Pittsburgh Steelers: Week 2 Position-by-Position Preview
Suddenly, Week 2 doesn't look like such an easy win for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Looking at their schedule in August, it was hard to imagine the Steelers doing any worse than 1-1 in the first two games.
Even if they lost in Denver, they'd come home and face a Jets team that looked anemic offensively during the preseason. The organization seemed in such disarray that the New York Post, via NFL.com, depicted the Jets as clowns on their NFL-preview cover.
In the season opener, the Jets were more like Pennywise the Clown from Stephen King's "It," turning the afternoon into a horror show for the Bills.
Now, the Steelers are trying to avoid an 0-2 start against a team that scored 48 points last week.
The Steelers can't afford to clown around as they prepare for this one.
Ben Roethlisberger went no-huddle a lot in Denver, and he should do it again to try to keep the formidable Jets defense on its heels.
The Jets allowed 28 points in Week 1, but that's misleading. They built a 41-7 lead in the third quarter, so 21 of those points were allowed with the game well in hand.
Roethlisberger completed 22-of-40 passes for 245 yards with two touchdowns and an interception against the Broncos. His accuracy could use a little work. He missed on a couple of passes, including an easy touchdown pass to Heath Miller in the second quarter that forced the Steelers to settle for a field goal.
Jets cornerbacks Darrelle Revis, Antonio Cromartie and Kyle Wilson all had an interception against the Bills. They likely will shut down the deep part of the field against the Steelers. Roethlisberger's penchant for keeping plays alive might be the best way to neutralize the Jets corners. The longer a play goes, the harder it is for any defensive back to cover a receiver.
If the Steelers eventually want to limit Roethlisberger's playground style to make him less vulnerable to sacks, that's fine. This just isn't the week to do it. Against a tough Jets defense, Roethlisberger needs to do what he does best, or the Steelers could be traveling to Oakland with an 0-2 record.
Jonathan Dwyer ran the ball nine times for 43 yards in Denver, nearly five yards a carry, and he was difficult to bring down. He'll likely get more chances to run the ball against the Jets, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Isaac Redman was a disappointment Sunday, rushing for just 20 yards on 11 carries, but his resume suggests that he can bounce back.
The Steelers might have a better chance of moving the ball on the ground against the Jets than through the air. The Jets allowed Bills running back C.J. Spiller to gain 169 yards on 14 carries Sunday. The New York Post said the Jets tackling was "sloppy."
Dwyer, Redman and Chris Rainey also might be needed to catch passes. The Steelers shouldn't expect huge games from any of their receivers against the Jets' strong secondary. They'll need to throw more short and intermediate passes.
Dwyer dropped two passes in Denver, so he'll need to show more reliable hands. The Steelers also should try to get the ball to the speedy Rainey on screen passes and hope that he can break off a long gain or two.
The Steelers wide receivers versus the Jets cornerbacks is the most intriguing matchup of this game, assuming Darrelle Revis plays.
Revis suffered a mild concussion Sunday and didn't practice Wednesday, according to the Newark Star-Ledger. There's a chance he won't play Sunday.
Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders might give the Jets defensive backs their biggest challenge this season.
Wallace showed in Denver that he's expanding his route tree. He caught four passes, all on shorter patterns as opposed to the deep balls he's accustomed to. Those Jets defensive backs won't let Wallace beat them deep, so he'll need to keep catching balls in traffic.
Let's not forget about Jerricho Cotchery. This is his first game against his former team. He's practiced against Revis and Cromartie. Any trade secrets he can provide his teammates, however minuscule, could give the Steelers an edge.
Heath Miller might have more of an advantage against the Jets linebackers than the Steelers receivers do against the Jets defensive backs.
Miller caught four passes for 50 yards and a touchdown in Denver, and he could have had at least one more touchdown reception if Roethlisberger had thrown a better pass to him in the end zone.
This might be a good time for Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley to show why Miller was the first player he mentioned during his introductory press conference in February.
If the Steelers receivers are neutralized, they'll need a big game from Miller.
Leonard Pope was barely noticeable in Denver. Anything the Steelers get from him in Week 2 would be a bonus.
The first order of business for this unit is to stay healthy.
That didn't happen in Week 1.
Doug Legursky replaced Ramon Foster, who had an eye injury, at right guard while Mike Adams replaced Marcus Gilbert, who had a knee injury, at tight tackle. Both starters are expected back Sunday, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
They'll join left tackle Max Starks, left guard Willie Colon and center Maurkice Pouncey.
While the Jets didn't sack Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick on Sunday, they constantly pressured him, according to the New York Post.
If Legursky and Adams again have to fill in on the right side of the line or anywhere else, the Steelers could be in for a long day against Jets linebackers David Harris, Bart Scott and Calvin Pace.
Run blocking will be important in this game. The Jets showed in Week 1 that they might be vulnerable to the run. For the Steelers to take advantage of that, the offensive line will need to open up holes.
The Steelers run defense has seemed leaky going back to last season. The Broncos ran the ball 11 times in the fourth quarter Sunday for 56 yards.
No Steelers defensive lineman had more than two tackles in the game. They'll need to do a better job against the Jets.
Shonn Greene ran for 94 yards on 27 carries against the Bills, just 3.5 yards per carry. He averaged 4.2 yards per carry last season, however.
Ziggy Hood needs to show that his offseason conditioning program can translate to the football field. Brett Keisel doesn't give the Steelers anything to worry about unless age is catching up to him. He'll turn 33 on Sept. 19.
At nose tackle, Casey Hampton started in Denver even though Steve McLendon was impressive in the preseason. After his performance Sunday, he'll likely remain the starting nose tackle unless someone can take the job from him.
Any defensive lineman on the field at the same time as Tim Tebow needs to be prepared for the Wildcat.
Stopping the run is incumbent upon the entire front seven, not just the defensive line.
Like the defensive linemen, the Steelers linebackers need to stop the conventional run while remaining on guard against the Jets Wildcat.
Larry Foote's performance was probably the best thing the Steelers could take from Sunday's loss. He led the Steelers with eight tackles and had a forced fumble and a sack. Lawrence Timmons has to bounce back from a tough game against the Broncos.
The Steelers missed James Harrison in Denver, and it's starting to look like they'll miss him Sunday in Pittsburgh.
Harrison worked out Monday but missed practice Wednesday because of his knee injury, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
If Harrison can't go, Jason Worilds will have to perform the way he did Sunday before Peyton Manning went no-huddle. He had one sack early in the game.
Mark Sanchez was not sacked against the Bills. If the Jets offensive line can keep Mario Williams quiet, they can do the same to LaMarr Woodley if there's no pass-rushing threat on the other side.
Take a seat, Ryan Mundy.
The Steelers will be back at sea level Sunday, so Ryan Clark's sickle-cell trait won't be a factor, and he'll play.
Clark's absence in the Steelers playoff and season-opening losses in Denver make it evident how much he means to the Steelers defense.
Clark was the team's leading tackler last year and can assist in stopping the run. His presence in the secondary can free up Troy Polamalu to wreak havoc anywhere on the field.
When looking at this game in August, it appeared former Steeler Santonio Holmes would be the only Jets receiver the Steelers secondary would have to worry about. However, rookie Stephen Hill from Georgia Tech had five catches for 89 yards and two touchdowns against the Bills.
Hopefully, that doesn't mean Ike Taylor has to take Alavert or Allegra to cover Hill. Now, we'll see if Taylor just doesn't match up well with Demaryius Thomas or if the 32-year-old cornerback is just past his prime.
It would be bad news for the Steelers if Taylor's skills are starting to erode, because Keenan Lewis and Cortez Allen still have some developing to do. They both missed tackles and allowed yards after the catch against the Broncos.
Facing Mark Sanchez at home might not seem like as tall of a task as facing Peyton Manning in Denver.
However, Sanchez is coming off his highest passer rating (123.4) since the Jets upset the Patriots in the 2010 playoffs. Furthermore, Sanchez is the only opposing quarterback besides Tom Brady and Joe Flacco to win at Heinz Field since 2010.
An interception or two would be nice.
Shaun Suisham made both of his field goals in Denver, a 21-yarder and a 35-yarder. That's nice, but he has a lot to prove after his 74-percent field-goal conversion rate last season, the lowest among kickers with at least 20 field-goal attempts.
Rookie Drew Butler punted three times for a 40-yard average in Denver. One of his punts was downed at the Broncos 1-yard line by DeMarcus Van Dyke (pictured), who the Steelers picked up after he was waived by the Raiders.
Butler, Van Dyke and the rest of the Steelers punt team figure to have their hands full with the Jets' Jeremy Kerley, who returned a punt 68 yards for a touchdown against the Bills.
Antonio Brown returned punts for the Steelers in Denver, but rookie Chris Rainey could make his debut as a punt returner at Heinz Field, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
The 12th Man
The Terrible Towel wavers have a couple reasons to make a lot of noise Sunday.
First, they want to help the Steelers avoid an 0-2 start.
Second, Tim Tebow will be in the house.
The Steelers couldn't avenge their playoff loss in Denver, but they still have a chance to get their revenge on Tebow. After being vanquished by a quarterback who couldn't complete half of his passes last season, the Steelers can't let that same player hurt them with the gimmicky Wildcat.
The Heinz Field faithful can help by emphatically reminding Tebow he's not in Denver anymore.