The New York Jets clearly have their work cut out for them when they go head-to-head with the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday afternoon.
Pittsburgh has been a dominant force in the American Football Conference recently for many reasons. QB Ben Roethlisberger has improved and has shown a knack to beat teams in more ways than one (ask Cleveland). Hines Ward, a nine-year veteran and pretty much the face of the Steelers, is a versatile receiver with strong blocking abilities.
That aside, the main reason for their success this year is their defense. The Steel Curtain of the 1970s set the standard for defensive units in Pittsburgh, bringing in tough-nosed guys to get the job done. This year’s unit is no different, and also a very established one, especially under the watchful eye of defensive guru Dick LeBeau. Not a single rookie mans the starting defense as two-year safety Anthony Smith is the youngest starter. It is this primarily veteran presence that has the Steelers at the top of the ranking in overall team defense.
Jets head coach Eric Mangini knows full-well that the task doesn’t get any easier when players such as Troy Polamalu and James Farrior are roaming the defensive backfield.
“It’s challenging because there are multiple looks in terms of what type of front, coverage, and pressure package they’re going to bring,” he explained. “The way [Polamau] plays now is the same way that he played in college, and you love the guy’s intensity, toughness, and finish.”
In regards to Farrior, the Jets’ first-round draft pick back in 1997, Mangini said, “He’s a smart guy. He had a very professional approach as a young player, and when you have that approach and you have that work you continually work on it. Now you tack on experience, usually you’re going to have a good player over time. I think he has gotten better with time.”
Coach Mangini isn’t the only guy who is doing some extensive research on the modern-day Steel Curtain. Offensive Coordinator Brian Schottenheimer is also at work, attempting to put together a successful scheme to thwart that defensive unit.
“These guys have played a lot of football together in that scheme,” he explained. “They take a lot of pride in being the Steelers defense. It will be a tremendous challenge for us.”
And as usual, Gang Green’s locker room, specifically the players on the offensive unit, is fully aware of the Steelers’ defensive reputation, and have been at work in preparation for what could be their toughest game yet.
“We realize what they’re doing and what they do well,” said RB/KR Leon Washington. “It’s going to be a tough task this week. We’re very aware of what the Pittsburgh Steelers are capable of doing. They’re a tough defense and traditionally they’ve been tough, but we’ll be ready.”
“They have a lot of experience,” TE Joe Kowalewski said. “Farrior has been in the league since ’97. They’re physical, experienced and well-disciplined. They’re going to be prepared for everything and are not going to sleep on us.”
The road to end the season on a high note begins against a team that is formidable all around. Already, this is a steep mountain to climb for a team with a 1-8 record coming off of a bye week. If they can stop the Steelers and actually pull out a win, imagine what they can do against Dallas on Thanksgiving.
The Schotty and Sutton Show
After the team’s practice, the media got a treat as both Schottenheimer and Defensive Coordinator Bob Sutton got a chance to speak to the media about the issues surrounding their respective units of the team.
Coach Sutton was up first to be grilled, discussing about the capabilities of the Pittsburgh offense and Roethlisberger.
“Ben is a dangerous player,” he said. “He’s got great arm strength, but where he’s really made a lot of plays is his ability to escape the pocket, like what happened in Cleveland. That puts tremendous pressure on the coverage element, because you have to stay with him whether you’re in the zone or man.”
Meanwhile, coach Schottenheimer discussed, along with preparting for Pittsburgh and the gradual improvement of Kellen Clemens, about the emergence of WR Chris Davis, who went from the practice squad to the active roster this year.
“He’s shifty and quick,” Schotty explained. “I think his quickness is more of a weapon than necessarily his speed. He’s got playmaking abilities and he’s exciting to watch in so many ways.”
The Missing Link
While the team’s overall play this season has left a sour taste in the collective mouths of the Jets fans, there could be another reason for both the team’s down year and the lack of noise made by the fans.
Fireman Ed Anzalone’s disappearance from the Meadowlands seats has been due to surgery on his knee. While the surgery has been successful, he still has not been available to cheer his team on at Jets’ home games. Judging by the tone of coach Mangini’s voice, he probably won’t be around for the rest of the season and likely on injured reserve.
“It’s a tough call,” he said.
Even tougher is the impact his absence has on the team and the fans. Many of his replacements haven’t been able to light a fire in the fans and the new Jets Flight Crew, while very stunning, haven’t done much either. It’s painfully apparent that his nonattendance for most of the season is doing everyone in.
Little Leon Does Big Things
Despite his 5’7” stature, Leon Washington has been making things work for the Jets. Washington has scored one of the team’s two total rushing touchdowns, and has tallied 873 yards and three TDs on kickoff returns.
When asked about why he is such a force in spite of his size, Washington knows that the heart of a competitor matters, regardless of size.
“The only thing I think of when I go out on the football field, knowing that I am one of the smallest guys out there is that even though I’m 5’7”, I got the heart of a seven-footer,” he said. “That’s the way I envision it.”
Practice for the Jets was held today in the rarely-used bubble. Later on in the practice, the quarterbacks and wide receivers headed outside on the lower field to do their drills. While the location was new for the day, the routine was remained steadfast, as they primarily worked on individual and special teams drills. However, punter Ben Graham did provide some awe-inspiring highlights, punting footballs high enough to hit the roof of the bubble.
Out: FB Stacy Tutt (knee)
Questionable: WR Chris Davis (shoulder), DL Dewayne Roberston (knee)
Probable: TE Chris Baker (back), OL Anthony Clement (knee), TE Joe Kowalewski (shoulder), DL CJ Mosley (shoulder), QB Chad Pennington (ankle), WR Brad Smith (back)
Out: LB LaMarr Woodley (hamstring)
Probable: LB Andre Frazier (groin), RB Dan Kreider (other), RB Willie Parker (hip)