You gotta admire Rex Ryan and his New York Jets. It truly takes a special talent to garner so very much publicity while accomplishing so very little. Bret Favre and the Dallas Cowboys have mastered the art. When the story of the 2010 season is written, Rexy and Gang Green will prove worthy successors to that crown.
Let’s rewind back to 2009. New York got off to a 4-6 start then won five of their last six games to back into the playoffs. And by “back in,” I mean their final two wins came against teams who weren’t even trying. First, a gutless Colts team flushed a perfect season down the toilet thanks to a lack of testicles. Then the Bengals, who would choke against the same Jets a week later in the Wild Card game, treated their final regular season game as a glorified scrimmage.
Had either team shown the slightest sense of pride or honor, the Pittsburgh Steelers would’ve squeaked into the postseason with a Jets loss. But credit where it’s due. Once New York got into the Dance, they made the most of their opportunity. Riding the league’s top-ranked defense and top rushing attack, they came within 30 minutes of a Super Bowl appearance.
STEELERS DEFENSE vs. JETS OFFENSE
Last year, QB Mark Sanchez got by with handing the ball off and managing the game. In today’s NFL, you need a QB capable of making plays if you want to get anywhere. So the Jets spent the off-season adding weapons in hopes the Sanchize will improve upon his 12/20 TD-INT ratio of last season. And it’s worked to an extent as his 16/12 split this season will attest.
Of course, there’s that pesky little problem of not having scored a touchdown in nine straight quarters still to deal with.
The Jets offense is pretty easy to understand since it mirrors the Steelers’ offense back during Ben Roethlisberger‘s early years. They’re still basically a running team (6th best in the NFL). LaDainian Tomlinson has been reborn, on track for a 1,000 yard season a year after his career looked to be over. He’s also reclaimed his spot as a threat out of of the backfield. Second year man Shonn Greene provides a nice change-of-pace.
When they run the ball effectively, Sanchez is protected. When they put the ball in his hands and tell him to win the game, they get into trouble. Nacho had a few big passing days in comeback wins against bottom feeders like Cleveland, Detroit, and Houston which fooled the hysterical NY media into proclaiming he had arrived. But in the last two weeks, where he’s thrown 33 and 44 times respectively, he has 0 TDs and 4 picks to show for it.
Of course, he would’ve had one touchdown last week if not for the butterfingers of Santonio Holmes. It’s ironic that one of the most memorable catches in Steelers history was made by a guy notorious for dropping the ball at the most inopportune times. Hard to believe somebody with the hand/eye coordination to bean a nappy-headed ho with a shot glass from 30 meters away can’t keep his eyes on an oblong pigskin that practically hits him in the hands. Despite missing the first four games due to waking and baking, ‘Tone does have 41 catches and 4 TDs, only one less than he had all of last year.
Dick LeBeau loves young quarterbacks like Roman Polanski loves young… Er, never mind. The Jets have a pretty formidable receiving corps with Jerricho Cotchery, Braylon Edwards, and favorite target TE Dustin Keller rounding out the group but the question is can Sanchez get them the ball? The Steelers top ranked run defense is so dominate they’re allowing a full 20 yards/game less than number two. Since nobody can run on the Black and Gold, this game will come down to whether the linebackers can muss up the pretty boy while the swiss cheese secondary keeps the passing game in check.
The P-G is reporting Troy Polamalu aggravated his calf on that ill-fated INT-lateral against the Bungles and may not play on Sunday. I’m not at practice but I find this really hard to believe. Troy hurt his leg earlier in the Cincy game and, despite limping between plays, didn’t miss a snap. I have to think if there is any way possible for him to be out there, he will be. If he can’t go, it’s a huge blow (Understatement Alert!) as he’s won the past two games almost single-handedly.
STEELERS OFFENSE vs. JETS DEFENSE
The Jets haven’t scored a touchdown in nine quarters. The Steelers have scored two touchdowns in three games. BET THE UNDER!
While the Steelers may be playing without their safety, the Jets are definitely playing without theirs. Former Raven Jim Leonhard was lost for the season after breaking his leg in practice. Leonhard was the quarterback of the defense, responsible for recognizing the formations and calling adjustments. Meanwhile, their other starting safety, Eric Smith, isn’t likely to play after suffering a concussion against the Fins.
And there are more issues with the secondary. Pitt alum and Aliquippa native Darrelle Revis has battled a hamstring injury for the better part of this season. He apparently aggravated it last week. While Revis said he’s definitely playing, Mike Wallace + gimpy hammy is a perfect recipe for toast.
Opposite Revis Island is Cromartie Orphanage. Antonio Cromartie provided excellent corner play early in the season but has been increasingly victimized in recent weeks. I suppose it makes sense what with this being the Christmas season and all. The poor guy has to be exhausted from shopping for his nine kids by eight women in six different states.
Since the Jets have the third best rushing D in the league, I think the Steelers would be well served to test their banged up secondary early and often. As loathe as I am to praise the Patriots, they showed no fear in attacking Gang Green’s vaunted corners. The Steelers would be smart to follow their winning blueprint from the 2006 AFC Divisional game against the Colts. Come out throwing to get ahead, then take the air out of the ball as the Jets frantically play catch-up.
Of course, that Steelers team was a lot different than this one. For one thing, they weren’t a group of human pylons in front of Ben. In the Steelers favor, the Jets don’t have the greatest pass rush. And Flozell Adams, despite the bum wheel, is expected to start. However, the Bungles had one of the worst sack totals in the NFL yet smacked Ben around worse than Mel slapped Oksana so he best be prepared for another beating at the hands of blitz-happy Rex Ryan.
A short-quick passing game such as utilized by the Pats would help. Unfortunately, Heath Miller is showing post-concussion symptoms and is expected to miss yet another game. Yeah, that was $40,000 well spent, dirty Ratbird thug. Of course, in theory, the Steelers should have a decent short passing game with Mewelde Moore, Hines Ward, and Antwaan Randle-El. In theory. In reality, we seldom see it because Bruce Arians is a bomb-happy idiot, Ben takes his sweet time getting rid of the ball, and the line does well if they allow him more than half a second of unmolested bliss to survey the field.
STEELERS TEAM vs. NFL OFFICIALS
Frequent commenter Zam suggested I include a brief note on the officials. I thought that was a terrific idea since they often represent a bigger obstacle to winning than our actual opponent. Speaking of the 2006 Divisional game against the Colts, this week’s crew chief will be Pete Morelli. Steeler Nation will remember Morelli as the zebra who denied Troy the game-sealing interception in an obvious attempt at enforcing the NFL’s secret mandate to get Pey-Pey a ring. So be prepared for an official who clearly has no problem following the league’s marching orders. Morelli along with his entire crew donated $100 each to a local Pittsburgh charity which by my math is $124,100 less than James Harrison donated thanks to their witchhunt.
Mike Tomlin has a saying. Actually, he has a lot of sayings although most are just his fancy way of lying. But his phrase, “Steel sharpens steel,” is a good metaphor for this game. The Jets have one of the best defenses in the league. Either our bumbling offense will rise to the occasion or fall by the wayside. Likewise, the Jets inept offense will face a unit unlike any they’ve faced this season. Someone has to score, right?
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