After last Sunday’s loss to the Denver Broncos, the Pittsburgh Steelers had more questions than answers about where they are this season. Fortunately the NFL season is a long one, and the Steelers get a taste of home cooking as they invite the quarterback Mark Sanchez and the New York Jets to town fresh off their beat-down of the Buffalo Bills. On paper it looks like 0-2 is coming at the Steelers like a bullet train, but let’s see how it all breaks down.
When the Steelers have the football-The Steelers are still trying to sort out the health of their offensive line as well as their running backs, so I expect to see head coach Mike Tomlin cut loose in the passing game, especially with the Jets top cornerback Darrelle Revis missing the game with a concussion. Wide Receiver Mike Wallace is getting back up to speed and this team has 5 excellent receiving threats and I fully expect them to get used early and often. It’ll be up to the Steelers patchwork offensive line to give quarterback Ben Roethlisberger time to make his reads, and up to Roethlisberger to make his reads more quickly and get the ball out of his hands in a hurry.
When the Jets have the football-The Jets saw great success last weekend opening up the passing game for Sanchez and his young wide receivers so I don’t see any reason for that to change. The Steelers are hard to run on, and while the Jets got a nice game out of running back Shonn Greene, it’s tough sledding at Heinz Field, so don’t be shocked if they come out throwing. They will also benefit from another game missed by Steelers linebacker James Harrison and possibly safety Troy Polamalu. If they are both out, all bets are off. I also expect to see them test the Steelers defense with quarterback Tim Tebow and the wildcat package.
When the Steelers are on defense-As I said above, there’s a real possibility that Harrison and Polamalu won’t play. If not, this team could be in serious trouble. The pass rush last week was anemic, and there were significant lapses in coverage. With so many personnel problems I expect to see defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau press pause on his typical aggressive scheme and try and hang back to limit the big plays. Keep everything in front of you, don’t let those Jets receivers get deep, and tackle. You can’t play a high risk/reward scheme when the talent isn’t there, so they will play back, and hope for the Jets to make some mistakes. Be sure to stop Greene, and keep the damage in the passing game to a minimum, and try baiting Sanchez into forcing some throws and hope for turnovers.
When the Jets are on defense-Pressure, pressure, pressure. The formula for getting the Steelers offense on their heels is to pressure Roethlisberger. But it’s always a risk. If you pressure Roethlisberger but don’t get him, he will pick a short-handed secondary apart. The Jets will stack the box, stop the run and try and knock Roethilsberger on his butt. How much will Revis be missed? It’ll depend on the font 7, but more on that in a minute.
The X-Factor-It has to be Polamalu. If he doesn’t play, the options that the Steelers defense have are cut down so far. He’s able to play the run, blitz, drop and cover and now that his teammate Ryan Clark is back, Polamalu can do all this knowing Clark has his back. A combo of Clark and Ryan Mundy is going to give Sanchez and the Jets a lot of confidence. So goes Troy, so goes the game.
Player to watch, Jets-Santonio Holmes, wide receiver. The former Steeler was the hero of Super Bowl XLIII, and was let walk shortly after. The Steelers fans are going to be all over Holmes, and he’s going to want to put it to his former team. Holmes could see some very favorable matchups and might be a huge factor in the Jets offense.
Player to watch, Steelers-Emanuel Sanders, wide receiver. With Revis out with injury, this moves everyone up on the depth chart and that means dime corner Ellis Lankster is going to have an expanded role and will likely be tasked with covering the speedy Sanders. Sanders is a matchup problem for starting cornerbacks already so Lankster could end up chasing Sanders into the end zone.
Prediction-I was sure the Steelers were going to win last week, and for about 40 minutes I was on track to be right. This week I am hopeful for a bounce back game for the Steelers at home. I know they are short-handed on defense, and I know the running game might struggle, but I think being in Pittsburgh, in front of the best crowd in the NFL will inspire them to win a game that most people don’t give them much of a shot.