Bent, TheJetsBlog.com I’ve been looking at some of the recent Steelers games to get an insight into how the team is performing so far and their strategic approach.
Bent, TheJetsBlog.comDuring the season, Bent’s Game Analysis charts games for some of the Jets’ upcoming opponents, enabling a breakdown of what to watch out for on gameday…
I’ve been looking at some of the recent Steelers games to get an insight into how the team is performing so far and their strategic approach.
After the jump, I break down the positional groupings (BGA-style!) to try and highlight what the Jets need to look out for.
Ben Roethlisberger will face the Jets for the seventh time in his career, having won five of six including two playoff games. His numbers haven’t always been great, though and his 24-for-31, 275 yards and two touchdowns performance in week two of last season was easily his best statistical output. In the other five, his highest completion percentage was 60% and he had seven interceptions and only three touchdowns. Jets fans will remember how many times he converted crucial third downs against them, though, often when he should have been sacked but got rid of the ball before the Jets could bring him down.
Journeyman backup Bruce Gradkowski is the number two and rookie Landry Jones is the number three.
The offensive line has been a major issue for the Steelers over the first four games, but they’ve made some adjustments, so it will be interesting to see if that helps. Their lineman have been responsible for 13 sacks in four games (Jets: five in five), but the player who had been surrendering the most pressure – last year’s second round pick Mike Adams – has been relegated to third string. In his place, last year’s seventh round pick Kevin Beachum will start at left tackle. Beachum started five games at right tackle last year and has also played all three interior line positions.
The other tackle is the enormous Marcus Gilbert – a former second round pick entering his third season in the league. The Steelers also traded for former Cardinal Levi Brown since their last game, but he’s not expected to be ready to play yet. He missed last season with an injury, but prior to that had given up an average of 62 total pressures over the previous four seasons. To put that into perspective, Wayne Hunter’s 2011 season – seen by many Jets fans as the “brown standard” for pass blocking ineptitude – saw him surrender just 54.
The Steelers suffered a blow on opening day, when Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey was lost for the year. However, his replacement – former Titan Fernando Velasco – actually graded out better than him in PFF’s 2012 rankings, so perhaps doesn’t represent a significant downgrade. The guards aren’t bad either – Ramon Foster didn’t give up a sack until week 16 last year and David DeCastro – the top guard in last year’s draft – is starting to emerge as a solid run blocker.
The Steelers will pin their hopes on their second round pick Le’Veon Bell. The former Michigan State Spartan is a bruising power back and although he only gained 57 yards on 16 carries last week, he did score two touchdowns and added four catches for 27 yards. Bell was unavailable in the first three games and veterans Felix Jones, Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer shared the workload with none of them emerging as any kind of bell cow. Expect the speedy Jones – a big play threat – to be the number two.
Reps at fullback will be shared by Will Johnson and backup tight end David Johnson (no relation), but that’s not a major part of this Steelers offense. They’re just as likely to go five-wide as play with a full back.
Third round pick Markus Wheaton has been ruled out of this one, leaving the Steelers a little light at the receiver position. They have just three experienced options and the only other receiver on their roster is Derek Moye, who has played just four snaps in his NFL career.
In terms of the options they do have, they’ve been hoping Antonio Brown could emerge as a viable number one receiver following the offseason departure of Mike Wallace to Miami. He’s been everything they hoped so far, catching over 80% of his targets and amassing 32 receptions for over 400 yards in the first four games. Brown could be a difficult matchup for the Jets, as he potentially represents the kind of player Antonio Cromartie struggles against.
Emmanuel Sanders has also had a relatively productive start to the year with 20 catches. He played mostly in the slot in previous seasons, but has been playing on the outside this year. Most of the slot reps have been going to former Jet Jerricho Cotchery, who is in his third season with the Steelers and has almost eclipsed his production from each of the first two years already.
Possibly the key to their passing attack is Heath Miller, who had missed the first two games, but was back to being an important safety valve in the most recent game, with six catches for 70 yards. He’s also one of the better blocking tight ends in the league, so his return bolsters their running game as much as Bell’s does. Since his return, David Paulson hasn’t played much, so David Johnson will probably get more reps as an extra blocker.
The evolution of the Steelers defense over the past five or so years has been fascinating to watch. At times, they’ve rotated personnel less than any other team and that’s often required a player who was barely getting any reps stepping up into a bigger role due to injury. However, this “next man up” philosophy seems to be catching up with them at last. With Casey Hampton, James Farrior and James Harrison all gone and Larry Foote on injured reserve, there’s a chance they won’t have the resources to replace all these guys as they did in the past when, for example, Brett Keisel replaced Pro Bowler Aaron Smith and developed into a Pro Bowler himself.
While Keisel is still the best player on their defensive line, his best days are behind him now. He’ll still play the majority of the snaps with the Steelers’ usual rotation seeing the nose tackle replaced by a slot corner, creating a 2-4-5 nickel package look on passing downs.
At nose tackle, Steve McClendon had started just one game entering this season, back in 2011, but he’s been pretty solid so far. Al Woods will spell him for about 10 snaps per game.
At the other defensive end spot, the Steelers made a move this week which many fans have been calling for when they listed Cameron Heyward as the starter and moved Ziggy Hood back to the bench. Hood started every game last year, but the more explosive Heyward graded out better in a reserve role, especially against the run. Hood will still probably get plenty of reps, though.
With James Harrison gone, Lamarr Woodley becomes the Steelers undisputed top pass rushing threat. However, his role remains unchanged. Harrison used to line up on the right and come off the blindside with Woodley lining up on the left and that hasn’t changed. The Steelers rarely swap their linebackers over, unlike most 3-4 teams. Last year, Woodley had a pretty disappointing year, with just four sacks, but seems to be back to his best with three sacks and 14 total pressures in four games. However, the Steelers have just one other sack as a team.
Eventually, the Steelers will be hoping that rookie pass rusher Jarvis Jones will be a productive pass rusher, but that hasn’t happened yet. He’s been splitting reps with Jason Worilds who started three games last year with Woodley out and actually ended up the season with more sacks than Woodley.
Lawrence Timmons is one of the better inside linebackers in the league, but hasn’t made a great start to the season. It hasn’t helped that the Steelers lost Larry Foote, the opening day starter alongside him, to a ruptured bicep. They’ve given Kion Wilson a couple of starts, but rookie sixth rounder Vince Williams had been getting more reps than him. He started the previous game and will start again today. Williams is a 250-pounder and found himself blocked out of some plays at the second level in his first start against the Vikings in London.
Since they don’t switch up their personnel, the Steelers often end up with their outside linebackers manning the slot more than most other 3-4 teams. One way the Jets could gain some modest yardage could be with some screen passes. On 14 screen passes, Steeler opponents have made 90 yards so far this season.
Ike Taylor is still the Steelers’ top cornerback. He only allowed a 44% completion rate when targeted last year – 2nd best in the NFL. Most NFL teams will either (a) match their cornerbacks up with the opposing receiver or (b) leave their cornerbacks on a specific side. However, the Steelers seem to fluctuate between (a) and (b) on a game-by-game basis. In week one, Taylor played no snaps on the left, but in week four he played all but three on the left. Furthermore, in weeks two and three, he switched sides regularly depending on matchups. I therefore couldn’t predict who he would cover or which side he’ll be on (remembering that Geno Smith has been more successful throwing to his right).
The other starter is Cortez Allen. Allen did a good job as the slot cornerback last year and got a couple of starts at the end of the year, so he’s been listed as the starter this year. He did give up two touchdowns in the last game, though.
Allen missed games two and three though, which meant that William Gay got a couple of starts. Gay was the full time starter back in 2011, but then went to Arizona in free agency, where he started for the Cardinals. He made his return to Pittsburgh this year, but has moved back to being the number three since Allen’s return in week four.
At safety, Troy Polamalu is now 32 but still an elite player. I used to think Polamalu was overrated until I started charting games a few years ago – now I think he might be underrated. He has to be a primary concern for a team starting a rookie quarterback that might not have ever played against anyone with that kind of range. Veteran Ryan Clark is the other deep safety, but there’s been whispers that another rookie, fourth rounder Shamarko Thomas, is going to start getting more reps in the base defense.
Shaun Suisham has been the Steelers’ kicker since halfway through the 2010 season and is a perfect six-for-six on field goals this year. His kickoffs have also been effective with the opponents’ average start – the 18.5 yard line – is the third best in the league. The Steelers also acquired ex-Patriots punter Zoltan Mesko, but he’s been a disappointment so far with the 5th worst net average in the league.
In the return game, Jones will return kickoffs with Brown on punts. Sanders will back them both up. Terence Garvin is the team’s leading tackler on special teams, but backup cornerback Curtis Brown is also productive.
I’ll be back on Monday to recap the game!
Stats from PFF were used in the completion of this article.