The Pittsburgh Steelers and New York Jets face off this Sunday as two teams headed in different directions. The Jets are a surprising 3-2 and second in the AFC East. They are led by a rookie quarterback and powerful young defensive line. The Steelers have flopped to 0-4 and as a result, spent the bye week tinkering with their roster in order to wake up their team.
Those changes were designed to deliver their first victory this Sunday. Outside of the Steelers’ top two playmakers, Ben Roethlisberger and Troy Polamalu, which players need to win their matchups for the Steelers’ first ‘W’ of the season?
1. Heath Miller
The Jets issues at safety have played out well for opposing tight ends. Starting strong safety Dawan Landry is a hitting machine but is a liability in coverage. Since replacing free safety Antonio Allen with a mix of Jauqwain Jarrett and Josh Bush, the Jets defense has allowed a tight end to score in three straight games.
The great Tony Gonzalez nabbed 10 catches for 97 yards on Monday night. The Jets safeties also struggled to stop Bills TE Scott Chandler, who caught five balls for 79 yards, including a 33-yard touchdown. The Jets’ defense has been great against the run but their pass defense is their weak link. Perfect for Miller and possibly David Johnson to find success.
2. Emmanuel Sanders
I know I have been hard on Sanders this season. Hopefully he took the bye week to refocus and find a way to make crucial plays. Jets top corner Antonio Cromartie will be covering Steelers top receiver Antonio Brown. Brown is 11th in the league in yards and eighth in catches (in only four games). And no matter how much he brags, Cromartie is not “Revis Island.” Cromartie has already given up over 99 yards three times this season.
Still, Sanders has the biggest advantage this week. He will face former Woodland Hills graduate Damion Walls at the edge. Walls has stepped in for underperforming and injured rookie Dee Millner. Walls played decent against the Falcons, but Sanders must prove he can beat a former practice squad player. That includes throwing a few good blocks for No. 3 on the list.
3. Le’Veon Bell
Seems as if I am detailing the “all-offense advantage” for this Sunday; however, a fast offensive start could inspire the Steelers’ first win. Forcing Jets QB Geno Smith to play catch-up could rattle the rookie into a few of his already infamous mistakes (see: Butt Fumble Part II).
The Jets’ defensive line is comprised of three first-round draft picks – Mohammed Wilkerson, Quinton Coples and Sheldon Richardson. They have replaced the Steelers as one of the best defenses against the run, and they also harass opposing QBs. The D-line trio has recorded 6.5 of the Jets’ 16 sacks. But in their rush to blitz Matt Ryan last week, they gave up two rushing TDs to Jacquizz Rogers. If the Steelers could get Bell going in the running or passing game, Roethlisberger may live to face the Ravens next week.
4. Brett Keisel
While everyone is discussing which of the former first-round Steelers defensive lineman deserves to start this Sunday, it’s the former seventh-rounder who should be the biggest impact. The 12th-year veteran takes on rookie left guard Brian Winter, who will get his second start of the year. Shockingly, the Jets have given up more sacks (18) than the Steelers this season.
As for Cam Heyward vs. Ziggy Hood, perhaps the Steelers are taking advantage of their knowledge on former Pittsburgh guard Willie Colon. Colon can match with anyone’s strength, including weight-room junkie Ziggy Hood. Heyward’s quickness is more of a challenge and one the coaching staff want to take advantage of Sunday.