By Jeff Capellini, WFAN.com
NEW YORK (WFAN) — It would be easy for the Jets and their fans to get way ahead of themselves right now. Who can really blame them? They just spat in the eye of the intelligentsia. They rose to their collective feet and declared that they very much should be taken seriously. They fed their detractors a Sione Po’uha-sized slice of humble pie.
But, as the cliche goes, it was, after all, just one week. The idea now is to bottle the ingredients from Sunday’s blowout win over Buffalo and mass produce them, because the next month is going to be like navigating the streets in a Transformers movie.
It will start this weekend in perennial pain in the side Pittsburgh, then will turn toward Miami before the Jets return home to play mighty San Francisco and high-powered Houston.
So, everyone in Jets Nation needs to get their wiggles out because following Monday’s off day this team will have to shift it back into gear the rest of the week. The Steelers figure to be a very difficult opponent and the place they call home is a madhouse, one the Jets know well. Pittsburgh owns a 17-4 lead in the all-time series, including the playoffs. The Jets have won two of the last three meetings, but the one loss was in the 2010 AFC Championship game, which was played at Heinz.
The Steelers, right now anyway, are not without their faults. They have an offensive line that by comparison would make the Jets’ preseason version look impenetrable. It’s a mess. It has no depth whatsoever. Denver exploited it throughout its 31-19 win on Sunday, pestering quarterback Ben Roethlisberger all night until it finally imploded late in the fourth quarter, culminating in a series of sacks and histrionics from the Broncos that Pittsburgh head coach Mike Tomlin is likely not going to forget any time soon.
Pittsburgh was also missing key pieces. Four backs combined for just 67 yards. The Steelers’ top running back, Rashard Mendenhall, who has been rehabbing an ACL tear for the last eight months, was not one of them. It’s believed he will return against the Jets, but you can also expect to see the likes of a Jonathan Dwyer, Isaac Redman and Chris Rainey.
The Steelers also played without key defensive pieces. Safety Ryan Clark, who was held out Sunday because of a blood disorder the team felt would not jive with the high altitude of Denver, will likely play, while linebacker James Harrison, who is still working his way back from minor knee surgery, could play. Both, if healthy, would make Pittsburgh that much better.
But getting back to the Pittsburgh offense, Mendenhall will make its ground game better. The Jets, however, could have their best run-stuffer back in the lineup as well. Po’uha missed almost all of the preseason and the regular season opener with a back problem, but if he’s ready to go Sunday he should be a difference maker. The Jets allowed 195 yards — and an eye-popping 7.5 per carry — against the Bills, but it’s hard to tell if most of that was a byproduct of being up so big and relaxing or playing a lot of prevent. The Jets did have some brain locks with their technique, failing to make what appeared to be routine tackles. I don’t think this is a huge deal, again, given the scenario they found themselves in. Add Po’uha to the mix and take into account the enormity of Sunday’s situation and I would expect the Jets to look more like the run-stuffing unit of the previous two years.
All that said, the Steelers are clearly a pass-first operation, one that is filled with numerous dangerous targets, not to mention a quarterback that can make every throw and has a penchant for making something out of nothing with his legs and improvisation. The Jets match up fairly well here, that is, if all-everything corner Darrelle Revis plays.
Revis got his bell rung on Sunday from an inadvertent kick from teammate Bart Scott and is said to have a mild concussion. Rex Ryan said whether he plays or not depends on how he feels going forward. I’d bet on Revis playing. The Jets absolutely need Revis on the field this week in particular.
The Steelers are loaded at wide receiver. Mike Wallace is the burner, Antonio Brown is the tactician and Emmanuel Sanders does a little bit of everything. From where I’m standing, if Revis is good to go, the Jets need to put him on Brown, because he’s Roethlisberger’s favorite target. Antonio Cromartie is a better shadow for Wallace because he can run with him. Not that Revis can’t, but I believe Brown would have a lot of success sneaking into seams behind Cromartie, who tends to over-pursue for the big play. Wallace is more the linear route runner, a better matchup for Cromartie. Kyle Wilson had a beautiful interception against Buffalo and is coming along in his maturation, but he’ll be put to the test by Sanders, who is underrated and gifted.
If Revis doesn’t play I could see the Jets perhaps rush three and drop more guys into coverage. That’s the true value of Revis. Without him on the field the Jets’ entire defensive concept could very well change, and it would be something different against basically any opponent, because at this level every team is at least two and sometimes three stud wide receivers deep.
Ryan and Mike Pettine will also have to figure out a way to cover Heath Miller. The Jets spent the offseason trying to come up with ways to contain tight ends, long a glaring weakness in the Ryan scheme. They went out and signed safeties LaRon Landry and Yeremiah Bell in the hope of them combining to deal with New England’s Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez twice. We’ll see if they are up to the challenge when they deal with Miller, because if a linebacker has to cover him it could be a long day.
Obviously, the big question coming into the regular season surrounded the Jets’ offense. It got to be a broken record, with so many so-called experts predicting a scoring famine. Then the Jets went out and scored four touchdowns against Buffalo (in addition to Jeremy Kerley’s 68-yard punt return for TD and Cromartie’s 43-yard pick-6). Now, of course, the detractors, many of the same people who predicted doom and gloom for this offense, are turning around and saying, well, the Bills’ defense is terrible, the same unit, ironically, that was largely touted prior to Sunday’s kickoff as having the greatest front four since the ’85 Bears.
I’ve been saying for a long time now that patience is truly a virtue with this offense. Did I expect the explosion we saw Sunday? No. But I also stated on numerous occasions on the air and on Twitter that the Jets would likely get their act together sooner rather than later.
The next task is to build on what we saw Sunday. I think many of the things the Jets did against Buffalo will also work against Pittsburgh. I’m mostly referring to their misdirection execution. The Bills never knew what was coming. The mass substitutions, including the injection of the Tim Tebow-led “wildcat,” kept Buffalo completely off-balance. And even though Tebow was largely ineffective just the idea of not knowing what the Jets would do next was cover enough for quarterback Mark Sanchez to get back out there with a plan, especially after being on the sideline for 30 seconds or so from time to time to discuss specific plays further with the people who diagrammed them.
The result of all of that, including an extremely balanced play-calling scheme from offensive coordinator Tony Sparano, was Sanchez playing like an All-Pro and rookie wide receiver Stephen Hill performing like the next coming of … you fill in the blank. Sanchez’s throws on crossing routes, something that’s been problematic in the past, were first rate. His throws on out patterns were almost totally on the money. He completed just one pass to a running back and hooked up with former favorite target tight end Dustin Keller just once, which can be looked at as a refusal to check down, something this quarterback is often lambasted for doing regularly.
The Steelers did something very uncharacteristic for them on Sunday night. They got beat up defensively late, getting outscored 17-6 in the fourth quarter. Now, you could make the argument that Peyton Manning could do that to any team, but it was the manner in which he did what he did — the misdirection, the clock management, the patience — that the Jets also displayed in part against Buffalo. The result in both cases was the Steelers and Bills, respectively, getting completely frustrated, almost to the point where they knew they were never getting a big stop.
And Shonn Greene got better as the game wore on. He only averaged 3.5 yards per carry, but ended up with 94 and a touchdown, showing he can be the move-the-chains and game-finishing running back that can work in this offense.
Monitor Revis’ status the rest of the week for he’s obviously the key to whatever defensive game plan the Jets employ, but if he doesn’t play, don’t rule out this offense picking up everyone, regardless of the fact that the Steelers’ defense is light years better than the Bills’. The Jets should be able to do some good things Sunday at Heinz Field.
Enough to win? There’s a better chance now than there was two weeks ago.
Read more columns by Jeff Capellini and follow him on Twitter at @GreenLanternJet
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