Post Game Thoughts: Jets 22 Steelers 17
A very nice all around effort by the Jets offense and special teams today, as they pick up another road win in a very tough place to play and move a step closer to a return trip to the Playoffs.
Going into the game I read a blog posting by WR Braylon Edwards where he gave a very honest assessment of what was ailing the team and what they would be trying to do to fix it. He more or less summed up his thoughts by saying the team was going to simplify the gameplan and help QB Mark Sanchez just get the ball into the hands of the playmakers on the offense. That is exactly what they did and the offense had its best overall performance in over a month. The Jets were very efficient on the day and ran the same style of offense that was so successful in the playoff run last season. The offensive gameplan change mainly consisted of Sanchez taking short drops and finding his receivers quickly and not hesitating too long in the pocket. Sanchez had one long pass to Edwards, a beautiful throw down the sidelines, that went for 38 yards, but almost everything else was under 10 yards, a total departure from the way they normally play the game. This kept Sanchez almost completely clean the entire game as the depleted offensive line was not asked to block for too long or to get confused by the Steelers blitz schemes. Sanchez danced his way out of trouble once or twice, but to only take one sack in Pittsburgh is the sign of an excellent day. The quick passes saw Sanchez' accuracy soar and most importantly saw the team put together long time consuming drives that kept the defense off the field and took the momentum back from the Steelers time and time again. There was a time in the early 2000's when people complained about using a style of play like this because it doesn't take chances down the field and does not put up a ton of points, but this is an entirely different situation and it was a much needed change. Those teams in the past almost always had a veteran QB at the helm and he should have been smart enough to have been allowed to take chances. This is different. There is a young QB that is struggling to grasp the concept of the offense so making things easier on him in a necessity. The end result was 5 drives of 8 or more plays that either resulted in points or took a significant amount of time off the clock. No drive was more important than the drive that began the third quarter. Pittsburgh had taken control of the game and looked as if they were toying with the Jets defense. The Jets had to answer with a score. It was perhaps the most important drive of the season with Sanchez going 4 of 5 for 35 yards, all completions to different targets, and then scoring a TD on 4th down on a brilliant play call that saw Sanchez walk into the end zone. That one drive and one play that capped off the drive changed the entire game and the Jets never trailed again.
It was a brilliant game for Edwards who the Jets used as more than just a decoy this week. Edwards caught everything that hit his hands and he took some brutal hits in the middle of the field. There are a lot of people that do not think much of Edwards and find him overrated, but I have a feeling he gained a lot of respect today. He never dropped the ball, got alligator arms, or complained about anything. He got hit, held up, stood up, and went back to make another play. It was probably his best all around game as a Jet and probably his best game in years. The Steelers defense seemed keyed on Holmes but he responded by catching everything and sticking to short routes where he hoped something would break after he caught the football. His catches in the second half were all important in keeping the drives alive. RB LaDainian Tomlinson had a nice bounce back day. He ran for 49 yards on just 11 carries against a defense that usually never gives up anything on the ground. The Jets kept the Steelers off balance the entire game with their run pass selection and Tomlinson was a big benefactor. His 3rd down runs were huge. RB Shonn Greene did not have the big runs but did have a few nice runs. A lot of credit has to go to the Jets interior line, specifically C Nick Mangold. They completely blew the Steelers away up the middle which opened up holes for Tomlinson that nobody ever gets in Pittsburgh. G Brandon Moore looked good as well and G Matt Slauson was adequate in the run game, though he had two mistakes on passing downs that were bad. His hold in the first quarter cost the Jets at least 3 points. Still it was a tremendous day for the offensive line, which has not looked good as a unit for some time. Maybe the offensive switch in passing scheme allowed them to focus more on their run blocking because it really was phenomenal. Just an all around team effort today from the offense.
We should start with the good here. There were three times when the Jets defense absolutely had to make a stop and on those three drives they did it. When the Jets offense bailed the defense out and tied the game at 17 there was no possible way the defense could allow the Steelers to get those points right back and take the game over again. They held them to 13 yards with the help of a Pittsburgh penalty and forced the punt. Late in the game the Steelers had two chances to tie or win. Their first chance ended with a LB Jason Taylor tackle in the end zone for a safety to put the Jets up 5 points and got them the ball back. I have no idea why the Steelers had RB Mewelde Moore in over RB Rashard Mendenhall in that spot since Moore rarely carries the ball, but Taylor shot in and wrapped him up so the ball had no chance of getting beyond the goalline. It was his biggest play since his sack of Patriot QB Tom Brady in week 2. On the final drive the Steelers had a few chances to win the game and the Jets stopped QB Ben Roethlisberger two times from the 10 yard line. Roethlisberger helped them out somewhat by taking far too long on his first play and thus limiting his chances, but they had the coverages they needed on the short field. CB Drew Coleman had an impactful game. He had 2 huge sacks on the day including one on the final drive.
That was where the good ended. Those who said the Jets benefited greatly from the weather, not to mention the ineptness of the Dolphins offense, last week were generally proven correct. The Steelers had sputtered on offense in the weeks leading up to this game and they destroyed the defense. At one point it actually looked like the game would be non-competitive. After a good start to the game they gave up back to back to back drives of 96, 53, and 74 yards which resulted in 17 points. On the final drive they allowed Pittsburgh to drive 82 yards in under two minutes before getting the stop on the short field. It was a terrible showing on third downs. Pittsburgh converted on nearly 65% of their third downs and these were not easy third downs either, with many of them over 10 yards. The Jets have one of the worst, if not the worst, 3rd and long defense in the NFL and nothing was more disgusting than giving up a 3rd and 24 on the games last possession. The problems seem to be twofold. The pass rush is absolutely non existent. The Steelers have one of the worst lines in the NFL and allow Roethlisberger to be sacked on about 14% of his attempts. The Jets got to him on less than 7% of his attempts. The other issue seems to be when they flood the coverage, which they did on the last drive because they feared the big play, the secondary gets all confused and they end up leaving guys wide open in the middle of the zone coverage. The secondary tackling was awful at times. There were a number of times when the player should have been stopped after the reception, but a blown tackle led to gaining a first down. CB Darrelle Revis, S Brodney Pool, and CB Antonio Cromartie all were guilty on at least one occasion. WR Mike Wallace and WR Emanuel Sanders tore the Jets apart. The Jets decided to put Revis on Ward most of the day and the result was 102 yards for Wallace. Had Roethlisberger made a few better throws on the day Wallace would have scored at least once as he blew by Cromartie on one or two occasions. The early TE coverage was a nightmare with LB David Harris giving up a score when he went in the wrong direction and LB Bart Scott simply getting outrun by the backup TE on another big play. Luckily the Jets seemed to fix things in the second half and TE Matt Spaeth, who hasn't had an eventful game in a few years, was held in check.
For as good as the run defense was last week it was that bad this week. The Jets controlled nothing in the trenches, routinely getting blown up. Both Harris and Scott had quiet days. Mendenhall ran for nearly 6 yards a carry, a huge number for him. He was always able to break free in the backfield and the Jets tackling technique was poor as they were often just slipping off him and allowing him to gain extra yards. DE Shaun Ellis had him dead to rights on one play, but Mendenhall faked him out and LB Calvin Pace, for whatever reason, slowed down before realizing he had to make a stop, by which point it was too late. I would think that Steelers fans are killing the coach for not only the Moore decision that resulted in the safety, but in the decision to pass on 3rd and 3 with 2 minutes left in the game when Mendenhall probably would have easily picked up a first down with the way the Jets were playing defense. It is games like this that show that the Jets offense has unfairly gotten too much blame this season. When the defense plays well and the team losses its glaring because the end result is a loss. When they play poorly but the team wins nobody gives credit to the offense, but they have bailed this defense out a number of times in 2010. Hopefully the coaching staff takes a critical eye to this performance and does not get wrapped up in the final drive stop. This defense has to play better as the Jets make the turn into January football.
KR Brad Smith opened things up perfectly with a TD return. Give Smith credit for the TD, but how about a hand for the special teams unit and their blocking. That score wasn't about Smith turning it into an extra gear or making moves to have guys miss him. The blocking was just superb and all he had to do was follow this giant hole created by the blocking and waltz to the end zone. The score took all the pressure off the offense. P Steve Weatherford was exceptional as were the coverage guys that were constantly downing his punts at the goalline. K Nick Folk made all his field goals, though his kickoffs were terrible all day.
This was such a huge game for the staff and they came up with the win. The offensive gameplan was so well done because it was so simple and caught the Steelers off guard. They just did not look prepared for what the Jets did and put the Jets in the best chance to succeed. Rex Ryan had a great game except for his horrible clock management at the end of the first half. It was just so bad. They did not use a time out off a short gain in the middle of the field and everything was like chaos. Sanchez was yelling at the sideline and then grabbing his helmet as if his speakers were out. Needless to say they ran out of time without even giving themselves an opportunity.
But that was pretty much the only negative. Rex made great use of his timeouts on that final drive to organize the defense and get the coverage protections properly matched up. He waited until the Steelers showed their personnel groups and alignments to make the calls and get all his subs on the field and make sure there are no 10 men penalties. The other brilliant decision he made was to go for it on fourth and goal on the game changing 3rd quarter drive. Normally Rex is always a big believer in his defense and would take the 3 points and assume the defense would quickly get him the ball back, but he understood what was going on in this game. He knew he could not afford to have that drive end in a FG. 17-13 would be 24-13 in a matter of minutes the way the defense was playing. 17-17 changes everything. It gives the offense a ton of confidence and puts the Steelers in a position where they changed the way they played the game and that benefited the Jets. He also wisely decided to not play for long field goals and instead made the Steelers play for long yards. He should not have that kind of confidence in his kicker anymore and it was a smart decision that paid off in a safety and the Steelers running out of time at the end of the day.
Now everyone can let up on the panic button. All the Jets had to do to keep things under control was not allow a three game losing streak to happen and they did just that. Three losses may have seen things snowball. 2 losses in a row happens to almost everyone. The Jets have their 10 wins and one more win locks up the playoffs. They went on the road and beat a good football team that has a tremendous home field advantage. The Jets are now 6-1 on the road and this is a great confidence booster for a team that is most likely going to have to go on the road in the playoffs.
The Jets right now just need to go out and start to get hot on both sides of the football. They took a step back on defense today, but took a giant leap forward on offense. While it was only 13 points it was the way they got those 13 points that mattered. It just wasn't a fluke play or a big bomb that got the points. It was long sustained drives that gave the impression that the Jets could in fact play offense at the NFL level. If they can build on that these next two weeks they may have something going for them when they get into the playoffs and matchup against a division champ.
One thing about this game that needs to be pointed out is the officiating. I do not know what was going on with the officials but some of the things were ridiculous. They constantly seemed to be throwing flags and then pulling them off the field. The gave the Steelers a first down when they were so short that the chain guys and sideline marker people did not change for a first down. The officials had to stop the game to get them set. It was a gift play. They gave Hines Ward a very generous spot, but at least that was a debatable first down call. The first was even a debate. They gave a team a free down when everyone in the stadium knew it wasn't first down.
Do the Jets still have problems? Sure they do, but this was a good win for the team and who doesn't have problems. The AFC is wide open this year. Teams like the Colts and Chargers are in a battle with the Jaguars and Chiefs just to make the playoffs. The Jets just beat the Steelers and should have beaten the Ravens earlier in the year. They are 1-1 against the Patriots, and while everyone has written the Patriots into the Super Bowl they have their hands full with a depleted Packers team tonight. Anyone can lose in the AFC this year and there is no reason to think the Jets are out of it just because they stubbed their toe against the Dolphins. They may not be a great team, but nobody is this year. If they can get their issues somewhat fixed before the playoffs begin you never know what could happen. We should get a better idea about what this win means to the team when they take the field next week in Chicago.