By Tyson Rauch
On Sunday the New York Jets (3-2) take on the Pittsburgh Steelers (0-4) at MetLife Stadium. The Jets are coming off of an inspiring victory over the Atlanta Falcons while the Steelers enter the match-up rejuvenated following a bye week. This game has all of the makings of a “trap game” for Gang Green and it will be up to head coach Rex Ryan to keep his team focused. A victory for the Jets on Sunday would lead to a marquee divisional game against the New England Patriots the following week.
The Pittsburgh offense has struggled this season as their offensive line has been decimated by injuries. Pro-Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey is out for the year with a knee injury and left tackle Mike Adams has struggled through the first four games of the season. The team tried to address the left tackle position by trading for Levi Brown who may make his first start against the Jets on Sunday.
The inconsistent play on the Pittsburgh offensive line has resulted in a mediocre running game that is ranked 31st in the NFL. The New York Jets defense, which is ranked 2nd against the run, should be able to stifle the Steelers ground attack. Muhammad Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson could have a field day penetrating the Pittsburgh line of scrimmage opening up plays for the Jets linebackers.
Pittsburgh Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger leads a passing attack that is ranked 9th in the NFL averaging over 283 yards a game. Big Ben has several targets to choose from including wide receivers Emmanuel Sanders (20 catches), Jerricho Cotchery (15 catches), Antonio Brown (32 catches) and tight end Heath Miller.
The New York Jets secondary must remain consistent in coverage while the defensive line attacks the quarterback. Gang Green has been doing an excellent job of getting into the backfield and should have success on Sunday against the Steelers line that has already surrendered 15 sacks and 22 quarterback pressures. Look for Rex Ryan to use a variety of blitz packages to disrupt the Pittsburgh passing game.
Ground and Pound
The Steelers defense has struggled against the run giving up over 122 yards a game which is ranked 25th in the NFL. The Jets will look to take advantage of the Pittsburgh defense with their platoon of dynamic running backs in a variety of formations. Bilal Powell, Chris Ivory, and Mike Goodson should be able to replicate their effective performance against the Falcons on Sunday against the Steelers.
New York Jets quarterback Geno Smith is coming off of an excellent performance on Monday night where he threw for 199 yards and three touchdowns with zero turnovers. Smith must continue to make smart decisions with the football as the Steelers defense is ranked 5th against the pass. The rookie quarterback has to spread the ball around to his receivers and take what the defense gives him. If Gang Green can consistently run the ball, Geno Smith should be able to make some big plays down the field off of play action pass.
On paper the Pittsburgh Steelers are a 0-4 team which has some discounting the team’s ability to win on Sunday. The Steelers will be rested off a bye week and prepared to give the Jets all they can handle in terms of a physical football game. Gang Green must be ready to win the battles in the trenches and establish their aggressive style of football early in the game. If the Jets suffer an emotional letdown from Monday night, they could be in for a long afternoon.
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Tyson Rauch is a freelance writer covering all things NFL. His work can be found on Examiner.com.