Things started off looking really promising for the Jets offense, but a further review of the game shows that the Steelers defense was out of sink more than the Jets came out hot. This isn’t to discredit how the Jets came out, they played it perfectly on that opening drive, but there was a huge difference in how the Steelers defense played in the first two series and how they played the rest of the game.
On the opening drive, facing third-and-10, the Jets line up Trips right with Hill on the outside, Kerley on the inside and Holmes in between. Ike Taylor lined up 10 yards off the line with coverage on Hill, Hill ran deep with Taylor respecting him as a deep threat. Cortez Allen had coverage on Holmes and lined up seven yards off the line and backed up further after the snap, Holmes ran up the seam and stopped at the first down marker, turning for the easy catch. Keenan Lewis did play tight on Kerley, bumping him within five yards, with Larry Foote lurking with inside coverage as they weren’t anticipating Kerley running deep and the Jets would make them briefly pay for that just one play and a pass interference penalty later.
On this play the Jets lined up with Holmes the lone receiver on the right side, with Hill on the outside and Kerley in the slot on the left. Taylor had tight coverage on Holmes, no press, and Timmons slid inside for underneath coverage on Holmes. On the other side Hill ran a six yard curl route with Lewis playing soft coverage still six yards off Hill when Sanchez threw the ball. Ryan Mundy had coverage on Kerley in the slot and stepped up to play Kerley short, but Kerley just kept on running up the seam wide open and Sanchez hit him 24 yards down field before Kerley ran for another 21 yards.
The touchdown to Holmes was as simple as it gets. On third-and-three with the Ball on the Steelers 14 the Jets came out in a jumbo set with three tights ends on the left, and Holmes as the only receiver on the right. Reuland went in motion adding an extra blocker in the backfield in an offset position then Sanchez hit the play-action and found a wide-open Holmes who beat Taylor with a simple slant route. Taylor had one-on-one coverage and practically handed the Jets the touchdown by playing soft outside coverage with no help inside with everyone else playing the run.
On the play that wasn’t, or the incompletion to an open Holmes in the end zone on the second drive, it was absolutely a great play-call and it was certainly designed to play to Sanchez’s strength of rolling out and throwing on the run. It was a great double move by Holmes and Sanchez just flat missed him, no question it was a bad throw and one Sanchez should have made. Sanchez threw it too hard and too high, if he threw it softer and in front of Holmes it would have been an easy six. It was a bad pass on a great scoring opportunity, but it happens, as did the pass interference on Hill that went uncalled and the failure to recognize a much needed hot route by Jeff Cumberland on the same drive.
Watching this game over and over I realized the game was closer than I thought it was, they say this every week in the NFL, but if just a handful of plays went differently it would have been a completely different ball game. That wasn’t the only play that turned the tone of the game, but it was more so the adjustments that the Steelers made that really changed the tone. Really to pick one play, I’d go with the Cumberland not recognizing the hot route, but mostly because that’s when the Steelers adjusted the defense. For the first time they came out and pressed all the receivers and brought six blitzers, Sanchez wisely recognized this but Cumberland didn’t pick up the hot route. Once the Steelers started pressing the receivers consistently the receivers struggled to create any space, Holmes was the only one finding any room, but it doesn’t help if drops the ball which he did too much.
It didn’t make sense to me at the time, and it makes even less sense after watching again, that the Jets wouldn’t try and get at least 40 yards to try and tie the game before half time. One minute and three seconds, timeouts left and the ball at the 33 and the hope is to “pop one” against the Steelers defense? The Steelers hadn’t shown they were going to come out pressing every play yet and they weren’t likely to in that situation. Obviously hindsight being 20/20 and all, but that might have actually been the best time to attack that defense. When the Steelers opened up in soft coverage, it was easy pickings for Sanchez, why not take advantage of that while you can? However I will say this idea that Rex played it safe because he doesn’t trust Sanchez is ridiculous, he played it safe because it was a classic Rex, we get the ball at half and my defense is so good, decision.
After the offense continued to stall in the second half the Jets broke out the Tebow-option. Tebow made a great read to keep the ball on his first play, he burst through the line and picked up an easy 22 yards, Ferguson, Ducasse and Cumberland all had good blocks, with Moore executing a great pull block to clear the hole. They ran a simple Jets-sweep to McKnight on the next play and the Steelers looked like they had it snuffed out for a loss, but McKnight made a great cut, evaded tacklers and weaved his way for a 12 yard gain.
Two Tebow plays, 34 yards, but here’s the problem. They were playing the Steelers, you can’t expect to keep running that against the Steelers defense, I don’t care what players they’re missing. The next play should have either been a Tebow pass or bring Sanchez back in, even if you want to run the ball on first with a softer run defense, but the Steelers defense is too sound to get beat like that again and again.
But they ran the Tebow-option a third time on first-and-10 on the Steelers 38, Tebow probably should have kept it as it looked like he would have had the better lane to run through, but he handed it off to Greene who tried to take it outside, but Rueland couldn’t decide which defender to block and instead blocked none as Ryan Clark stopped Greene for a six yard loss. On second down the Steelers had great coverage, Greene slipped while trying to block Woodley who almost stripped Sanchez and Sanchez did a good job of just getting rid of the ball, avoiding the sack and turnover. On third the Steelers had tight coverage on Holmes, Gates was running open up the middle of the field and Sanchez could have hit him, tight window but open enough, short of the first down marker but in field goal range and Gates could have picked up the first after the catch. Kerley was also open short and outside, but with no one near him he probably could have gotten them in field goal range. Instead Sanchez stayed locked on Holmes and threw incomplete into tight coverage.
It wasn’t a good showing by the Jets on Sunday, but not all is lost. Dustin Keller’s absence hurt, as we know Keller has a tendency to disappear at times during the season but even when he’s not productive he does demand attention from the defense, the Steelers showed Cumberland and Reuland no such respect making it easier for them to press the receivers. Reuland had a pretty good day overall. He froze, failing to block for Greene on the play mentioned earlier but was really solid with most of his blocks, does much better in tight spaces, and executed his releases and finding open space to make a few catches. Even when Keller returns, this offense needs all the help they can get from the other tight ends. Reuland might be able to help more than I thought.
I keep hearing about how terrible Sanchez played, but I didn’t see terrible. Sure the stat sheet doesn’t look pretty, but he didn’t make any major mistakes (bad passes are bad passes not mistakes), was accurate for the most part, receivers dropped the ball and the Steelers applied suffocation coverage on the receivers. Not all incompletions are bad passes or drops, sometimes the defense just has perfect coverage. Once the Steelers started pressing and sending extra blitzers, Woodley caused the most havoc, there weren’t that many opportunities for Sanchez. He didn’t see open receivers at times and he was off target a few times that could have gone for big plays, he’s has to become more consistent, but he certainly wasn’t terrible on Sunday. Problem was he wasn’t great either and Roethlisberger was.
McKnight and Powell both had limited touches but I liked what I saw in both of them. Powell did a bad job reading Woodley blitzing on one play, (read this for more in-depth explanation of this play) Powell should have at least threw a chip block on Woodley before releasing for the screen but he left Howard to get beat by Woodley all by his lonesome. You think what you think about Greene at this point, but we could all use to see more of Powell and McKnight to see if there’s something there. Some screens to both of them seem like a great idea, we’ll see if Sparano agrees.
Holmes started out great, then ended poorly. Miscommunications with his quarterback, drops and some loafing. Kerley got open early on the first drive, but the Steelers weren’t about to turn him free again after that play. The press coverage really did an excellent job of taking the Jets receivers out of the game (read more on this here) and no Keller combined with an inconsistent running game allowed the Steelers to focus most of their attention on the receivers.
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