Just Win, Baby! Steelers-Jets Gameday Preview

These past few weeks have been a fun time to be a Steelers fan.  A three-game homestand has yielded three wins,  the defense has new life, and Ben Roethlisberger is a legitimate MVP candidate. This weekend the Steelers will travel to New Jersey to play the New York Jets.

The Jets are, by all measures, awful.  They haven’t won a game since Week One.  Their fans have raised money to have “Fire John Idzik” billboards put up outside the stadium.  Someone even hired a plane to fly a “Fire John Idzik” banner over Jets’ practice this week.  Some people (including myself) can’t believe Rex Ryan still has a job.  Their secondary is dreadful.  Geno Smith was swearing at fans earlier this season before being benched for Michael Vick. Things are bleak for Gang Green right now.  (I have never, ever understood why a fanbase would choose to name themselves after necrotizing tissue, but maybe that’s just me.)

This will probably be a confusing game to watch on TV, because this could be pretty close to a home game for the Steelers, so the cheering that occurs will probably be for the black and gold.  I know a lot of fans from Pittsburgh will make the short trek to New Jersey and Jets fans are clearly irate at the state of this team, so I can imagine a lot of them will stay home.  A Twitter friend and Jets fan confirmed this, saying he expects about 68,000 in black and gold at MetLife.

The Steelers look like the polar opposite of the Jets right now.  The defense is still giving up a decent amount of yardage and points, but they’re creating turnovers and getting pressure on quarterbacks again.  The defense making big plays has completely changed the complexion of this team.  There’s not much I can say about the offense that hasn’t been said.  They’ve become one of the NFL’s top offenses.  People are talking about Ben Roethlisberger being a candidate for NFL MVP and Antonio Brown being the best wide receiver in the league.  

Beyond the Jets just being bad and the Steelers being pretty good, this is a good matchup for the Steelers offensively.  The Jets front seven are decent, but their corners are bad and the defense as a whole is the second-worst in the league in terms of points allowed. With Ben doing his thing, it seems like he could surgically dismantle the defense pretty easily.

The defensive matchup makes me worry a little more.  Not because the Jets have a terrific offense–they don’t, they’re ranked 30th in the league in points scored)–but because the Steelers are without Troy Polamalu and Ryan Shazier today.  I could see Vick making some noise by running, and he’ll be harder to defend with those two guys out.  The Jets rushing game is pretty good as well, so the Steelers will most likely be playing a little more 3-4 defense than they have the past few week.  And they’ll be doing so without Steve McLendon.  Let’s hope Daniel McCullers can step up in his absence.

The biggest reason I’m worried about today’s game, besides the defensive injuries:  Percy Harvin.  Percy Harvin scares me.  He can be an extremely explosive player both on offense and in the return game.  The Steelers special teams has been pretty bad on returns.  They just had a return touchdown scored on them last week by Jacoby Jones.  I’d bet good money that they emphasized that in practice this week and hopefully will have tightened up a bit.

I don’t think the Steelers run away with this game.  I’m not even sure they win this game because it has “trap game” written all over it.  Some may say I’m just being a pessimist, but I’d say I’m being a realist.  I was at the Tampa game this year.  A game the Steelers had no business losing and it remains the only game Tampa has won all season.  The Steelers have a history of playing down to their competition (can anyone remember the last time they won in Oakland?  Because I can’t, and I know Ben hasn’t won out there in his 11-year career.)  Beyond that, think of how huge of a win this would be for the Jets.  You think Ryan hasn’t drilled it into their heads all week what a huge deal it would be to beat the hottest team in the NFL?  Because I guarantee he has.

Despite that last paragraph, I can’t pick against this offense right now.  I don’t think the Jets defense can handle AB, Martavis Bryant, Heath Miller, Markus Wheaton, Lance Moore, Le’Veon Bell catching passes out of the backfield, and LaGarette Blount steamrolling people and always getting a few more yards than  he probably should.  I definitely don’t think the Jets defense can handle Ben Roethlisberger.  He won’t throw six touchdowns today, but he’ll throw a few.

I still think it’ll be too close for comfort for much of the game.  But the Steelers just need to win, it doesn’t matter how they do it.  In the words of head coach, sound-bite machine, and my cat’s namesake, Mike Tomlin:  “Style points don’t matter.”  In the words of the the insufferable Al Davis: “Just win, baby!”

Predictions:

  • Ben throws 3 touchdowns (2 to Bryant, one to AB).
  • AB has 112 yards
  • James Harrison gets two sacks
  • The Steelers have more injuries and no remaining safeties on the active roster.  Luckily, defensive assistant and former OLB Joey Porter learned how to play safety at practice this week and makes a surprise return to the field.  Has two sacks and a forced fumble.

Steelers 28, Jets 20

P.S. Never forget:

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