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|12-19-2010, 12:47 PM||#1|
A Son of Martha
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Jets Game Day: Matchup against Pittsburgh Steelers has playoff feel
Jets Game Day: Matchup against Pittsburgh Steelers has playoff feel
Published: Sunday, December 19, 2010, 12:18 PM Updated: Sunday, December 19, 2010, 12:40 PM
By Conor Orr/The Star-Ledger
With Jets running back LaDainian Tomlinson
1. Does this have the feel of a playoff game?
It’s pretty close, definitely. Especially against another playoff team. It kind of gives you the idea of a playoff atmosphere playing (in Pittsburgh). Also, just the tempo of the game, the atmosphere, it’s going to be like a playoff game.
2. How hungry are you guys to win this weekend?
Losing two games straight is definitely not what we all envision at any point in the season, but sometimes it happens. I think the Super Bowl champs from last year had the same problem earlier this year, but we’re a confident group. We know what we need to do to get back on the right track and it’s about the guys in this locker room.
3. How tough is Pittsburgh’s run defense?
It’s a challenge. I’ve played these guys a bunch and they’re always good against the run. It doesn’t change, but we have a good offensive line. I think everybody knows that. We have to come ready to play. We have to challenge them just like they’re going to challenge us, and the best man will win.
4. Penalties are still a point of contention for the Jets. What have you been doing to change that?
It’s been a focus of ours for the last month-and-a-half. (It’s been a focus) in practice and we’ve just been trying to do some different things to help us with that. (Piping in) crowd noise, different cadences. Penalties, as far as when you do have a false start, coach is making us do push-ups and stuff like that. So, it’s a focus of ours and I think we’re getting better at it, I really do. There’s not as many self-inflicted wounds in practice than there used to be, so I think that’s encouraging.
THIS GAME REVOLVES AROUND...WAYNE HUNTER
The Jets have been historically solid on their offensive line, with a regular starter not missing a single game in more than three years. But today that streak will end when Wayne Hunter fills in for tackle Damien Woody, who had surgery on his right knee on Wednesday.
Hunter has been filling in for Woody throughout his recent struggles with his knee, having to come in and face two of the most vaunted pass-rushers in the NFL — Houston’s Mario Williams and Miami’s Cameron Wake, who leads the league in sacks.
“It hasn’t been easy,” Hunter said. “But, I don’t know, the cliche, if you want to be the best you have to go against the best. It was hard, I gave up a couple sacks … there’s no excuses, I have to give Mark (Sanchez) as much time as he needs.”
And in those appearances, there has been some struggles. Both games were closer than they should have been and saw Sanchez’s rhythm severely disrupted.
Enter: The Steelers defense.
Now, Hunter’s challenge grows exponentially. He’ll face off frequently against Pittsburgh linebacker LaMarr Woodley (8 ˝ sacks, 31 solo tackles, three forced fumbles), though in more exotic schemes things could be different.
In a game that will already be tough enough (Pittsburgh’s defense is in the top 10 in first-downs allowed and third-down defense), Hunter will have to make up for a lack of experience quickly. He has been the team’s primary “jumbo” tight end — a receiver-eligible tackle — but this will be his first start at tackle in his eight-year career.
Three things the Steelers don’t want the Jets to know:
1. Ben Roethlisberger has more options in the passing game.
Jets CB Darrelle Revis estimates that the average slant pattern lasts about three seconds. With Roethlisberger, though, the entire dynamic of even the most simple route changes because of the amount of time he’s able to create before throwing the ball. Jets OLB Jason Taylor referred to it as “street-ballish,” with Roethlisberger scrambling around, dodging tackles, and hitting receivers on broken routes for big gains.
Despite the Steelers’ reputation as a power team, this is a source for a lot of their offense. Roethlisberger has just three fewer touchdowns than Mark Sanchez, and he missed the first four games of the season.
“He’s like a defensive end playing quarterback,” Taylor said of the 6-5, 240-pound Roethlisberger. “He’s strong, he’ll shrug you off and he’ll stiff-arm you. He keeps plays alive with his legs very well and he can throw the ball down the field.”
2. They want the Jets to try “ground-and-pound.”
The numbers this year are absolutely staggering and sometimes get overlooked when it comes to the Steelers’ run defense. This year, they’re allowing 60 yards per game on the ground. That’s it. The next defense is the Chicago Bears, who allow nearly 88 yards per game.
All year, Rex Ryan has said he wants to be the quintessential “ground-and-pound” football team, using LaDainian Tomlinson and Shonn Greene to wear down defenses and open the game up for Sanchez and his fleet of talented wide receivers. But this week, the Steelers defense may just be too strong.
“They can blitz you. They can play you base. They have multiple, different coverages (and) multiple different blitz looks, and they’re talented,” Ryan said. “That’s a really talented group over there. I think this is going to be a huge challenge.”
3. Troy Polamalu is hard to replace
Consider these numbers over the last three weeks: 11 tackles, three interceptions and three sacks -- all coming from the safety position. Polamalu is the kind of player that can give Mark Sanchez fits, but thanks to a banged-up Achilles' tendon he suffered from -- what else? -- returning an interception for a touchdown, the view over the middle will be a little less stressful for the Jets' QB.
What Polamalu is able to do goes far beyond pass coverage. He's often never in a set location and can be firing from all angles. He's a tenacious blitzer and can make up a lot of ground quick. His replacement, Ryan Mundy, watches tape of Polamalu and asks him questions to try and recreate the magic. But don't expect this understudy to come on fast enough.
THE SAVVY FAN IS WATCHING
The communication between safeties. Now that the Jets defense is on signal caller No. 3 (Jim Leonhard and Eric Smith are unavailable), the buck passes to Brodney Pool. His coaches have said he has struggled with the cerebral system the Jets installed for their safeties, but now he must control it. This means pre-snap reads, conference with Dwight Lowery (starting on the other side) and the confidence to make the right call against a sometimes-baffling Steelers offense.
One more thing ...
Did you know that the Jets are the fourth-most penalized team in the NFL this season? Right now, they’re sitting at 94 penalties for 856 total yards on the season. So much for those push-ups.
Ben Roethlisberger plays like a veteran battering ram, while Mark Sanchez is still learning the ropes. Edge: Steelers
Despite their reputation on the ground, the Jets still outgain Pittsburgh by about 23 yards per game.
The Jets have the name recognition, but the Steelers have the production. Edge: Even
Offensive line: Even with Roethlisberger, the Steelers have given up nine more sacks this year than the Jets. Edge: Jets
Defensive line: Steelers give up 60 rushing yards per game. Sixty! Edge: Steelers
Linebackers: James Harrison (10 sacks) and LaMarr Woodley (8 ˝ sacks) are hard to argue against. Edge: Steelers
Secondary: The Jets are banged up. At least Jim Leonhard has a cool scooter to ride in. Edge: Steelers
Special teams: Shaun Suisham has not missed since coming on board with the Steelers, going 9-for-9. Edge: Steelers
Coaching: Maybe in four years this will be a different conversation. But for now, Mike Tomlin has the rings. Edge: Steelers
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