New York has been one of the surprise teams this year with a 3-2 record following a big road victory against the Atlanta Falcons. The Jets are led by rookie quarterback Geno Smith, who is coming off of the best game of his young career.
Typically, playing against Smith would not be much of a problem for the Steelers. Under defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, the Steelers have a 16-2 record against rookie quarterbacks, per Neal Coolong of Behind the Steel Curtain.
A win against the Jets would provide some much-needed confidence for a veteran-led team that is not used to losing. But not everyone is down on the Steelers' chances.
Ryan Clark may have made the boldest prediction of the season when he told Alan Robinson of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that he believes that the Steelers can make the playoffs.
I am not ready to make that type of bold prediction for the rest of Pittsburgh’s season, but here are my bold prediction for Sunday’s game against the Jets.
Note: All stats via ESPN.com.
Jarvis Jones has yet to make a big play this season.
Jarvis Jones was one of the most dynamic pass-rushers in college football last season, but he does not have a sack in his NFL career.
With little to lose and playing against a rookie quarterback, LeBeau can unleash his defense on the Jets, and this should provide Jones with plenty of chances to get to Smith.
Smith has been sacked 18 times already this season, and this number will increase on Sunday. Despite ranking last in the league with just four sacks, the Steelers defense will play Smith aggressively as it tries to force the rookie into making mistakes.
Jones has had an extra week to prepare for the Jets and should once again be one of the leading pass-rushers on the Steelers defense. He will not power past any of the tackles, but rather take advantage of LeBeau’s blitzing scheme and pick up the first sack of his career.
The Steelers have struggled stopping the run.
The Jets average 122 yards on the ground, and the Steelers give up an average of 122.8 yards. It appears as though New York has a strong edge in this category.
Pittsburgh’s defensive line has not been particularly strong as it has in years past, but the real weakness has been seen at inside linebacker where the Steelers have a big void left by the injured Larry Foote.
Despite its struggles, you have to keep in mind that the defense has faced some of the best running backs in the game, including Chris Johnson and Adrian Peterson. Bilal Powell doesn’t exactly belong to this category.
LeBeau’s defense has always been designed to stop the run first, and this should be particularly evident as it faces off against a rookie quarterback. The extra week of preparation should allow the unit to get back to the basics and become a force again at stopping the run.
Not only will the defense hold the Jets’ running backs below their average of 122 yards, but it will keep them under 100 yards and force Smith to beat them with his arm.
Ben Roethlisberger has five interceptions in four games.
When Ben Roethlisberger has to throw the ball a lot, the Steelers tend to lose games. In fact, they have lost their last seven games when he’s thrown for 300 yards or more.
So far this season, he hasn’t had fewer than 33 pass attempts and has thrown 40 times or more the past two games. Over the past three games, Roethlisberger has thrown for at least 250 yards, but he only has four touchdowns during this stretch.
With Le’Veon Bell entering his second game as the starter, the rush offense—which has averaged just 58 yards per game—should get a boost.
In his debut against the Vikings, Bell showed flashes of brilliance with two touchdown runs, though he only gained 57 yards on 16 carries.
But Bell has the talent to do much better and should be in position to carry the ball at least 20 times for 75 yards, and this will be enough to ease the burden off of Roethlisberger’s back.
An improved ground attack and not playing from behind will limit Roethlisberger’s passing yards, yet increase the Steelers’ odds of winning.
Antonio Brown leads the Steelers in receptions and yards.
Roethlisberger may not need to throw the ball 40 times again this week, but that does not mean that Antonio Brown won’t shine again.
Brown has increased his production each week and had a season-high 12 receptions against the Vikings. His 32 receptions rank eighth in the league while his 412 receiving yards is good enough for 11th despite playing in only four games.
Though he does not have elite size or speed, Brown has shown the ability to get open and make the most of his opportunities by catching over 76 percent of his targets.
New York has been susceptible to its opponent’s top receiver, including a 154-yard performance from Vincent Jackson and a 99-yard performance from Julio Jones. Brown should be no exception to this.
Roethlisberger will once again look to Brown as his go-to receiver this week, and he will have enough targets to approach 100 yards and a score.
Cameron Heyward will start over Ziggy Hood against the Jets.
Zero takeaways. That is the number of turnovers that the Steelers have through four games. Expect this to change against the Jets.
The defense will be put in position to apply pressure to rookie quarterback Geno Smith with the hope of adding to his interception total. He has thrown at least two interceptions in three of his five games and has eight picks on the season.
Cameron Heyward’s place in the starting lineup, via the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, should help the pass rush as well as Cortez Allen getting a bye week to return to full health.
Besides forcing turnovers, Roethlisberger will be able to lean on a ground game more than he has in the opening quarter of the season and therefore won’t feel that he has to win it with his arm alone. This should reduce the number of bad throws.
Not only will Roethlisberger play smarter, he won’t turn the ball over for the first time this season.
A win in the turnover battle should equate to a win on the scoreboard.