The Jets and Steelers are two teams going in different directions this season. (Jets Insider.com Photo).
Since Week 1, the Jets have not seen a team as talented as their Sunday opponent.
While the Patriots get the glamour, the Colts grab headlines and the Packers are everybody’s sentimental favorite, Pittsburgh has somehow quietly cruised to a 7-2 record.
However, while the media—with the exception, of course, of Merril Hodge—has largely ignored Pittsburgh’s efforts, the Jets locker room and coaching staff are well aware of the caliber of the Steelers, both offensively and defensively.
“When you approach a game like this, you kind of sit back, scratch your head and tell your [offensive] coordinator [Brian Schottenheimer] good luck,” WR Laveranues Coles said. “You can go on an on about how good they are. We got a game, I’ll tell you that.
“They present a tough challenge,” S Kerry Rhodes added, referring to the Steeler offense. “They are a tough and physical team. They like to run the ball and we have had problems with that. They have good receivers, as well, with Hines Ward and Santonio Holes and a good tight end, Heath Miller. It’s going to be a big challenge.”
Head coach Mike Tomlin and the Steelers’ offensive reputation stems from the versatility of their team. QB Ben Roethlisberger is an elite passer that can run from the pocket; RB Willie Parker is a physical runner with the ability to burst in the open field; and WR Hines Ward has great hands, but is also arguably the best downfield blocking receiver in the league.
Then, on defense, the constant pressure they apply is mind-boggling. Their linebackers have 17 sacks, but the team has still managed to lay claim to the league’s No. 1 rushing defense.
Thus, in all phases of the game, Gang Green will be up for perhaps their toughest challenge of the year. After a disappointing, embarrassing 1-8 first half, New York viewed the bye week as a way to rekindle the 2006 magic, and perhaps end the year on some sort of role. Yet, standing in their way is the arduous task of taking on a legitimate Super Bowl contender.
We’ll see if coach Eric Mangini and the rest of the Jets are up for the challenge.
Jets ‘O’ vs. Steelers ‘D’
It just does not get any easier for QB Kellen Clemens. The Ravens are a perennial defensive stalwart; Washington puts more pressure on the quarterback than most teams in the league; and now, Pittsburgh is the top-ranked pass and rush defense in the league. It may seem cliché at this point, but if New York wants any chance at putting points on the board, RB Thomas Jones will need to hit a groove and find the end zone. If Jones has another 50-yard performance, Clemens will be pressured all game, having no opportunity to show his ability to throw the ball downfield to WR Justin McCareins.
Jets ‘D’ vs. Steelers ‘O’
While teams haven’t been able to score a ton of points against the Jets, holes have been exhibited each week in New York’s defense, with the opposition racking up eye-popping yardage numbers. While Jason Campbell won’t hurt a team that gives him multiple second-chance opportunities, Roethlisberger and Parker are talented enough to make teams pay for their mistakes. Unless LB David Harris, LB Eric Barton, DT Dewayne Robertson and the line can improve in their run-stopping ability and pass pressure, it could be a long afternoon for the Jets’ defense.
Special teams battle
Tomlin asserted this week that his team’s kickoff coverage has been way below par. The team is near the bottom in a couple of coverage categories, meaning that KR Leon Washington may have an opportunity to return his fourth kick for a touchdown this year. However, Washington knows that this will not be a one-sided battle; he likened some of the Pittsburgh coverage lapses to “fluke-y” returns. In addition, Jeff Reed is one of the league’s best kickers. Despite this, though, Gang Green’s upside in punting, kicking and returning gives them the clear-cut edge.
Coles is returning from a concussion that kept him out of the Washington game.
Rookie CB Darrelle Revis will be playing his hometown team; he requested six tickets for the game, and expects more friends to come in to town as well.
New York is looking to show the same post-bye improvements as last year.
Clemens is still in search of his first NFL win.
Jones is still touchdown-less nine games into the season.
Key to victory
For the Jets to come away with this upset, they will need to prevent Roethlisberger from leaving the pocket. Harris, Robertson, Barton and the rest of the front seven need to put pressure on the Steelers quarterback, causing him to force passes. Past games have shown that when pressured, Roethlisberger is sometimes susceptible to making mistakes. Thus, if pressure from the front seven can lead to a few interceptions by the secondary, New York can come away with the win.
While optimistically, picking the Jets to win each week is great, the Steelers are the best team in the NFL this side of New England.
Steelers 34, Jets 23