By Jeremy Hritz
Dick LeBeau’s defense has had much success against rookie quarterbacks, losing only two games against Troy Smith and the Baltimore Ravens in 2007, and in 2012 against Brandon Weedon and the Cleveland Browns. Heading into Sunday’s game against the New York Jets, LeBeau and his boys will line up across from former Mountaineer Geno Smith in hopes of not only increasing his record against neophyte quarterbacks to 17-2, but most importantly helping the Steelers earn their first win of the 2013 season.
Smith’s Monday Night performance against the Atlanta Falcons was solid, as he completed 16 of 20 passes for 199 yards and three touchdowns en route to a 30-28 victory in Atlanta (he also had three carries for 21 yards). Most impressive about his performance was the drive he engineered in the final moments of the game to set the Jets up for a 44-yard field goal with three seconds left.
What was once thought to be one of the easier games on the Steelers schedule is now taking on the appearance of a formidable challenge, as the Jets improved to 3-2 with their primetime win.
While nobody is going to confuse Smith with Peyton Manning, as he has been uneven in his rookie year, he will take the field against the Steelers with newfound confidence, and his team with freshly discovered momentum.
Conversely, the Steelers have a history under Mike Tomlin of winning coming off of the Bye Week, as his teams are 5-1, including five straight wins.
The question is, will it be the Jets momentum or the Steelers success after their week off that will continue following Sunday’s game.
Ed Bouchette, beat writer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, said in his weekly chat on Tuesday when asked whether or not the Steelers could win this weekend, “No. Until they win, I don’t think they can win.” And based on the performances that the Steelers have put together through the first four games, is there any reason to believe that they can get it done, especially against a team that won in a hostile environment and will now be playing at home?
While the Jets do have the momentum, they aren’t necessarily an impeccable unit when it comes to protecting the football, save for their contest against the Falcons. Currently, the Jets are second to last in the AFC with a -9 turnover differential to, guess who, the Pittsburgh Steelers at -11. The Jets tendency to turn over the football could be just what the Steelers need to win a game and to build some momentum of their own. Additionally, Smith has been sacked 18 times, which is the second most in the NFL behind the Miami Dolphins Ryan Tannehill.
In many ways, the Steelers and the Jets are similar teams in terms of their ability to protect the football and to protect their quarterback. But the greatest difference between these two teams is in the quality and experience of their starting quarterbacks and in their ability to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
Ben Roethlisberger is a seasoned veteran with championship hardware, while Smith is still finding his way. However, the Jets are generating excellent pressure on defense, recording 16 sacks, which is good for 5th in the league, while the Steelers are dead last with a dreadful total of four.
This is a game that looks like a push, but with each team having momentum going in different directions, it’s hard not to envision 0-5 for the Steelers.
What Pittsburgh needs to have happen is what they have been waiting for dating back to last season, and that is for new faces to emerge as dependable playmakers that can change the outcomes of games. But they are running out of time to wait, and the big plays have to come this Sunday.
If they don’t, the reality of this team will be undeniable.