5 Bold Predictions for New York Jets' Week 6 Matchup
Both the New York Jets and the Pittsburgh Steelers have something to prove in their Week 6 matchup. The Jets seek their second consecutive win after upsetting Atlanta. The Steelers seek to salvage their season after an 0-4 start.
It's a contest that pits the pass-oriented Steelers offense against the defensive-minded Jets.
Here are some comparisons through the season's first four games:
- Both the Jets' and Steelers' opponents have a cumulative four-week record of 9-7 (the Steelers had a bye in Week 5).
- They've faced one common opponent, the Tennessee Titans. The Jets lost 38-13. The Steelers lost 16-9.
- The Steelers had outscored the Jets after four weeks 69-68.
- The Jets had surrendered 22 fewer points, 88 to the Steelers' 110.
- The Jets' turnover ratio was minus-10 compared to the Steelers' minus-11 through four games.
Despite their 0-4 record and the game's MetLife Stadium location, the Steelers are only three-point underdogs. There are a few possible reasons:
- The Steelers are coming off their bye week. The Jets played Monday night. This gives the Steelers advantages in both preparation time and rest.
- Despite their start, the Steelers still have a certain aura because of their championship heritage. Plus, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and safety Troy Polamalu are established performers. In the public's eye, the Jets are still searching for an identity, with few established stars and no playoff appearances since 2010.
Winning this game would be a significant accomplishment for the Jets, despite the Steelers' record. Defeating the Steelers would give the Jets their first winning streak of the season.
Granted, winning two in a row is a modest streak. But it's a first step in establishing the "habit of winning" that separates good teams from the mediocre. It would break the win (or loss) every other game pattern that is the perfect path to an 8-8 season.
True, at the beginning of the year many thought 8-8 would be beyond the Jets' reach. But the upset in Atlanta may have won the Jets respect.
However, to improve their image as a team with potential, beating the Steelers isn't enough. It isn't a matter of if the Jets win this game; it's how they win it. They must win it in a way that separates them from the bottom-dwellers of the NFL.
In their wins over Buffalo and Atlanta, the Jets took an early lead. However, they allowed both opponents to rally and either tie the game or take the lead, forcing a fourth-quarter comeback.
This time, I want the Jets to lead from start to finish. I want them to seize control of the game from the opening kickoff and not let go until the final gun.
I'd love to see a score like Jets 28, Steelers 13.
As the Jets pursue that goal, see if the predictions in the following slides come true.
- Advanced statistics (requires paid subscription): ProFootballFocus.com
- League scores, standings and statistics: NFL.com
- New York Jets' depth chart, roster and statistics: NewYorkJets.com
- Pittsburgh Steelers' depth chart, roster and statistics: Steelers.com
NOTE: For comparison purposes, the Jets' statistics in this article reflect their first four games. The statistics on these sites will most likely reflect five games. I apologize for whatever confusion this may cause.
Steelers' Nose Tackle Steve McLendon Will Challenge Jets Center Nick Mangold
Pittsburgh's best defensive lineman may be nose tackle Steve McLendon. He'll face Jets center Nick Mangold.
You'd think, given Mangold's reputation, that this matchup's outcome would be a draw. However, if Mangold's first four games serve as an indication, this conclusion may be premature.
It's not that Mangold will give up any sacks. According to Pro Football Focus (requires paid subscription), he's only given up one quarterback hit and seven quarterback hurries in four games.
McLendon has one quarterback hit and four quarterback hurries to his credit. It's not McLendon's pass rush that should worry Mangold.
Instead, it's his run play.
McLendon has made nine solo tackles and assisted on eight others. What's important, though, is the significance that many of his tackles have. Pro Football Focus considers six of McLendon's tackles as "stops," tackles that terminate the play short of its intended objective.
In other words, it's not the quantity of McLendon's tackles that should concern Mangold. It's their quality.
When he's not making tackles, McLendon disrupts plays by pushing blockers into the pocket on pass plays or into the ball-carrier's lanes on rushes. Mangold must prevent this.
The Jets could enjoy a big offensive day against the Steelers. To do so they must control the core of the Steelers' defense: McLendon, safety Troy Polamalu and linebacker LaMarr Woodley. Mangold will play a critical role.
Steelers' Offensive Tackles Will Struggle
Despite their reliance on Ben Roethlisberger's arm, the Steelers have not protected him well.
He's been sacked 15 times. According to Pro Football Focus (requires paid subscription), tackles Mike Adams and Marcus Gilbert are responsible for seven. That's almost half the total.
Adams has been on the field for 250 of the Steelers' 256 offensive snaps. Gilbert has seen 243 snaps. In addition to allowing seven sacks, they've also been charged with eight quarterback hits and 24 quarterback hurries.
In fact, Adams has lost his starting job. The Steelers' depth chart shows him at third-string left tackle, behind Kelvin Beachum and new arrival Levi Brown.
Jets defenders like Muhammad Wilkerson, Calvin Pace and Sheldon Richardson must be licking their chops as they contemplate a possible repeat of their eight-sack performance against Buffalo.
That may not happen. But winning the matchups against the Steelers' offensive tackles is one of the Jets' critical keys to victory.
The Jets must keep opposing quarterbacks uncomfortable to control the passing game. Their secondary's pass coverage still needs work. For evidence, just review the 154-yard performance by Tampa Bay's Vincent Jackson, the 97-yard performance by Atlanta's tight end Tony Gonzalez and the 99-yard performance by Atlanta's wideout Julio Jones.
The Jets sacked Atlanta's Matt Ryan twice. He still completed 36 of 45 passes for 319 yards and two touchdowns.
They must not allow Ben Roethlisberger to do likewise.
One Steelers Receiver Will Gain 100 Yards
The Jets-Steelers matchup reminds me of the season's opener against Tampa Bay in a couple of ways. They both involve wide receivers.
One is the return of former Jets fan favorite Jerricho Cotchery to MetLife Stadium. The other is the potential for a big receiving game.
However, that doesn't mean Ben Roethlisberger will have a field day.
In the Tampa Bay game, Vincent Jackson caught seven passes for 154 yards. Mike Williams added four catches for 52 yards and a touchdown. Yet Josh Freeman only passed for 210 yards.
That's similar to what might happen against Pittsburgh.
Here's why: Ben Roethlisberger has not enjoyed peace in the pocket. He's participated in 184 passing plays, according to Pro Football Focus (requires paid subscription). The Steelers' team stats acknowledge 15 sacks.
In addition to those sacks, Roethlisberger has endured 16 other hits and 41 hurries. He's endured some sort of pressure in 71 of 184 passing plays.
With the Jets' front seven, Roethlisberger should get more of the same. The Jets' 14 sacks, 14 quarterback hits and 47 quarterback hurries in four games attest to that. That should at least reduce Roethlisberger's effectiveness, at best produce momentum-changing turnovers.
However, when his protection holds, Roethlisberger will be able to exploit a Jets secondary that is the defense's Achilles' heel.
Let's just say that through Week 4, the Jets' four worst Pro Football Focus (requires paid subscription) grades in pass coverage belonged to the members of the Jets' Week 1 starting secondary: safeties Antonio Allen and Dawan Landry join cornerbacks Antonio Cromartie and Dee Milliner.
The worst grade belongs to Cromartie, one of the Jets' two 2012 Pro Bowl invitees. He's been battling a hip injury.
Three Steelers receivers stand ready to benefit, including Jerricho Cotchery.
Cotchery's career has revived this year. His 248 receiving yards are the most he's had in a season since leaving the Jets. He's also equalled his post-Jets seasonal touchdown high with two. His 15 receptions are two shy of that post-Jets seasonal high as well.
On the Steelers' depth chart, Cotchery backs up Antonio Brown. Brown leads the team with 32 catches for 412 yards and two touchdowns.
Emmanuel Sanders lines up opposite Brown. He's contributed 20 catches for 231 yards.
If any Steelers receiver were to have a 100-yard day, the sentimental favorite would be Cotchery. However, I think it will be Brown.
Brown averages over 100 receiving yards per game. He's the only Steelers receiver who does. It's more a reflection of his number of touches than of their productivity. Cotchery's 16.5 yards per catch top Brown's 12.9 yards per catch. However, Brown averages eight receptions per game. Cotchery averages 3.75 receptions.
Hopefully, this is a prediction I get completely wrong.
Jets' Running Game Will Dominate
Week 6 could see a breakout rushing performance by the New York Jets. They gave hints about how it could happen against Atlanta.
There are several reasons for this prediction:
- The Steelers' running game is anemic. Through four games, they've gained 232 rushing yards, an average of 58 yards per game. The Jets had gained 492 rushing yards through four games, an average of 123 yards.
- The Steelers have given up 491 rushing yards in four games compared to the Jets' 317 yards.
- Against Atlanta, the trio of Bilal Powell, Chris Ivory and Mike Goodson ran 19 times for 97 yards. That's an average of 5.1 yards per carry.
- Pittsburgh's leading rusher, Felix Jones, has 74 yards in 19 carries, an average of 3.9 yards per carry. The only ball-carrier who averages 4.0 yards per carry or more is wide receiver Antonio Brown. Brown has rushed twice for 14 yards.
- The Steelers hope that Le'Veon Bell's return helps their running game. But he has only gained 57 yards in 16 carries, averaging 3.6 yards per carry. However, Bell owns the team's only two rushing touchdowns. He might help the Steelers in the red zone.
Combine these observations with the Jets' success in stopping backs like Tampa Bays' Doug Martin and Tennessee's Chris Johnson. The result is a game in which the team most likely to succeed on the ground is the Jets.
The Jets rushed for 178 yards against Buffalo, including 149 yards by Powell. Powell may not attain that number, but the Jets might still achieve a seasonal high thanks to contributions from Goodson and Ivory.
Goodson and Ivory combined for 59 yards in seven carries, averaging over 8.3 yards per carry. They need more touches, both to spell Bilal Powell and to provide the inside and outside explosiveness that may be the missing element in Powell's game.
Of the three, Powell is undoubtedly the workhorse, capable of sustained double-digit carries game after game. That durability is Powell's strength and the weakness that dogs both Ivory and Goodson. However, should they stay healthy, it will be fun to see how their roles in the running attack evolve.
In addition, if Geno Smith has shown signs of overcoming his fumbling woes, Marty Mornhinweg may include him in the running game as well. Smith gained 21 yards in three carries against Atlanta, averaging 7.0 yards per carry. That gave Powell, Ivory, Goodson and Smith a combined total of 118 rushing yards in 22 carries, 5.4 yards per carry.
At that rate, it would take 33 carries to surpass the Jets' season high.
It may not be the "Ground and Pound" days that Rex Ryan relishes, but the running game will be a vital cog in the Jets attack.
Geno Smith Could Have a Career Passing Day
Against the Falcons, Geno Smith proved he could play a turnover-free game. He completed 16 of 20 passes for 199 yards and two touchdowns. He ran three times for 21 yards.
Most impressively, he led the drive that resulted in Nick Folk's game-winning field goal.
It was a fine example of game management. The question is how long it will take for Smith to progress from game manager to difference-maker.
Maybe doing so in a shortened preparation week against the veteran defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau is asking too much. However, LeBeau can't make the plays on the field.
That's why Smith might surpass the 331 passing yards he generated against Buffalo.
Pittsburgh's inability to generate turnovers and pressure opposing quarterbacks lies behind this projection. The Steelers have generated zero turnovers and only four sacks.
What's more, according to Pro Football Focus (requires paid subscription), they've managed to hit opposing quarterbacks 11 times while inducing 44 hurries. The Buffalo Bills, by comparison, achieved 13 sacks, 18 quarterback hits and 61 quarterback hurries in their first four games.
In other words, Pittsburgh has given opposing quarterbacks less grief in the pocket. The Steelers are attempting a fix by replacing defensive end Ziggy Hood with third-year man Cameron Heyward. But Heyward has 2.5 career sacks in 35 games.
That points to a great day for Smith.
Without pressure, Smith's quarterback rating through four games is 80.0. He's completed 60 of 88 passes (68.2 percent) for 806 yards and three touchdowns. The only black mark is six interceptions. His Pro Football Focus (requires paid subscription) grade for these possessions is 2.7, significantly above average.
Under pressure, however, Smith's rating over four games is 47.6. He has completed 18 of 48 pass attempts (37.5 percent) for 284 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions. His grade drops to minus-3.5.
Of course, there are some legitimate reasons why offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg might want Smith to continue in his game-management role
For one, Santonio Holmes will probably miss this game because of his hamstring injury. Kellen Winslow's sore knee may keep him out as well.
It will be up to Jeff Cumberland to continue the strong play he displayed in Atlanta, where he caught three passes for 79 yards and a touchdown. Jeremy Kerley stepped up as well, making five catches for 68 yards and a touchdown.
Smith will need more from Stephen Hill than the two catches for 21 yards he produced in Atlanta. He'll need someone like Clyde Gates, Ryan Spadola (remember him?) or a running back to contribute as well.
Without Holmes in his lineup and with Troy Polamalu primed to wreak his usual havoc, having a big passing day is no guarantee for Smith.
But the way the Steelers have played so far, it's a definite possibility.
Follow Philip Schawillie on Twitter: @digitaltechguid.
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