If you were lucky enough to miss the Steelers 31-19 loss against the Broncos, and are a fan of Defensive football, then I say: “Congratulations, because you missed a sorry effort out there.” The Steelers Defense and Secondary were mercilessly picked apart by Peyton Manning as Dick LeBeau’s “Effective circa 1995” strategy completely lost out to Manning’s array of short, quick, and efficient passes all night long. Also not helping was the fact that the Steelers failed to and chose not to pressure Manning through the A-Gaps as well. You know, even though Denver had their backup Right Guard in for the entirety of the contest.
Regardless of how awful the collective performance was, it is time to move on to discussing Week 2’s contest which pits the Steelers against the 1-0 Jets. Known more for their “Ground and Pound” style during “Dr. Scholl’s” regime, the Jets found some success through the air during their Week 1 win over Buffalo. While Mark Sanchez is definitely not an “elite” Quarterback, the Jets do have some pass-catchers on their roster which are more than capable of doing nice things in the passing game, and possess the talent to create some matchup issues for Pittsburgh’s once-vaunted Defense. If the Steelers fail to realize this and dismiss New York’s passing attack, yet another tally could be chalked up in the Loss column.
Who Sanchez Has at His Disposal
From a depth perspective, the Jets might not possess the type of pass-catchers that the Steelers have on their roster. But as I alluded to before, New York has some talented playmakers of their own. So who exactly do the Jets’ Quarterbacks have at their disposal this weekend? Here’s a quick run-down:
A big, physical, and fast Receiver from Georgia Tech? Hmm… Where have I seen one of those before? Oh yeah, some guy named Demaryius Thomas that plays for the Broncos, that’s where. Well the Jets have their own version of Thomas in the form of another former Yellow Jacket, Rookie Stephen Hill. Last weekend, Hill burst on the N.F.L. scene by catching 5 passes for 89 Yards and 2 TD’s, and looked like a significant Red Zone upgrade for the Jets after the Braylon Edwards and Plaxico Burress experiments fizzled. While Hill is a bit raw in terms of his route running ability, his athleticism and size (6’4″ 215 lbs.) should provide him with a sizeable advantage, even over Pittsburgh’s larger Cornerbacks. The 2nd Round pick will be a go-to target in the Red Zone, and you can guarantee that if the running game stalls, the Jets will be more than willing to call his number when they get near the goal line.
Some other guy catches passes on the outside for the Jets also, and is considered to be the team’s “#1 Wide Receiver.” He won some postseason MVP trophy a few years ago by making one of the most ridiculously awesome catches in League history. That’s right, I think we all remember “Sansmokio Holmes.” Say what you will about Holmes’ off-the-field escapades, but this guy is a threat to break any slant pattern for “6,” has scored 14 TD’s through the air over the last two seasons, and will be hungry to perform well in his old stomping grounds. Working hugely in Holmes’ favor is the fact that he went against LeBeau-run Defenses in practice during his first four seasons in the League, and should know a large amount about the strengths and weaknesses of some of Pittsburgh’s Defensive Backs like Ike Taylor, Keenan Lewis, and Ryan Clark. Plus, Holmes is probably still motivated to stick it to the Steelers after he was traded during the 2010 offseason, and I am sure he will be geeked up for tomorrow’s contest to stick it to the organization that sent him packing.
Luckily for the Steelers, Sanchez’s favorite target, Tight End Dustin Keller, has not practiced this week and now is reported to be out for the game. With Keller sidelined, the Steelers need to keep a close eye on 2nd year slot man Jeremy Kerley, a player who will likely be asked to do pick up the slack between the numbers. Kerley had a productive Rookie season (29 Catches for 314 Yards and 1 TD), and caught 4 passes for 45 Yards and a Touchdown last week including another on a punt return. The 2nd year man out of TCU is a shifty and quick guy in the slot, and a much better athlete than Brandon Stokley of the Broncos is. With increased playing time means increased targets. Thus, the bigger and more physical Cortez Allen to shut him down on Third Downs when New York looks his way tomorrow. Pittsburgh’s Defensive Backs as a whole must be able to wrap this guy up and get him to the ground after he catches the ball, otherwise Kerley has some big play ability in space.
What Can the Steelers Do?
I am not sure that I discussed this in my last post, but Pittsburgh’s Defense allowed three 80-yard Touchdown drives on Sunday night. As bad as that sounds, it is even worse when one considers how the Steelers’ Offense possessed the ball for over 35:00! Had Manning & Co. not been sidelined for as long as they were, and Big Ben and the Offense not worked their magic on 3rd and Longs, Denver would have hung up at least 40 on the unit with relative ease. Defensively, Pittsburgh must not be “asleep at the wheel” this week, because New York will attack them just like Denver did until this unit proves that they can fix their schematic issues and weaknesses.
I honestly do not trust this 2012 version of the Steelers pass rush, and did not for most of the 2011 season either. LaMarr Woodley looks to be off to yet another slow start after he received his lucrative contract, Chris Carter appears to need another year of development, and James Harrison is hobbled and unlikely to play. Jason Worilds had a nice Sack last week off the edge last week, but the pressure off of the edges must improve, and needs to so the Secondary is not forced into difficult situations.
Hopefully LeBeau can game-plan to exploit Right Tackles Austin Howard and/or Jason Smith for the entirety of the contest. I do not expect much heat off of Pro Bowler D’Brickishaw Ferguson’s side or up the gut past Brandon Moore or Pro Bowler Nick Mangold, but any and all pocket collapse from the interior would be a welcome sight in my eyes. Plus, it would make Sanchez uncomfortable and more apt to make mistakes. Maybe LeBeau will even dial up a Defensive Back blitz or two from sub-package sets to confuse the Jets’ new Right Tackles’. You know, like he did in the A.F.C. Championship Game with Ike on a play which William Gay returned the fumble for a score?
Look at last weekend, and it will show you all you need to know. The Jets Offensive Line neutralized Buffalo’s over-priced, yet still remarkably talented Defensive Front to the tune of zero Sacks on the day, and the only play Sanchez was truly harassed was when he threw an Interception. Pittsburgh’s Defenders had better bring their “A Games’” when it comes to putting pressure on whichever Quarterback is passing the ball, because zero Sacks in this game likely will mean zero Turnovers, and zero Turnovers usually equals “zero chance of victory.”
With Troy Polamalu possibly out for Sunday’s game, the Steelers will be in some serious trouble on the back-end, and this is where a player like Hill could really do some significant damage if he runs some successful 9 Routes. With Ryan Clark and Ryan Mundy as the starting Safeties, Sanchez could be liable to get greedy off of play-action in the event that Greene can find some decent success on the ground, and Pittsburgh’s pass-rush is stagnant. If this happens, look for the Jets to test the Steelers deep if their pass rush is non-existent like last week, because Mundy and Clark are susceptible to giving up huge plays and getting lost at times in pass coverage.
But what the Broncos put on display last week, and teams for years have illustrated, was that a team does not need to push the ball down the field to carve up this Secondary, especially the Cornerbacks. The schemes themselves which allowed Peyton Manning to pick Pittsburgh apart while the Corners were 10 Yards off the line of scrimmage, and barely harassed and pass-catcher were terrible enough to watch. But when Brandon Stokley commented on the predictability of the consistently employed Defensive schemes, it truly captured how Pittsburgh never had a chance to stop the Denver Offense last weekend, and will continue to struggle against the short and quick passing game until the proper steps are taken to stop it. Sanchez will and should take the short game all day if it nets him 6-7 Yards on 1st Down, and Offensive Coordinator Tony Sparano would be wise to test the Steelers in this phase of the game early if the opportunities arise, or Pittsburgh’s Defensive Backs do not press or struggle to warp-up and tackle when in zone coverage 10 Yards off the line of scrimmage.
Remember Steelers fans, Sanchez dinked and dunked his way to success in the 2nd Half versus the Steelers in the 2011 AFC Championship Game, and even led his team to victory during the 2010 regular season at Heinz Field. To allow a Quarterback Sanchez, let alone any experienced or competent N.F.L. signal-caller, to have an easy “pitch-and-catch” session with his pass catchers is a recipe for disaster in today’s N.F.L., and something the Steelers must seek to avoid tomorrow when New York decides to throw the football in regular formations or out of the “Tebowcat.”
The stench of last week’s performance needs to go away, and go away fast. If this Defense lolleygags and does not take this Jets Offense seriously (a month ago I would have laughed at this), zero good whatsoever can come out of what could and will transpire. Playing “patty-cake” in the home opener against a team with everything to gain and nothing to lose is a terrible idea, and the Jets do have some play-makers to work with in the passing game. I just hope that the Steelers’ Defense comes ready to play, and put that dreadful performance from last week behind them.
I know plenty of members of “Steeler Nation” which have chalked this week’s game up as an easy “W” for the Black & Gold. In theory, this team team should find success against New York this weekend, especially with Darrelle Revis and Keller sidelined. Yet, this Jets squad is on a quest to be relevant and contenders again. They need this game just as bad as the Steelers do. And what better way for them to make statement than by beating a team like Pittsburgh on their home turf and exploiting some of the Steelers’ evident weaknesses on Defense?
Share your thoughts’ below “Steeler Nation:” Will the pass rush show up? Will the Secondary show up? Will the Steelers win?
Stats Courtesy of: Pro Football Reference.com