The New York Jets, fresh off a big Monday Night Football win. The Pittsburgh Steelers, winless and now table tennis-less. One franchise impressing their way through what was supposed to be a difficult transition, and another struggling to find the answers to replace their stars of yesteryear.
On paper this was a game the Jets would win, but a resurgent Steelers outfit took hold of this game and even managed to generate their first two takeaways of the year as rookie Geno Smith crumbled in the second half.
It means Pittsburgh can head into the rest of the season with some confidence as their quarterback led them to victory, while the Jets must return to the drawing board and figure out where it all went wrong.
Pittsburgh – Three Performances of Note
Big Ben to Brown
It wasn’t an easy day for the Steelers’ offense. They, predictably, couldn’t get anything done on the ground as they huffed and puffed to 2.8 yards per carry. However, they did make plays in the passing game when they needed to. The headline play saw Antonio Cromartie beaten by an Emmanuel Sanders double move for a touchdown, but it was the connection of Ben Roethlisberger (+3.3) to Antonio Brown (+3.8) that really caught the eye.
The two came close to a touchdown on a play that was part drop and part pass break up, but they did connect on nine of the other 10 balls exchanged between them as the Jets’ plan to slow down the explosive Brown with Isaiah Trufant didn’t work out. He may have had a longest gain of only 16 yards, but five of those balls went for first downs and he drew a pass interference penalty when he got in behind Cromartie. We’ve got more games to grade this week, but right now Brown sits atop our wide receiver rankings.
Slow Start, Fantastic Finish
Suffice to say things didn’t start well for Jarvis Jones (-0.6). He was outfoxed by the Jets starting off with an option run, crashing down and assuming the “chasing his tail” position as Geno Smith scampered for a 9-yard run. There was further evidence later on in the half as to why he’s spelled currently (in this game he saw 33 of 58 defensive snaps) when he let Jeff Cumberland down-block him out of a play, and then later viciously seal him off and widen a running lane when Jones had outside contain (Q1, 9.04).
However, he did bounce back from this and he did so at an extremely important time of the game. His hit of Smith with 3:08 to go in the game set up Lawrence Timmons for the easiest of picks to essentially ice the game, but the play before (Q4, 3.14) was even more encouraging. He got D’Brickashaw Ferguson moving on skates back to his quarterback with a hefty bullrush. It’s been a far from dominant rookie year for Jones, but there have been flashes.
Much has been made of the injuries the Steelers suffered across their offensive line, with the latest being the loss of Levi Brown during pregame warm-ups. Well, given how Brown has played that may prove to be a blessing in disguise, with jack of all trades offensive linemen Kelvin Beachum (-0.6) stepping in and, outside of the penalties, doing a more than serviceable job.
Now don’t get me wrong, he wasn’t wowing anybody with his play, but outside of the penalties you rarely noticed him. Given how Mike Adams was playing that’s a big step up. It wasn’t quite as easy a day for Fernando Velasco (-1.9) who became the latest man to find out that Damon Harrison is a handful and then some.
New York – Three Performances of Note
Step Back from Smith
After being afforded time and a clean pocket against the Falcons on Monday Night, Geno Smith (-3.5) had a different challenge this time. The more defensively sound Steelers didn’t get a boatload of pressure (14 of 37 drop-backs) but nor did they leave big windows for the rookie to hit open targets. The results, particularly downfield, were not good. The at times hesitant Smith went 6 of 14 on passes aimed over 10 yards in the air, including a horrible interception that should never have been thrown with three defenders in the area (Q3, 8.01).
In hindsight, that was a critical play as Smith took points off the board while allowing Pittsburgh to take time off the clock, swing the field position, and force the Jets to get more aggressive with their offensive game plan. That put Smith in a situation where too much was asked of him, and after a relatively solid first half he melted down with some crucial off-target throws.
As it should be with rookies, it’s a marathon and not a sprint. Smith is going to have more days like this.
He’s a handful isn’t he? Whatever the Steelers tried to do they just couldn’t get a grip on Damon Harrison (+5.0). With his sixth positively graded game of the year, Harrison has built on his 22 rookie snaps to become an integral part of the Jets’ early-down defense.
The problem for opposing offensive coordinators is what do you do with him? The Steelers often got two bodies on him but he’s so stout at the point of attack that he just refuses to give up ground, making life exceptionally easy for the team’s linebackers to honor their assignments and sweep up for an easy tackle and a short gain. Then if you leave him one-on-one he’s got the combination of power and explosiveness to beat a linemen off the snap (Q4, 14.24), or just rag doll them around so that a running back can’t even cut it back to make a play (Q2, 14.14).
It was hard to imagine the Jets replacing the impact of Sione Pouha in their destructive defenses from 2011 and before, but in Harrison they’ve found another gem who can play multiple spots along the defensive line and cause havoc from them all.
Playing Hurt and Letting it Show
On his day Antonio Cromartie (-4.3) is a fine corner. Capable of matching the most physical receivers in the league, he was as good as it got in that regard last year. But let’s not kid ourselves into thinking he’s replicating that form in 2013. He’s not.
Now, he went into this game having already given up some big plays, and been spared allowing more by some off target quarterback play, so let’s not go using his injury to excuse him completely. He struggled with the Steelers releasing to his inside as if he was expecting safety help in formations that were really never going to provide it — none more so than when Emmanuel Sanders twisted him inside and out to pick up a touchdown that created a gap between the two teams that was never to be bridged. By the end of the day he’d been flagged for a penalty and allowed five balls into his coverage for 92 yards.
He’s better than that.
– Jets safety Antonio Allen showed a real nose for the ballcarrier in this one, finishing with six defensive stops.
– Antonio Brown led the Steelers with 34 routes run. That was three more than Sanders, while third receiver Jerricho Cotchery managed just 13. Rookie Derek Moye was on the field for just five snaps as Pittsburgh used an awful lot of single receiver sets (31.3% of plays).
– The Steelers’ line allowed just nine pressures on 35 drop-backs.
PFF Game Ball
Showing the kind of poise this team needs, Ben Roethlisberger really overcame the lack of a running game in this one.
Follow Khaled on Twitter: @PFF_Khaled