On Sunday the New York Jets (9-4) take on the Pittsburgh Steelers (10-3) at Heinz Field (4:15 EST). The Jets enter the game losers of two in a row, while the Steelers have been on a roll winning their last four games. Lets take a look at some of the keys to the game.
Offensive line play- In order for the Jets to have any type of success on Sunday the offensive line must find a way to control the line of scrimmage. This will be no easy task as 1) the Pittsburgh defense is ranked 4th overall and 2) the Jets will be without tackle Damien Woody. Look for Gang Green to use max protect packages to help out backup Wayne Hunter.
Contain Woodley and Harrison- There is a pretty good chance that the Jets are going to struggle running the ball, which will make the passing game the key to their success. Gang Green must find a way to contain pass rushers LaMarr Woodley (8.5 sacks) and James Harrison (10 sacks) in order to get Mark Sanchez somewhat comfortable in the pocket. The Jets cannot afford to have Sanchez rattled early on in the game, as that usually leads to bad decisions and turnovers.
Intelligent playcalling- This match-up has the potential to be a low scoring, defensive battle that will put a premium on field position. Gang Green must come into the game with an intelligent game plan that is free of gimmick plays and fancy formations. The Jets must utilize the short passing game to not only get Sanchez in rhythm early on, but to try and slow down the Steelers pass rush. I would not be surprised to see LaDainian Tomlinson have a huge day catching passes out of the backfield.
As for the running game the Jets should try to spread the field with 3 receiver formations and pound Shonn Greene. I honestly do not believe fancy formations will fool the Pittsburgh defense, it will be all about lining up and blowing your man off of the ball.
Note: Troy Polamalu, the Steelers All-World safety, has been ruled out for Sunday’s game. This is a huge blow to the Pittsburgh defense as Troy is a fierce ballhawk that can easily take over a game.
Shut down the run- As with the Jets, the Steelers offense has been struggling as of late. The Pittsburgh offense begins and ends with their running game as Rashard Mendenhall is having an outstanding season (1,073 yards, 9 tds). Gang Green must find a way to slow down the running the game in order to be able to be pin back their ears and go after Ben Roethlisberger.
Beat up Big Ben- Ben Roethlisberger enters the game a banged up quarterback playing behind an offensive line that has been dealing with injury problems of their own. The Pittsburgh offensive line has yielded 35 sacks and 64 quarterback hits, so the Jets should be able to generate a pass rush and make some plays defensively. If Gang Green gives Roethlisberger time to throw the ball, they could be in for a long day. One sidenote: For whatever reason the Jets have been limiting Jason Taylor’s snaps. This trend must change on Sunday as Gang Green not only needs Taylor’s pass rush, but his relentless pursuit of the ball carrier as well.
Safety help- Once again the Jets will have a new starting safety as Dwight Lowery will replace the injured Eric Smith. Lowery was very impressive in the preseason and has displayed some serious ball hawking skills from time to time. Brodney Pool will take over the play calls and must keep the lines of communication in the secondary tight in order to prevent big plays. Pittsburgh wide receiver Mike Wallace (946 yards, 8 tds) is as fast as they come so Gang Green cannot afford any mental mistakes in the secondary.
Note: Steelers tight end Heath Miller is doubtful for this game.
You will learn a lot about the Jets on Sunday as this team has been taking a beating on and off the field. This is easily Gang Green’s lowest point of the season as the team is a loss or two away from not making the playoffs. To say the Jets resiliency is being tested is an understatement as the cards are quickly stacking against them. Add in the fact that the Jets are playing on the road in a hostile environment, against a physical team, and you can see that it is put up or shut up time for Gang Green.
This game will be much closer than people expect as the Steelers offense has really started to struggle. Big Ben has only thrown one touchdown pass in his last 3 games, while Rashard Mendenhall has only one hundred yard rushing game in his last 10 games. In addition the injury to Troy Polamalu is a huge blow to the Steelers defense and should open some plays in the Jets passing game.
In the end it will come down to field position and limiting turnovers. For some reason I think the Jets find a way to squeak this one out. Call me a homer, call me crazy, but I believe Rex Ryan rattled a lot of cages this week and will have this team ready to play. Brad Smith will be the difference in the game. Jets 14-13