Jets will honor future Hall of Famer Curtis Martin this Sunday. (Jets Insider.com Photo)
With a match-up against the Pittsburgh Steelers looming, the New York Jets will look for every possible weakness in a team that is in first place in the AFC North Division.
While the Steelers maintained their position with a 31-28 victory over the rival Browns, they fell behind early in the game, revealing a chink in their armor. That chink was more evident on the special teams unit, as Cleveland’s Joshua Cribbs broke loose on two long kickoff returns, including a 100-yard dash to the end zone which included a high-wire act of sorts along the sideline.
The thing about their special teams coverage is that this was not an isolated event. Kickoff and punt coverage for the Steelers has been their Achilles’ heel since the Bill Cowher era. Pittsburgh head coach Mike Tomlin has vowed recently to fix that area up.
Head coach Eric Mangini would definitely love to see his team take advantage of their mistakes on Sunday. At the same time, he knows that Tomlin is very hard at work in fixing the mistakes, noting that the Jets had similar deficiencies in that department earlier this season. Also, he did mention that there were instances where return coverage for the Steelers wasn’t an issue.
“I think that you love the plays on special teams because they are such big momentum changers,” he explained. “I know they have had some problems, but they are going to get that fixed. We struggled a bit early, addressed it and have made strides there. I know they are going to make the same strides.
“They have been effective in covering kicks and they have had some plays where it’s gotten away from them. I know that Mike is going to look at that and he is going to make sure that it doesn’t happen again.”
In his conference call to the media before his team’s practice, coach Tomlin that changes are important, even though they aren’t considered major.
“Usually when something goes wrong in this league, the changes are not major or earth-shattering. There is a thin line between success and failure in this league,” he explained. “We’re going to get on the details and hone it up a little bit. Hopefully that will be the difference for us.”
In the locker room, players such as running back and return specialist Leon Washington absolutely know better than to look at that unit solely on last Sunday’s performance.
“I wouldn’t necessarily see it that way. I mean, they’ve been struggling like when we gave up big returns earlier in the year on special teams,” he said. “At the same time those guys are physical and they’re always ready to play. I wouldn’t say they are struggling, they just need to improve.”
In any event, the weakness is evident in their opponents. The Browns nearly capitalized. Special teams coach Mike Westhoff will be looking to pick apart that armor a little further to ensure that Gang Green takes advantage of the given opportunity.
In spite of their woes on the special teams coverage, the Steelers are one of the most dominating teams in the AFC outside of New England. Pittsburgh’s offensive and defensive unit has retained most of their core players, such as Ben Roethlisberger and Hines Ward on offense, and Troy Polamalu, Ike Taylor and Deshea Townsend on defense. In the special teams return unit, Allan Rossum, who was picked up from Atlanta by the Steelers, proves to be a force.
“They’re a very physical team in all three phases,” Mangini said. “That’s been their trademark, and it still is their trademark.”
The Jets know they cannot underestimate Roethlisberger, who can find many ways to beat the opposition, whether by throwing the ball or taking it all the way by himself like he did against the Browns last Sunday.
“He’s come a long way from his rookie year,” S Kerry Rhodes said. “He’s making plays for them down the field, and as far as having control of the offense goes, he has it under control. He’s playing pretty well, and it’s going to be a challenge.”
Pittsburgh has always had a hallmark of tough defenses, dating back to the days of the Steel Curtain in the ‘70s. This season’s squad is no exception. With Polamalu manning the secondary, veterans James Farrior and Larry Foote at linebacker, and Brett Keisel on the line, this unit is bent to put a hurt on anyone crossing its path. They are also tops in the league in yards and points allowed, giving up only 40 yards per game.
“As far as bringing the pressure goes, their defense is very aggressive,”said QB Kellen Clemens. “They are ranked first in a lot of categories and are very talented in the different phases.”
With Roethlisberger being a potent force in all phases of the offense and the defense being , the Jets will surely do their homework for the next few days.
My Favorite Martin
As reported on Monday, the Jets will honor former RB Curtis Martin in a ceremony at halftime of Sunday’s game. Coach Mangini spoke very highly of Curtis in his press conference.
“He is just such a great example in terms of a true pro, being an outstanding person and an outstanding member of his community,” he stated.
Martin addressed the media today about the event.
“I think I’ll be more emotional than I was while playing the game,” said Martin. “It’s great because I haven’t taken the opportunity to really celebrate and thank the Jets for everything.”
The coincidence of this ceremony is that the opponent of that game will be the Steelers, the hometown team of the Pittsburgh native and University of Pitt alumnus. However, that was Martin’s plan from the get-go.
“I was given a choice as to what day I wanted the event to be on. I saw that the Steelers game was after the bye week, so I said, ‘Let’s go for it.’ I’m from Pittsburgh and I plan on bringing some people who happen to be die-hard Steelers fans. It’s going to be very exciting.”
Homecomings All Around
While one Pittsburgh native, Darrelle Revis, will go against his hometown team and another, Curtis Martin, will be honored by the Jets, there is a name on the Steelers roster that some New Yorkers—particularly those on Long Island—will recognize.
Willie Colon, an alumni of Hofstra University and a Bronx native, will make his return to the area donning the black and gold. Colon was a standout for the Pride, being a powerful force on the offensive line. Credited for his can’t-lose attitude, he has worked his way into the starting offensive line for the Steelers. He has earned praise from coach Tomlin for his efforts.
“He’s a big-time competitor, he’s very physical, and he’s all business,” said Tomlin. These are things that attracted me to him and the reasons why he been able to seize the opportunity at right tackle for us.”
Manny Happy Returns
The Jets announced Tuesday that former Rutgers standout Manny Collins has returned to the team as a member of the practice squad. This will be Collins’ third stint with the team, as he has been released twice by the Jets.
In the half-hour span given to the media for access to the team, the Jets performed their individual drills throughout that duration. One noteworthy event during that half-hour was that Laveranues Coles has partaken in practice, running routes with the other wide receivers. Although coach Mangini stressed that he will look at his injury, this may be an indication that he is set to go for Sunday.
Limited Participation in Practice: WR Chris Davis (shoulder), DL Dewayne Robertson (knee)
Full Participation in Practice: TE Chris Baker (back), OL Anthony Clement (knee), TE Joe Kowalewski (shoulder), DL CJ Mosley (shoulder), QB Chad Pennington (ankle), WR Brad Smith (back)
Did Not Participate in Practice: RB Willie Parker (hip), RB Gary Russell (personal), T Marvel Smith (coach's decision), WR Hines Ward (coach's decision), LB LaMarr Woodley (hamstring)
Limited Participation in Practice: LB Andre Frazier (groin)