelers team would go a long way in proving he’s the latter.
A loss in a trap game? Well, then Geno’s back to square one.
When: Sunday, Oct. 13 2013, 1:00 pm EST (TV – CBS, Radio – ESPN NY, 98.7 FM)
Where: MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, NJ
Injury Report (As of Thursday):
Limited: Oday Aboushi (knee), Antonio Cromartie (hip, knee), Quinton Coples (ankle), Clyde Gates (knee), Chris Ivory (hamstring), Jaiquawn Jarrett (knee), David Nelson (hamstring), Darrin Walls (shoulder). Did not practice: Santonio Holmes (foot, hamstring), Dee Milliner (hamstring), Kellen Winslow (knee)
Full practice: QB Ben Roethlisberger (right finger), G Ramon Foster (pectoral). Limited: S Da’Mon Cromartie-Smith (hip). Did not practice: WR Markus Wheaton (finger, definitely will not play)
What to watch for:
‘Big Mo’ Wilkerson: Geno Smith will get most of the headlines, especially if he plays well, but Muhammad Wilkerson is without a doubt the star of this team. Wilkerson had Jon Gruden gushing as he dominated the Falcons on Monday night, racking up seven tackles, one sack, one forced fumble and two tackles for loss. “I think he’s right there with the top defensive linemen in this league right now that aren’t named J.J. Watt,” said Rex Ryan on Wednesday. Wilkerson is approaching must-see TV levels – a la Mr. Watt – and against a banged up Steelers’ offensive line, boy, get out the popcorn.
Will the real Geno Smith please stand up: In five games as a professional Geno Smith has 11 turnovers. He also has three game winning drives. So, which quarterback is he? The turnover machine or the clutch rookie with a big arm? Obviously, the answer is: both. He’s a rookie on a steep learning curve who has shown some serious ability, but he won’t be labeled anything other than inconsistent if he can’t put together great back-t0-back performances. The winless Steelers are the perfect test. Let’s see if he passes.
Field position: Through the first five games, Football Outsiders ranks the Jets 28th in the league in LOS/Dr (average starting field position) in the league at 24.23, which is a killer especially for a rookie quarterback. But things definitely started to turn around against Atlanta as the Jets average drive started at their own 41 with three of their six scoring drives starting in Falcons’ territory. On the flip side, the Falcons’ average drive started on their 21. Maintaining good field position will be key moving forward and the Jets might be getting a break in Pittsburgh who ranks dead last in LOS/Dr at 22.56.
Coples therapy: After fracturing his ankle in the preseason, Quinton Coples is using game day work his way back into tip-top condition. Regardless, he’s been relatively quiet in the three games since returning with three tackles and zero sacks. With Antwan Barnes out for the season, Coples needs to embrace his role as an outside linebacker who wreaks havoc on opposing quarterbacks or else people will start to notice his absence. With the stellar play up front by Wilkerson, Sheldon Richardson and Damon Harrison, Coples has been an afterthought but the former first round pick needs to make an appearance sooner or later.
Prediction: The game will be closer than their records indicate, but Rex will have the defense ready to contain Roethlisberger as the Jets eek out a victory, 24-21.