No more jet lag, no more excuses, it’s time to buckle up and kick ass! After a well deserved and timely bye week, the Steelers venture into New York for a match-up against a Jets team that is coming off an impressive win over the Atlanta Falcons on Monday Night Football. Let’s hope they’ve eaten their Wheaties, took their vitamins, and got plenty of rest after their return from London because this will be a big test. Not just from the standpoint of getting their first win, but getting into enough of a rhythm to amass several wins in a row, the next five opponents are all AFC teams. After the Jets game they face the Rat-Birds at home, then travel to the West Coast to take on the Raiders, back to New England to battle Tom Terrific, then finishing at home with the Buffalo Bills. Of course the ardent Steeler fan will say we can sweep all five games, and in a perfect world that would put us at 5-4 and still keep us in contention with playoff hopes. Certainly anything is possible in today’s current NFL, and the Steelers are a team that is more used to reeling off wins versus the current state of loosing that they find themselves in. But there has to be a lot of pieces fall into place, and all the stars in the sky will have to align as well.
As I’ve said, anything is possible in the NFL, particularly in the age of parody. Before the season started, my feelings about the Jets were that they were a team who would not be able to compete in the NFL. They had no marquee players to speak of, a lame-duck quarterback, and had traded away their best player. Starting the season with a rookie signal caller certainly didn’t altar my thinking any, but at 3-2 and showing much improvement and determination, you have to look upon them as being a very formidable opponent this coming Sunday. In Monday Nights showdown against the Falcons, rookie quarterback Geno Smith had a game for the ages, he was 16-of-20 for 199 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions, including 21 yards rushing. He also waltzed his team down the field in grand style with 1:54 left in the game, the field goal kicker nailed it with no time left on the clock and that was that. A big time performance for a first year player no doubt, though I’m not expecting Smith’s prowess to continue against the Steelers, we have been burned by rookies QB’s before and will need to be on our best behavior on defense. At the same time I’ll give our secondary the edge in this contest, with Ike Taylor having a great year, Cortez Allen should be rested and healthy, and certainly our two veteran safeties should fair well against their modest receiving corp. I would like to see Polomalu in less of a hybrid linebacker role and more in coverage, I suspect they will be taking shots and going for the big play, and Geno is more than capable of firing the rock down field.
The Jets defense is not shy, they’ve fortified their front with a bull of a rookie tackle in Mo Wilkerson, as well as their first round pic Quinton Coples at nose guard. These two are very disruptive and not only doing a good job of clogging up holes, they’re fierce pass rushers as well. Expect veteran linebacker David Harris and others to be using stunt blitzes and other Rex Ryan chicanery. We’ve had little success running the ball to this point, so yards will be at a premium against this stout young group. With all of our running back healthy, we would also be wise to employ a fullback and get Will Johnson involved with some screen passes to get him in the open field. I will give the edge to our receiving corp in this game, with Heath Miller healthy and the addition of 6′ 5″ Derek Moye, I fully expect this unit to be open across the field, assuming Big Ben has time to throw the ball. Outside of pro bowl safety Antonio Cromartie, our receivers should be able to make plays short range and down the field.
I’m hoping at the start of the game that two things don’t happen. One, if we win the coin toss that Tomlin does not defer to have our defense take the field first. And two, OC Todd Haley does not start our first series with three running plays in an effort establish our identity and prowess. Big Ben has been beating Rex Ryans defenses for ten years now, the majority of our success has been in confusing his defense. The Steelers insistence on being a power running team is not going to work against the stout defense line of the Jets, they will need to employ roll-outs, play-action, and go back to the screen passes that worked so well a year ago. Their ace in the hole is full back Will Johnson, getting him out in open space on screen passes or even dump offs will help to churn out yardage. Johnson is not a back who is going to go the distance, but his instincts and athletism is exactly what this offense needs to counteract the pressure from the Jets front. In addition to of course Heath Miller, they’d be wise to incorporate tight end David Johnson in the passing game, he’s had good hands thus far and somehow defenses are not respecting him in the open field.
The bane of our 2013 existence has of course been the offensive line, what else is new. No need to opine at this point about why, after concentrating on drafting young talented players, we still stink. The more disconcerting thing is that there is no depth or anyone to call upon in reserve. The Steelers last week made a trade for Cardinals tackle Levi Brown, who will be best remembered for getting beat by Lamar Woodley in Super Bowl 43 which caused the fumble which ultimately won the game for us. However I wouldn’t expect him to make that much of an impact or difference, but given the struggles Mike Adams is having it makes perfect sense to have him here. If the injury to left guard Ramon Foster causes him to miss time, Brown will most likely take over at left tackle and multi purpose phenom Kelvin Beachum will move to left guard. We will of course need to run the ball effectively in this game, and with Le’Veon Bell returning for his second start, I suspect he will open up opportunities for us.
I have a good feeling about this game, the bye week should play in our favor and as stated, a good sound game plan will be necessary to move the ball into scoring range. If the bye week served the players well with respect to rest and rebuilding, it should also have served the Coaches well with respect to a revived approach on both sides of the ball. The Defense will need to confuse the rookie quarterback, and the Offense will need to be judicious when it comes to play calling and most importantly, not turning the ball over. This game is about beating tough talking Rex Ryan, getting our first win, then gearing up for the return of the Rat-Birds at home. A loss this Sunday will be a tough funk to slice through, I have a good feeling this team has had enough of stacking numbers in the L category, and will be ready to play like they know how to play, which is winning football.
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