Jets-Steelers Match up Central

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I never thought I’d get the chance to say associate the 2013 Jets with a “trap game,” but here we are in Week Six with the 0-4 Steelers a clearly inferior opponent.  With the Patriots’ match-up on the horizon, the Jets could be caught in a trap game this week.

The injury report isn’t too crowded for either team.  The Jets will be without Antwan Barnes (IR), Santonio Holmes, and Dee Milliner, but it appears that Antonio Cromartie is going to play after suffering a hyper-extended knee in practice this week.  Obviously, Kellen Winslow is not playing this week after getting hit with a four-game suspension for PED usage.  The Steelers get their starting guard Ramon Foster back this week, but they’ll be without their promising young rookie receiver Markus Wheaton.  If that means one thing, the Jets will be seeing even more of their former receiver Jerricho Cotchery.

Jets’ Interior Defensive Line vs Steelers:

Pro Football Focus, the most godly NFL website on this earth, summed it up perfectly with the Jets’ defensive line in 2013 when they said, “The Jets’ defensive line is playing at such a high level that they are going to be a key matchup for every team they face.”  It really is true.  There are only a select few interior offensive lines in the league that could even contend with the Jets’ fierce inside rush.  Damon Harrison, Sheldon Richardson, and more recently Muhammad Wilkerson have been mauling their competition.  This week will likely be no different.

David DeCastro and Ramon Foster are the Steelers’ starting guards, and they’re both interesting cases.  DeCastro was a promising rookie until an ACL tear ended his year last year.  It’s been a roller-coaster for the Stanford product ever since, as he’s dealt with severe struggles yet it appears that he’s on track at this point.  However, there hasn’t been enough consistency yet from him to even think that he can slow down Wilkerson today, especially after his stellar performance in Atlanta last Monday.

Foster is no better of a case.  He’s an average guard when healthy, but two factors are working against him.  First, the Jets’ interior rush and stability is not average.  Second, he’s coming back from a pectoral injury this week.  The Jets could find themselves a win by simply having Ben Roethlisberger trying to extend plays out of the pocket to the Steelers’ dismay.  When Ben tries to make magic happen, it’s typically the opposite that occurs.  This will be how the Jets turn the ball over if they’re going to.

Jets’ Secondary vs Steelers’ Speed at Receiver: 

Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders are no joke when it comes to sheer speed at receiver, and it’s how the Steelers’ offense finds success.  With the dismal running game and limited options in the passing game that the Steelers have to show for, offensive coordinator Todd Haley counts on his receivers to win separation on their deeper routes downfield with precision and pure speed.  Especially since he’s coming off a pretty significant knee injury, Antonio Cromartie should have his hands full, and it will be interesting to see if he even gets the majority of snaps at corner.

Darrin Walls gets a much more favorable match-up for his particular skillset than he did versus Roddy White last week (though he still played himself a hell of a game).  Sanders, Brown, and Cotchery are all plain fast with quickness, and they don’t have much size that will allow them to win the ball from Walls based on ball skills at the point of the catch.  Walls can hang with anybody downfield with his smooth swivel and smarts when it comes to opponents’ route running.  Even better, Walls has excellent deep speed, which is how the Steelers like to keep defenses honest.

Lastly on this matter, the Jets’ safeties have to play an overall smart game of football.  If the defensive line’s pressure has them cheating in their zone coverage, they could get stunned over the top with the receivers’ speed.  They need to stay honest downfield, and trust the cornerback play from the Jets.  If anything, Dawan Landry and Jaiquawn Jarrett should play the majority of their game as two deep safeties, even on plays that are seemingly run plays all the way.  The Steelers love to roll with play action, and they can’t get caught even a step behind the flow of the play with this unbelievable speed from the Steelers’ wideouts.

Heath Miller vs the Jets’ Linebackers:

If there’s a match-up with underlying importance that can win the Steelers the upset victory, it’s this one.  Miller is just filthy with his ability to get open in the red zone, especially when he sits in a spot versus zone coverage when Roethlisberger tries to extend plays.  Like I just mentioned, the Jets’ safeties will have to play their game from mostly out of the box because of the Steelers’ linear passing game.  Miller doesn’t win with his athleticism, but his smarts of how to get open.  Demario Davis and David Harris will stay occupied on passing downs when spying on Miller.  In the red zone, I’d clip him like the Jets did with Tony Gonzalez, even.

Jets’ Run Game vs Steelers’ Defense:

While this may be a vague match-up, it’s still a huge one regardless.  The Steelers’ defensive front of Steve McLendon, Cameron Heyward, and Brett Keisel are a top-notch group against the run game and only allow a solid 3.8 yards a carry on average.  However, the rest of the defense is susceptible t the ground game.  Lawrence Timmons is a very good player, but they’ve been forced to start Vince Williams, an undrafted free agent, as their other inside linebacker with Larry Foote being out for the year.  In the pre-draft process, I loved Williams because of his instincts and tenacity, but he’s not a guy who can efficiently shed blocks to make stops versus the run.  Rookie Jarvis Jones is a tweener who struggles to consistently hold a strong edge from his outside linebacker position against the run.  Unless Troy Polamalu plays like the Troy Polamalu of four years ago, the Jets could have success with their three-headed rushing attack in consistently breaking runs off into the second level of the Steelers’ defense.

Jets Versus Picking Up the Blitz:

Even with a defense rattled with holes, the Steelers still love to send more than their starting three on the defensive line.  The Jets will often see pressure from Lamar Woodley and Jones off the edge, with Ryan Clark and Polamalu on the line threatening to come as well.  Tommy Bohanon has been liable to a few missed blitz pick-ups this season.  Bohanon, Bilal Powell, and Mike Goodson will have important tasks in pass protection to shield Geno Smith from the rush.  If Smith sees consistent pressure in his face, he could fall victim to the turnovers that plagued him throughout the earlier stages of this season.

Prediction: 

I think this is a very different Jets team than one in the past that would lose a very winnable game like this one.  The team seems more focused than ever behind Rex Ryan and their rookie quarterback, and I think Geno will keep the ball clean.  The run game should have it’s success and fair share of longer gains.  In the end, I think the Jets will snatch a couple essential turnovers to get a convincing win.  Jets- 24, Steelers- 13.