3TFO: Steelers @ Jets, Week 6
Coming off their bye after being defeated by the Vikings in London, the Pittsburgh Steelers make a much shorter trip to New York to play a must-win game. After their big win in Atlanta, the Jets will try to get into a winning streak after alternating wins and losses through the first five games of the year.
The Steelers and Jets have usually played intense, physical games and this won’t be different. There’s a lot of history between these teams and while Pittsburgh has won the recent matchups, their situation right now gives the Jets a chance to turn it around. Let’s take a look at three areas that will be decisive in the outcome.
Dominating the Trenches
The Jets’ defensive line is playing at such a high level that they are going to be a key matchup for every team they face. Three consecutive years drafting defensive linemen in the first round has finally paid off, and the New York franchise has one the best and youngest units in the league. The newest addition, Sheldon Richardson, selected with the 13th overall pick in the last draft, ranks fourth in overall grade among 3-4 defensive ends. He is also second in Run Stop Percentage behind only J.J. Watt in total defense stops vs. the run. That makes him the No. 1 contender in our Race for Rookie of the Year. His teammate Damon Harrison has been even more impressive defending the run with the best grade in that area among defensive tackles (+14.1) with 10 stops in 79 snaps.
After a slow beginning of the season with two negative grades in the first two games, Muhammad Wilkerson is starting to pick up where he left off last season especially as a pass rusher, although he has to be more consistent — half of his total pressures came in one game vs. the Bills. Wilkerson comes off his best game of the season, grading at +5.7, recording four defensive stops, one sack, and two hits. The rookie Richardson is coming along in pass rushing too, posting seven pressures in the last three games.
This Sunday they’ll be facing the 15th-ranked offensive line in our rankings after the first quarter of the season. It could get better for the Steelers if replacing Mike Adams for Kelvin Beachum turns out to be the right move. Adams ranks 61st among offensive tackles in Pass Blocking Efficiency after giving up 23 total pressures in 173 pass blocking snaps. On the other hand, Beachum surrendered five in 85 snaps — only six of them at left tackle though. Inside the line, second-year guard David DeCastro is grading out as the best of the group in run blocking (+3.4) and Ramon Foster is the highest-graded in pass blocking (+2.8). The Jets base their defense in the dominance of the line so it’ll be more important than ever for the Steelers’ interior offensive line to control them if they want to move the chains regularly.
Antonio Brown vs. Darrin Walls and Antonio Cromartie
This matchup could be just Antonio Brown vs. Antonio Cromartie but the Jets haven’t always used Cromartie to track down the opponent’s best receiver — he did last week against Julio Jones, but played left cornerback exclusively vs. the Titans and Bills. So let’s include Darrin Walls too in case the Jets play sides this week again. Cromartie isn’t playing as expected after the 2012 season. Maybe it’s the hip injury that’s bothering him but right now he ranks 97th out 104 cornerbacks, not what you want from your No. 1 CB. He’s allowing 105.7 passer rating into his coverage — 17th-worst among CBs. On the other side of the field, Walls had a total grade of -3.0 in his two starts. He was targeted 17 times, allowing 11 completions and 107 yards. He could have intercepted a couple of passes but failed to do it. Improving his ball skills would be a huge boost for a defense needing turnovers.
Right after facing Julio Jones, Roddy White, and Tony Gonzalez, Antonio Brown will provide another tough challenge for the Jets’ secondary. He stands fourth in WR Rating (127.8) with 32 catches in 39 targets — Top 3 in catch rate (82.1%) — for 412 yards and two touchdowns. His rating is 30 points above the next Steelers’ receiver, Jerricho Cotchery, and he is the only one who hasn’t seen a pass thrown in his direction intercepted. Brown is also a leader in Yards per Route Run with 2.38 that makes him a Top 10 receiver in the league. Despite having only two more targets than Emmanuel Sanders, Brown is clearly the No. 1 WR in Pittsburgh and shutting him down should be a priority for the Jets no matter which cornerback ends up covering him.
Last Monday we had our first glimpse at the backfield John Idzik and Rex Ryan built in the offseason when they traded for Chris Ivory during the NFL Draft and signed Mike Goodson as a free agent. Injuries kept Ivory off the field in a couple of games and Goodson served a four-game suspension, so it wasn’t until Week 5 when they could join Bilal Powell who took advantage of all those issues and is now the feature back. Marty Mornhinweg displayed different alignments in the backfield vs. the Falcons, featuring two running backs at times, that confused the defense and set up favorable situations in the run game.
Just like in the offensive line, the Steelers’ staff will make a change in their lineup by starting Cameron Heyward in Ziggy Hood’s place. Hood ranks sixth in Run Stop Percentage among 3-4 DEs with 10 stops in 110 snaps while Heyward got just one stop in 35 snaps. Brett Keisel isn’t making much of an impact in stopping the run grading at -2.5 and scoring 3.8 in Run Stop Percentage — 25th out 28 ranked 3-4 DEs. One issue at the linebacker position is missed tackles. Lawrence Timmons and Vince Williams have missed seven tackles together in the run game which puts them among the worst inside linebackers in Tackling Efficiency. This is a key matchup for both teams as establishing the run would open up lanes for Geno Smith or make him throw into tight spaces, forcing him to make mistakes if the Steelers keep the Jets’ running back trio under control.
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