Thursday, September 13, 2012

Despite Steelers Injuries: "No Excuses...We Just Gotta Get Better”

Tim Tebow, Mark Sanchez and the rest of the New York Jets bring their sometimes quasi-West Coast/rhythm offense, sometimes Single Wing/Spread Option/Wildcat offense into Heinz Field to battle the Steelers. In a game where they will be smarting from a loss to the Broncos, the man who was primarily responsible for the previous loss in Denver will be seen yet again. The Steelers plan to be ready for what may be thrown their way. 

Outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley, reflecting the necessity to avoid two conference losses this early in the season, was direct about it. Along with his quote above stating that they must get better he also offered a guarantee, of sorts: “We will not be 0-2.”

Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin was more diplomatic when he spoke of the Jets and what they may throw the Steelers way. 

“I really think what we saw in their last game is just the tip of the iceberg,” Tomlin said when referring to Tebow’s Wildcat role in the Jets’ 48-28 win over the Buffalo Bills on Sunday. “It will require some extra work on our part. It will not be an extended or unusual extra amount of work [though] in preparation.”

Tony Sparano first brought the Wildcat offense to the NFL when he was the Dolphins coach. He used running back Ronnie Brown as a Single Wing-type tailback who could rush or pass. Tebow beat the Steelers in the 2011 playoffs in Denver, though, with more of the Spread Offense than the Wildcat when he accounted for 346 total yards and two touchdowns. -

Sparano is now the Jets offensive coordinator and, while he uses Tebow in that Wildcat, actually getting ready for the more conventional rhythm offense with Mark Sanchez should be priority. As Tomlin said, there "will not be an extended or unusual extra amount" of practice for the Wildcat. Rightly so, considering it is Sanchez who is coming off a career game where he was 19 of 27 for 266 yards and three touchdowns. He lead the Jets to a team record in points for an opening weekend.

Jets running back Shonn Greene needs to be accounted for as well as he ran 27 times for 94 yards, exactly what the Broncos recorded against the Steelers Sunday. There are also tight end Justin Keller and wide receivers Stephen Hill, Jeremy Kerley (who may not play due to injury) and some guy named Antonio or Santonio or something. 

The Jets have weapons and, despite the fumbles by Greene and the ineffective play Tebow on Sunday, they can beat you on the ground as well as in the air. The Steelers must be ready in all phases of the game in defense. 

Because of that potential versatility of the Jets offense, Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau must be able to adjust, must not be stubborn in his schemes/play calling and must PREACH being gap sound (especially in the Wildcat) and tackling the catch. He and the Steelers were poor in all of those areas against the Broncos. There have even been rumblings that LeBeau has been guilty of at least two of the three for a few years now. A solid, if not dominant, performance this week and beyond will quiet that talk.

The defensive line didn't hold the point of attack like we've seen them do in the past, though it was at least better than opening day last season and the season on the whole. They only gave up 3.48 yards per carry (YPC), as opposed to last year's Cut Block Bowl in which the Ravens gashed them for 5.48 YPC, versus a 4.0 average given up last year. Let's hope it's the start of something good.

Despite most likely being without James Harrison again this week, and, along with Stevenson Sylvester, possibly not until after the bye, the thought of dominance may be a stretch, but a solid, Steeler-like defensive performance isn't. It just means we need Larry Foote, Lawrence Timmons and Jason Worilds (who may start ahead of Chris Carter) to pick up the slack...and for LaMarr Woodley to actually make it out of the locker room this time. 

It also means that the secondary needs to redeem themselves. Too many yards were allowed after the catch last Sunday. Players were out of position to make necessary tackles. When, then, they were in position to make the tackle, they didn't. Remember when the Steelers secondary was a fierce, sure-tackling unit? Carnell Lake does. 

To be fair, I remember when Ike Taylor could be counted on that way. I still feel he has the ability to do that and can remind Cortez Allen and Keenan Lewis how to also. We need to see it again. Desperately. Especially with trading Ryan Clark for Troy Polamalu, who is possibly out Sunday. According to LeBeau, Polamalu’s status is questionable after he sat out the past two days of workouts with a strained calf muscle. -

No matter who's playing or not, the Jets free safety LaRon Landry says they'll have the better defense in Heinz Field on Sunday. 

"We can be as great as we want to be. I'm not about to turn it into a controversy, but I think we can win over them, declared Landry. "I think we have all the pieces that they have, even better. To answer your question, I think we'll pull it off. If you look at the starter at each position....I like the matchup. I choose my guys over any of their guys, especially in our defensive scheme." -

He is certainly one who backs up what he says, as evidenced by knocking Bill's wide receiver Fred Jackson from the game and forcing a fumble last Sunday, and the Steelers know it. Most notably among those is Steelers WR Jerricho Cotchery who once played with the Jets. 

"We’re seeing some of the same stuff with Rex and how he calls it - guys all over the place. But I think the presence of (the) safety, Landry, I think that’s something I really haven’t seen," said Cotch. "He’s a physical presence. You have to find him. It’s been a while. He’s an excellent player and he’s making a lot of plays for the defense."

"The guy looks like Popeye...He's got the built-in spinach. He brings it," Cotch added.

Regardless of what Landry may bring to the game, the Steelers, especially the receivers, welcome the challenge the Jets defense brings. 

"We love it. We love when we see one-on-one coverage.You gotta beat your man then, and that's what we gotta do," Steelers WR Antonio Brown on facing the Jets man coverage. 

Steelers WR Mike Wallace on Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis: "He's a great player. He's probably the best in the league at what he does. But, I don't feel like he's going to change what we do out there. We're just going to go out there and play our game. Hopefully, we have success."

Wallace should expect success, he caught seven balls for 102 yards back on December 19, 2010 when he last faced the Jets. If Revis does play Sunday, though, as he's not practiced this week through Thursday due to a concussion, he more than likely would face Brown leaving Cromartie, the longer of the two cornerbacks to face Wallace. 

The man passing to those receivers, Ben Roethlisberger, has a new target also, though: Heath Miller. I pointed out in a previous article how seldom he'd been used in the red zone under Bruce Arians. I then suggested that in Todd Haley's offense Heath could get career numbers in either catches, yards and/or touchdowns. We saw a glimpse of that Sunday as he just missed having two scores in the red zone. Whether a 12, 21 or 22 personnel package, expect Haley to use him again that way Sunday. 

Haley also seems to be comfortable letting Ben call plays in no-huddle, something Big Ben talked openly about Thursday. -

Haley wants to run a ball control offense, knowing that the ability to run the ball early in the game opens up the passing game, but Big Ben still has to get involved early too. If they do that, I expect the Steelers will back up Woodley's "guarantee" and get their first win.