Today’s game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the New York Jets was very much in doubt after the first half came to a close.
The Steelers only clung to a 9-6 lead at the half, and this was due to a combination of piss-poor pass-protection, a stagnant running game, bad play-calling in the red zone, and the defense’s soft-zone being eaten alive in the final two minutes by Geno Smith.
Without a takeaway through their first 18 quarters of play and still plagued by their aforementioned issues on offense, Pittsburgh needed their defense to at least keep New York’s offense at bay during the final 30 minutes.
Thankfully, not only did the defense post a much-needed shutout, the two takeaways they managed to record near their own goal line thwarted the Jets’ best chances to win this afternoon.
Ryan Clark’s Interception
I have been on Ryan Clark’s case all season long, and with the way he has played recently he definitely deserved it.
However, the veteran safety did a terrific job of recognizing and diagnosing a passing play in the middle of the third quarter to record Pittsburgh’s first takeaway of the season near their own goal line.
Although the Steelers had taken a 16-9 lead on the previous drive, New York’s offense was on pace to put points on the board after they marched 49 yards in seven plays to set themselves up with a 3rd and 3 situation at Pittsburgh’s 23 yard line.
Instead of trying to “ground and pound” with the running game Geno Smith got greedy and tried to find tight end Konrad Reuland down the sideline for a large chunk of yards.
Unfortunately for Smith, Reuland was not only draped by William Gay, Lawrence Timmons and Clark were also in the vicinity of the pass as well and it looked like Pittsburgh’s linebacker and safety knew exactly where the play was going the entire time.
Lofting a pass into triple-coverage down the sideline is just asking for a disaster, and Clark made the former West Virginia Mountaineer pay for his poor decision. Clark’s pickoff was huge because it not only was the team’s first of the year, but it kept Pittsburgh’s lead at 10 points. Already in Nick Folk’s field goal range, New York could have at least cut the game to 16-9 or even 16-13 if they had continued to march down the field.
Of course, Clark’s interception was not the only big play by the defense in the second half. In fact, Jarvis Jones and Lawrence Timmons all but sealed up the win with close to three minutes remaining in the game near their own goal line as well.
Up only 19-6 with over four minutes to play, the Steelers could ill-afford to let the Jets put points on the board to draw any closer.
To his credit, New York’s rookie signal-caller went with a no-huddle attack and gashed Pittsburgh’s defense for 54 yards on five plays. After an 11 yard pass to David Nelson put the Jets at Pittsburgh’s 12 yard line, it looked like New York was primed to score with just over three minutes left in the game.
Instead of running the ball once again, New York and Smith went to the air on the following play and it cost them dearly.
Not only did Pittsburgh’s secondary have tremendous coverage on the play, rookie outside linebacker Jarvis Jones was matched up on running back Mike Goodson who was left to pass-protect for Smith. Jones bull-rushed Goodson on the play and forced Smith to throw a “wounded duck” off of his back foot into the arms of Lawrence Timmons who was waiting at the goal line.
Pittsburgh’s inside linebacker snatched the ball and raced almost 20 yards down the field to put the finishing touches on what was a solid effort defensively in the second half for the unit.
Had the Jets scored a touchdown on that possession, they still had all three of their timeouts to spend and likely would not have had to go with an onside kick after the potential touchdown. Timmons’ interception though kept the margin at 13 points, and dashed whatever hopes New York had about mounting a comeback.
In ultimate “bend but not break” fashion, Pittsburgh’s defense definitely stepped up this afternoon.
While they had some issues stopping the run (Jets averaged 4.2 yards per carry) and defending the no-huddle attack, their ability to stiffen and take the ball away in the most crucial spots were big reasons why their team recorded a win.
The next step for this unit will be proving that they can record takeaways and keep more talented and experienced quarterbacks like Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Joe Flacco, Matt Stafford, and Andy Dalton from creating touchdowns later this fall.
Until then, I tip my cap to the defense for their collective effort this afternoon and their big plays inside their own five yard line.
Follow me on Twitter: @DominicDiTolla
Follow & Like “NPC” on Facebook: Nice Pick, Cowher