The possibility of starting the 2013 regular season with an 0-5 record has to be enough motivation for the Pittsburgh Steelers to eek out a win against the New York Jets this weekend. Of course, the NFL just doesn’t hand out victories to desperate teams like Pittsburgh.
How will today’s game unfold between the Steelers and the Jets? I certainly have some thoughts regarding how today’s game could unfold:
Pittsburgh’s Offense vs. New York’s Defense
If Pittsburgh’s make-shift offensive line can somehow find ways to keep Muhammad Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson at bay, then the Steelers’ finally healthy offense could roll to an easy victory. Of course, Wilkerson and Richardson form one of the best young defensive line duos in the game right now and that task is much easier said than done.
Pittsburgh’s offensive linemen must “nut up” this weekend (15.0 sacks allowed as a team in first four games), and a big “X-Factor” could be running back Le’Veon Bell. After 71 yards of total offense in his debut, a successful effort on the ground by Bell could keep New York’s defense from pinning their ears back and relentlessly attacking Ben Roethlisberger.
It would be nice to see Roethlisberger working out of no-huddle and hurry-up attacks and keeping the Jets’ secondary, which will feature a hobbled Antonio Cromartie, off-balance. “Big Ben” has done a terrific job in these types of situations, and some quick hitting slants, bubble screens, and hitches could open things up down the field.
With Cromartie fighting his knee injury and rookie first round pick Dee Milliner sidelined, Pittsburgh’s quartet of wide receivers (Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders, Jerricho Cotchery, and Derek Moye) and Pro Bowl tight end (Heath Miller) could have a field day of sorts against New York’s defense.
With all of their offensive weapons in place to succeed, the onus will be on the Steelers’ offensive line to give Roethlisberger plenty of time to throw and Bell plenty of holes to run through today.
Pittsburgh’s Defense vs. New York’s Offense
The Jets will go as far as Geno Smith takes them in this game, and the youngster has to be brimming with confidence after his stellar outing at the Georgia Dome on Monday evening (16/20, 199 yards, three touchdowns).
Despite Dick LeBeau’s long-standing success against rookie signal-callers (15-2), his defense has been picked apart during the first quarter of the 2013 campaign.
In fact, the Steelers’ defense has “played behind the sticks” all season long. This in turn has led to a lack of pocket collapse and an inability to put opposing offenses in desperate situations. Opponents have simply “taken” what Pittsburgh’s defense has “given” them due to the unit’s inability to stop the run and play more press-coverage.
I will look for New York’s offense to grind it out on the ground and provide Smith with high-percentage passes to work with and allow the athletic rookie to tuck the ball and run if nothing is there. The absence of Kellen Winslow will definitely hurt Smith, but Pittsburgh’s secondary must step up to stop the rest of the Jets’ pass-catchers.
If Pittsburgh’s defense can actually force turnovers and “win” on first and second downs, then they will have a tremendous shot of winning this game. Yet just like their task of stopping the Jets’ stout defensive line, that task is easier said than done.
Pittsburgh’s Special Teams vs. New York’s Special Teams
Shaun Suisham and Nick Folk could get plenty of work tomorrow, especially if both offenses are bogged down after crossing their opponent’s 40 yard lines. Suisham (2013: 6/6) and Folk (2013: 11/11) are reliable veteran kickers, so it will be interesting to see how they perform tomorrow if the game comes down to their respective legs.
Zoltan Mesko, who has struggled since he joined the team (27th in net punting average and 31st in punting average), must try to keep the ball either away from or try to limit the effectiveness of the dangerous Jeremy Kerley on punt returns.
Final Thoughts & Prediction
I understand that the Steelers are coming off of a bye week and the Jets played their most recent game on Monday. And yes, Pittsburgh does look like a better team when it comes to a number of different matchups. Unfortunately, I believe that the Steelers will fall to 0-5 this afternoon at MetLife Stadium.
The “Richardson & Wilkerson vs. Pittsburgh’s offensive line” mismatch is just entirely too hard to ignore, and that itself should tip the scales in New York’s favor unless Ben Roethlisberger can “Houdini” himself out of pressure on a constant basis.
Unless New York’s rookie signal-caller can gift-wrap multiple turnovers for Pittsburgh’s defense, I cannot see the Steelers winning this game. Make no mistake, this game will be close. I just believe that the Jets will emerge victorious due to their advantages in the trenches, and I for one question how prepared the Steelers will be to play during this crucial game since they have illustrated nothing of the sort so far this season.
New York: 20
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