The Steelers tend to struggle without Polamalu, and they missed Harrison in their season-opening loss at Denver.
Both players were inactive with injuries Sunday, and it looked like a recipe for disaster for the humbled Steelers against a team that scored 48 points in Week 1.
However, the Steelers overcame the absence of two former NFL Defensive Players of the Year with their own recipe, or more of a formula:
Ryan Clark = Harrison + Polamalu
That doesn't mean that Clark is better than either of those players. It just means that Clark's performance Sunday filled the void left by their injuries.
After watching the game again on NFL Game Rewind, it became apparent that as much as the Steelers missed Harrison in Denver, they missed Clark more. The safety doesn't play games in Denver because the high altitude affects his sickle-cell trait.
Clark returned Sunday and led the Steelers with seven tackles, and his impact went beyond the tackles.
The Steelers' defense seemed painfully ordinary on the Jets' first two possessions, which led to a touchdown and a field goal.
The tide finally turned when the Steelers, trailing 10-6, forced a three-and-out in the second quarter. Clark's safety blitz on 3rd-and-10 (pictured) pressured Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez into throwing the ball behind Santonio Holmes. The Jets punted, and the Steelers went on an 80-yard touchdown drive that gave them a lead they wouldn't relinquish.
Clark helped keep momentum on the Steelers' side during the opening drive of the second half.
Shonn Greene picked up two yards on 3rd-and-1 to give the Jets a first down at their own 31. On the next play, Clark pressured Sanchez and forced Greene to hold. The penalty moved the Jets back 10 yards.
Clark also played an indirect role in the Steelers' first sack of the day.
The Jets' offensive line handled the Steelers pass rush pretty well in the first half. Two plays after Greene's holding penalty, however, LaMarr Woodley and Lawrence Timmons made their deepest penetration into the Jets' backfield. Sanchez found tight end Jeff Cumberland for a two-yard completion, and Clark and Brandon Johnson combined for the tackle to set up a 3rd-and-16.
After coming so close on second down, Woodley wasn't going to be denied on third down, and he sacked Sanchez for a six-yard loss.
Riding the emotional lift of that sack, the Steelers needed five plays to score a touchdown and increase their lead to 20-10.
The Jets weren't finished, though. Offensive coordinator Tony Sparano finally decided to install the Wildcat on their next possession. Tim Tebow shredded the Steelers' defense for 22 yards on his first offensive snap of the game, and Clark was there to make the stop at the Jets' 49 (pictured).
Joe McKnight gained 12 more yards out of the Wildcat on the next play to get the Jets to the Steelers' 39. Then Clark tackled Greene for a six-yard loss to quell the uprising, and that was the end of the Wildcat for the afternoon. The Jets punted three plays later.
Thanks largely to Clark, Tebow wasn't going to hurt the Steelers anymore.
As well as Clark played Sunday, he wasn't a one-man show.
Larry Foote is putting together a solid season. He was the Steelers' second-leading tackler on Sunday with five.
Early in the second quarter, Foote tackled Greene twice, the second time stopping him for a one-yard gain to set up 3rd-and-3. The Steelers would have had a three-and-out if it weren't for Timmons' penalty for a helmet-to-helmet hit on Jets receiver Jeremy Kerley. That sustained an eventual field-goal drive that increased the Jets' lead to 10-6.
Timmons over-pursued and took himself out of three running plays during that drive, including the first play of the drive when Greene gained six yards. He did it again on a nine-yard Greene run to the Steelers 40 (pictured), and again on Bilal Powell's four-yard run to the 34.
Despite that bad series, Timmons doesn't raise as many concerns as Ziggy Hood.
It's time to start seeing results from a first-round draft pick in his fourth season, and the defensive end was nearly invisible Sunday.
Hood never seems to be where the action is. He's either nowhere near where the play develops or just outside the pile.
On Greene's six-yard run that initiated the Jets field-goal drive early in the second quarter, Hood was blocked soundly by Austin Howard. Hood was out of position on Greene's nine-yard run, and ended up on the ground on a couple of other plays during that field-goal drive.
Hood was a little better in the second half.
On the Jets opening possession after intermission, Hood didn't get credit for a tackle but helped buttress the pile when Greene was stopped for a two-yard gain on 1st-and-20.
Hood should have stopped Tebow in the backfield on the Wildcat drive, but he was just a whisker out of position and made a futile grasp at Tebow's ankle before Tebow took off for 22 yards. Two plays later, however, Hood was unblocked and could have tackled Greene if needed. But Clark got there first (pictured), dropped Greene for a six-yard loss and forced the Jets to put the Wildcat back in the toy box.
Unlike Hood, Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer aren't high draft picks. Redman was undrafted and Dwyer was a sixth-round pick in 2010.
Unfortunately for the Steelers, both showed why so many teams passed on them Sunday. Neither running back really looked good, but Dwyer, who ran for 28 yards on 12 carries, showed a little more pep in his step than Redman, who had 25 yards on 12 carries.
Redman, though, deserves credit for blocking Kenrick Ellis on 3rd-and-8 from the 50 late in the first quarter. Ben Roethlisberger completed an 18-yard pass to Antonio Brown on the play, and the Steelers eventually kicked a field goal to narrow their deficit to 7-6.
Baron Batch, a seventh-round draft pick at running back, teamed up with Heath Miller to block Aaron Maybin and protect Roethlisberger on a 25-yard pass to Brown on 3rd-and-32 at the end of the third quarter. It didn't get the Steelers a first down, but the gain was key in terms of field position. The Steelers, leading 20-10 at the time, punted from the Jets' 48 instead of their own 27.
Also blocking well for the Steelers was their tight end trio, especially on their 14-play, 10-minute touchdown drive that sealed the game in the fourth quarter.
Redman and Dwyer saved their best for this drive. Redman gained 10 yards on a 3rd-and-1 from the Steelers' 34, with left tackle Max Starks and tight end Leonard Pope opening up the alley.
Later in the drive, from the Jets' nine-yard line, Dwyer gained seven yards around a wall created by Pope, Heath Miller and rookie tight end David Paulson.
On the next play, Redman scored on a two-yard run, with left guard Willie Colon pulling to the right side. At first, it looked like Redman would be stopped short of the end zone, but Colon's block gave him time to make a second effort and score.
Colon, by the way, has looked like a beast so far this season. He seems to be playing with a nasty edge after virtually missing two seasons with injuries, as if he wants to make up for lost time.
The Steelers' entire offensive line deserves a pat on the back for a job well done Sunday. Roethlisberger was sacked three times, but one of those sacks came when Roethlisberger gave himself up and slid behind the line of scrimmage on an apparent broken play.
That means the offensive line was essentially responsible for two sacks. If Roethlisberger is sacked twice a game, he'd be sacked 32 times for the season.
The Steelers would take that.
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