Jets vs. Steelers: Sketching out a Gameplan for Pittsburgh
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The Jets defeated the Buffalo Bills last week, 48-28. Whether that outcome says more about the Jets or the Bills, we'll soon know, depending on how they handle the Steelers.
But how should the Steelers handle the Jets? Here are three tactics Pittsburgh should employ when they come to town on Sunday afternoon.
Pick up the Blitz
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The Jets don't have much pass rush to speak of, but they make up for it by employing the blitz. Last year, they sent their defensive backs to blitz 230 times, and last week, Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick saw the blitz more often than a traditional pass rush (subscription required for both links).
The blitz is the perfect way for the Jets to take advantage of the Steelers' struggling offensive line. This means Pittsburgh will have to prepare for it by lining up tight end Heath Miller and running backs Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer, and hoping they can pick up the rushing defensive backs.
There's no way for any offensive line to keep Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger reliably upright throughout the course of the game, but that doesn't mean the Steelers can't employ ways to keep him reasonably protected.
With the Steelers' running situation still very much in flux, they need the passing game to move the ball down the field. Pittsburgh must pick up and neutralize the Jets' blitz on Sunday to do this.
Compensate for No Troy Polamalu
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The Steelers will have to get more creative with their quarterback pressure as well, with strong safety Troy Polamalu not likely to play after missing practice this week with a calf injury (per CBSSports.com). Ryan Mundy, who got the start at free safety in place of Ryan Clark, will take over for Polamalu on Sunday if that's indeed the case.
Mundy—and really no one else on the Steelers' defense for that matter—can do certain things like Polamalu. Opposing offenses must always account for Polamalu's position on the field and adjust accordingly, for not doing so often results in a failed play, a sack or a turnover.
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The Steelers are often at a disadvantage when Polamalu misses games, so it's a lot of compensating they'll have to do without him this Sunday. A new mix of blitzes, as well as more straightforward pass-rushing will have to suffice, and they'll have to rely on their overall defensive prowess to make plays rather than starting from the distracting visage of Polamalu.
Despite their supposedly imposing defensive front seven, the Bills didn't sack Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez once. The Steelers do not have the luxury of allowing Sanchez's jersey to remain clean. Being without the blitzing power of Polamalu hurts, but the rest of the defense can bring pressure of their own.
The one area in which Polamalu's absence may hurt the Steelers greatly is defending against Tim Tebow in a Wildcat or option capacity. Without Polamalu, the Jets offense has more opportunities for creativity, so the Steelers must also keep this in mind.
Exploit the Lack of Darrelle Revis
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The Jets won't have the services of star cornerback Darrelle Revis on Sunday as he recovers from a concussion he sustained last week (per CBSSports.com). That opens up a world of passing possibilities for the Steelers as long as Roethlisberger has the time to throw the ball.
Kyle Wilson, the Jets' usual nickel corner, will be starting alongside Antonio Cromartie. Cromartie will likely split time between coverage of Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown, and with the secondary depleted without Revis, will have to try to double cover at least one of these men at any given time.
That means a lot of single-coverage for whoever doesn't draw the double, and almost guarantees that Emmanuel Sanders will find himself open often. Few teams ever get the luxury of facing the Jets without Revis; add to that the fact the Steelers would be far better served right now to pass more often and it's a dream scenario.
So, the onus is on the offensive line to give Roethlisberger time to exploit the imbalanced matchups created by Revis' absence, and on the receivers to get open and have reliable hands. This is a rare opportunity, and the Steelers must seize it.
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