Jets vs. Steelers Take Two: Breaking Down Jets' Struggles in the Passing Game

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Jets vs. Steelers Take Two: Breaking Down Jets' Struggles in the Passing Game
Joe Sargent/Getty Images

Sunday's game at Pittsburgh began on a promising note when the New York Jets got off to a 10-6 lead in the second quarter, but from there, it was all Pittsburgh as the Steelers scored 21 unanswered points.

After rewatching the game, let's take a look at why things came unraveled for the Jets.

First, here are the highlights.

 

The Real Storyline

A week after everything felt so right with the Jets offense, it now suddenly all seems so wrong.

The Jets wide receivers had a difficult time getting off press man coverage and were getting hit a lot inside the five-yard window of legal contact.

The Steelers blitzed on over half of quarterback Mark Sanchez's drop-backs, according to Pro Football Focus, and it seemed to disrupt the timing a little bit, particularly on a short throw to tight end Jeff Cumberland where the tight end didn't even turn around for the catch, as well as on a second-quarter incompletion (which we'll talk about later) that set up the go-ahead touchdown drive before the half.

The running game once again lacked burst, averaging 4.1 yards per carry as a team, with running backs only accounting for a total of 68 rushing yards and an average of 3.2 yards per carry.

Even despite the struggles of the running game, it looked like the passing game would get it going on the first drive, when Sanchez went 4-for-5 passing for 80 yards and the touchdown. But after a second look, he got a bit of help from:

  • an awful call by the officials on a pass interference against Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor, one of many flags Santonio Holmes begged for on the day, and
  • a busted coverage on wide receiver Jeremy Kerley's four-yard reception that put the Jets in the red zone.

We know the Jets have more offense than flags and busted coverage, but they need to get it consistently if they're going to finish better than .500.

The pass defense, meanwhile, got chewed up by Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. The Super Bowl-winning quarterback completed 77.4 percent of his passes, the highest completion rate ever allowed by a Rex Ryan defense.

In what is a pass-dominated league, the Jets struggled and ultimately lost the battle of the skies.

 

What Went Right

The Jets run defense stifled the Steelers ground attack, holding it to 66 yards on 28 carries for an average of 2.4 yards per carry. 

Defensive linemen Sione Pouha, Muhammad Wilkerson and Mike Devito got a good push up the middle, allowing linebackers Bart Scott and David Harris to shoot gaps and make plays in the backfield. The Jets tallied six tackles for loss for a total of 20 yards.

It didn't matter all that much, though, with the Steelers moving the ball at will through the air.

 

What Went Wrong

Roethlisberger had his way with the Jets defense, regardless of whether they were blitzing or hanging back in coverage. According to Pro Football Focus, he posted a 114.1 passer rating on 19 drop-backs where he was blitzed, and a 137.5 passer rating when the Jets opted not to blitz.

You would think that, with Revis out, the Steelers would go right after Ellis Lankster. That wasn't exactly the case, however. Namely, cornerbacks Antonio Cromartie and Kyle Wilson were victimized in coverage. I had each down for five completions on five targets, with Mike Wallace picking up a touchdown on Cromartie's watch.

Lack of pressure wasn't exactly the problem; the Jets brought down Roethlisberger three times and had good pressure on him. They struggled getting pressure as the game wore on, and while we saw Roethlisberger escape pressure a few times, a lot of his best work came on short drops and quick throws. Per Pro Football Focus, he completed 13 of his 14 throws within 10 yards from the line of scrimmage.

When the Jets had the ball, they simply couldn't move it through the air. After his first drive, Sanchez went 6-for-22 passing (27.3 percent completions). There were some drops involved (four, with two on Holmes) but the Steelers defense got physical with the Jets receivers, using their size advantage against the likes of Jeremy Kerley and Holmes; even Stephen Hill had a hard time getting off the line.

 

The Game Changer(s)

Kerley's muffed punt didn't help, but at that point, the Steelers offense had already begun to have their way with the Jets defense, and the Jets offense had already gone stale.

So we'll look at a 3rd-and-10 play for the Jets offense in the second quarter. 

Mark Sanchez lined up in the shotgun with the 12 personnel grouping—one running back, two tight ends and two wide receivers.

The Steelers lined up in the 2-4-5 nickel package, with defenders crowding the line and showing blitz.

Safety Ryan Clark comes off the offense's left side, and Sanchez makes the quick throw to Santonio Holmes.

Whether Holmes wasn't ready or didn't adjust right to the blitz and the coverage, the pass didn't have much of a prayer either way as it hit the turf about a yard in front of the target.

This was the final play of a drive that went three-and-out and allowed the Steelers to march down the field and score a touchdown before the half.

 

Coaching Notes

The Jets tried entirely too hard to get the ball to wide receiver Santonio Holmes. The top-dollar wideout was targeted 11 times but caught only three passes. Regardless of the penalties, the Jets should have looked elsewhere in the third quarter when it was clear the connection wasn't working.

Holmes generated more yardage off defensive holding and pass interference penalties (four penalties, 52 yards) than he did receptions (three receptions, 28 yards); that's not enough to help the offense move the chains, and it shouldn't be a focal point of the offense moving forward.

Defensively, this is the second straight week where pressure has been a problem. Not that there is pressure or a lack of pressure, but that it's not effective. The Jets need to figure out how to create disruption in the passing game through mediums besides sending the kitchen sink and hoping for the best on the back end.

 

The Big Picture

The Jets are a boom-or-bust offense. If they get in rhythm, they can manage a game, but because of their lack of big-play threats, they are doomed if they do not execute consistently.

Their defense got exposed a bit on the back end against Pittsburgh, but most teams don't have as many threats in the passing game—or as good of a quarterback—as Pittsburgh does.

To build off this loss, the Jets need to get their timing together on offense and find ways to get after the quarterback on defense. 

 

Erik Frenz is the AFC East lead blogger for Bleacher Report. Be sure to follow Erik on Twitter and "like" the AFC East blog on Facebook to keep up with all the updates. Unless specified otherwise, all quotes are obtained firsthand.

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