Jets vs Steelers: 10 Keys to the Game for New York
Coming off a huge Week 1 win for the green and white, all eyes are on the Jets to see if their dominating performance was a fluke or a sign of things to come.
The Jets will certainly face a good test on Sunday against a veteran Steelers team that is still looking for its first win of the season. Several defensive starters will be returning to the lineup, including James Harrison and Ryan Clark.
Here are 10 keys to the game for the Jets to get their second win in a row.
Run, Run, and Run Some More
The Jets' pass protection held up well against a talented Bills line, but the fact that Shonn Greene got 27 carries had a lot to do with it.
As a defensive lineman, it is hard to generate an effective rush when you always have to stay disciplined enough to contain the run. The Jets should not just run it on first and second down—rushes on third downs will go a long way to keeping defenses honest, even if it does limit the offenses' options once the play is run.
The once-vaunted Steeler run defense has fallen off quite a bit. It allowed a pass-first Broncos team to average 3.9 yards per carry. Those numbers may be good enough for most defenses, but those are poor numbers for a Dick LeBeau defense.
Of course, if the conventional rushing attack fails to generate any kind of offense, the Jets could revert to the Wildcat to get a spark from the ground game, perhaps even throwing out of the formation to open things up.
After all, Tebow has had his share of success against the Steelers.
While the Jets' first-half performance was nothing short of dominant, they allowed C.J. Spiller to abuse them on the ground, averaging over 12 yards a clip breaking through the weak tackle attempts by the Jets.
After reviewing the game, it was clear to me that poor tackling was the biggest contributor to these long runs. Sure, these weak tackle attempts could be attributed to the fact that the defense simply got lazy in a game that was over by halftime. Still, even If that is true, they still got lazy in a divisional game, which is not a good sign no matter what the score is.
Steelers running back Jonathan Dwyer is not nearly the kind of home-run hitter that Spiller is. In fact, Dwyer's biggest weakness is his lack of elite speed and agility.
However, Dwyer can be a load to bring down with one defender. The Jets are going to have to not only tackle better, but gang tackle the larger Dwyer to prevent him from picking up extra yards.
Revis Needs to Play
Under most circumstances, the Jets have a good enough defense and depth at cornerback to through a game with out the perennial All-Pro, but the Steelers present a unique problem from the receiver position.
As good as Antonio Brown and Mike Wallace are, there is no team more suited to matchup against them than the Jets. Revis can cover either one on his own, but Cromartie's elite speed and athleticism allow him to match up well against Mike Wallace.
However, with Revis possibly being unavailable for the game with a concussion, covering Antonio Brown (and Heath Miller) becomes a huge problem for the Jets.
Kyle Wilson, who played as a bounty corner during his days at Boise State, would fill in for Revis at one of the starting position. While Wilson would likely be able to hold his own against average receivers, he is no match for the likes of Antonio Brown.
The Jets will make a decision on whether Revis will travel for the game on Saturday, according to Manish Mehta of the Daily News. If Revis cannot go, it could be disastrous for the Jets on Sunday, especially if the pass rush does not show up.
Better Play from D'Brickashaw Ferguson
While the pass protection held up exceptionally well against the Bills, D'Brickashaw Ferguson was one of the weaker points of the line yet again.
Pro Football Focus graded out Ferguson as a negative performance against the Bills, which is starting to become a disturbing trend for the perennial Pro Bowler.
While Austin Howard was busy shutting down Mario Williams on the right side, Ferguson was having a tough time dealin with Mark Anderson, particularly in the run game.
James Harrison claims that he will play Sunday, according to NFL.com. With all due respect to Mark Anderson, dealing with James Harrison is a different animal, especially in the run game. If the Jets are going to keep Sanchez upright and get a push in the run game, Ferguson must start playing like the elite player he used to be.
Interior Pass Rush
While both the Jets and Bills pass protections held up well Sunday, the sackless game does not speak well for the supposedly-improved pass rush of both teams.
The Bills, however, are an extremely hard team to sack because of the nature of their quick-strike offense. The Steelers, on the other hand, let Ben Roethlisberger take his time and let his receivers get downfield to get big chunks of yards—the opposite of Buffalo's philosophy.
Throw in the fact that the Steelers' line is banged up with missing starters (most notably guard David DeCastro), and the Jets are going to have their chances to get to Big Ben.
Getting interior pressure is the key. Quarterbacks can always roll out from edge rushers, which we have seen Ben do countless times. Interior pressure, which should come from players like Quinton Coples and Muhammad Wilkerson, is much more difficult to escape from and prevents quarterbacks from stepping into throws.
If Revis cannot play Sunday, the Jets are going to need a big game from their defensive line to keep the Steelers off their game.
Cover Heath Miller
With all of the talent the Steelers have at receiver, it is easy to forget about their trusty tight end in Heath Miller.
Most of the Jets secondary will be tied up dealing with Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown (especially if Revis cannot play), leaving LaRon Landry to cover Miller.
An underrated blocker, Miller may not be Aaron Hernandez in terms of receiving ability, but he is a smart route-runner who has a huge size advantage over defensive backs.
As good as the Jets defense was against the pass against Bills, it still allowed Scott Chandler to do some damage in the middle of the defense and score a touchdown in the process. If the Jets are going to consistently get off the field on third downs, keeping Big Ben's security blanket under wraps is going to be key.
Use More Zone Coverage
The Jets may have a reputation for being one of the best man-to-man coverage teams in the league, but they may want to consider employing a game plan that features more zone concepts against the Steelers.
While using zone dilutes the use of talent in players like Revis and Cromartie as they sit in zone, it also helps take away the big play and reduces the chance of Antonio Brown or Mike Wallace getting a lot of yards after the catch.
The reason for this is because if a man is beat, there is only (maybe) a safety or two back to help bring him down. A missed tackle and a 10-yard play can turn into a 60-yard touchdown in a heartbeat, especially with the speed the Steelers have at receiver.
In zone coverage, while there are more "holes' in the coverage, there are more players nearby not busy with covering receivers to prevent big plays.
If Revis doesn't play, then there is less talent to dilute anyway.
Of course, the Jets will use a game plan with a healthy mix of both zone- and man-coverage principles, but using a plan the is a bit more zone-heavy could help take away the Steelers big-play ability.
Attack Pittsburgh's Cornerbacks
The weakness of the Steelers' defense clearly lies in the cornerback position, which features Ike Taylor and Keenan Lewis, who has assumed William Gay's former role.
Both players were torched against the Broncos, especially Lewis. According to ProFootballFocus.com, neither player accumulated a pass defended or an interception, while both of them missed a tackle.
Meanwhile, Sanchez had a ton of success throwing against a young Bills secondary. Santonio Holmes should give former teammate Ike Taylor a run for his money, while the impressive Stephen Hill should be quite a challenge for the young Lewis.
Assuming the Steelers run defense is up to its usual standards, it should be tough sledding on the ground. Sanchez and his receivers are going to have to make a few plays to take advantage of the Steelers' biggest weakness on defense.
It is no secret that the Steelers' line is a liability on their otherwise-talented offense, and there is no better way to test a bad line than to send some added heat their way.
Against the Broncos in Week 1 (via PFF), when Roethlisberger was not blitzed, he had a quarterback rating of 113.7. When he was blitzed, his quarterback rating was 28.6.
Normally, I am not a proponent of making game plans based on vague statistics, but that is a ginormous dropoff in production that should not be ignored.
Clearly, the Steelers have a tough time dealing with five or more rushers. Rex Ryan, known for his ability to confuse offenses with his exotic blitz packages, should dial up several of his specialties and see of the Steelers line has made any improvements.
While Sanchez has done a remarkably better job protecting the football this year, he has flirted with disaster on a few occasions.
His interception against the Bills came after an ill-advised shuffle pass, and he nearly lost a fumble on a strip-sack.
Quarterbacks are going to throw interceptions from time to time in this league. Teams play a lot of man coverage and quarterbacks are forced to throw jump balls that could be caught be either team.
However, what Sanchez can do is cut down on his "face-palm" plays, or turnovers that he could prevent by simply being alert and careful.
Odds are, given the Steelers talent in their front seven, they are going to get a few hits on Sanchez. Mark needs to just let those plays be incompletions or sacks and not turn them into devastating turnovers or points for the other team.
Ryan is a National and NY Jets FC at Bleacher Report. He is also the Editor for NYJetsDraft.com, a member of the USA Today Sports Media Group.