By David Todd
After three consecutive wins at Heinz Field, the Pittsburgh Steelers went on the road to New York on Sunday and lost in embarrassing fashion to a New York Jets team that had won only once this season. The Steelers turned it over four times and generated none of their own in losing 20-13, dropping to 6-4. The offense, which had put up record setting performances the past few weeks, was largely to blame as Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown each turned it over twice and the Steelers couldn’t find the end zone until the final two minutes.
All week on my radio show I talked about how the Jets change to Michael Vick at quarterback and the addition of Percy Harvin would make this a much more dangerous team. And it did. The New Yorkers burst out to a 17-0 first quarter lead. From there the Steelers defense, which jump-started the offense last week with back-to-back turnovers, settled in and played good football but couldn’t come up with any game-changing plays and the offense never got untracked. It is a disappointing result for a Steelers team that seems to come up with their weakest efforts against teams they are expected to beat. Since 2012 they are now 7-11 against teams .500 or below.
Somehow Justin Bieber showing up at the Steelers bible study Saturday night had to impact things.
No injuries were reported after the game.
Troy Polamalu, Ryan Shazier, Shamarko Thomas and Ross Ventrone all missed this one due to injury while Ike Taylor remains sidelined. Daniel McCullers was active after being inactive last week.
*Virtually no positives to takeaway from the Steelers offensive performance. Martavis Bryant continues to put up big numbers in his first four career games. He finished with four catches for 143 yards, 80 of them coming on their lone touchdown with 1:16 to go. (How do the Jets DBs let that happen in a 20-6 game?)
*The Steelers were able to get on the board right at the end of the first half moving 30 yards in 50 seconds with no timeouts, setting up a 53-yard Shaun Suisham field goal. Lance Moore probably could have run out of bounds, but at least had the sense to give himself up to set up the spike with one second left.
*We can pump the brakes on the Ben Roethlisberger MVP talk after this one. The narrative behind this Steelers season is a simple one. They will go where their quarterback takes them. Ben, hampered by a heavy Jets rush, played poorly. His final stat line will pass the eye-test: 30-for-43, 343 yards, 1 TD and 2 INTs, 81.8 passer rating, but he didn’t play well. The first interception was an excellent play by the Jets DB Marcus Williams and was the first time all season the Jets stopped an opposing team in the red zone. The second might have been Ben’s worst throw of the season. With all day to throw, Roethlisberger tried to float a pass down the middle of the field and it was easily picked off. Ben again looked out-of-touch at times with some of his young receivers and underthrew a couple deep balls that looked to be big-gainers. The Jets had one INT on the season coming in, Ben had only thrown three.
*The Steelers offensive line has been a key to the team’s resurgent offense. This week they were dominated by an excellent defensive front supplemented by an aggressive blitz package designed by Rex Ryan and the Jets coaching staff. The running game was ineffective gaining only 36 yards on 17 carries and getting completely stuffed inside the ten-yard line. After playing their best game of the year two weeks ago against the Indianapolis Colts, this might go down as their worst.
*Martavis Bryant did put up big numbers but he left some plays on the field. On the first INT Bryant needs to work harder to come back to the ball and shield the defender from coming over the top to make the play. Later on a deep ball Bryant had his man beat deep. Ben underthrew it and Bryant didn’t make much of an effort to fight back to the ball and at least draw a pass interference call. (He did do a better job coming back for another underthrown ball later, actually pushing off to do it.)
*Two turnovers by Antonio Brown are the first blemishes on an All-Pro season. Brown appeared open when targeted and it’s a bit surprising he wasn’t targeted more than nine times (eight catches).
*After the first quarter the Steelers defense played well, but the damage was largely done. Jason Worilds finished with 1.5 sacks and the Steelers finished with four in total. Lawrence Timmons again led the team with 13 tackles.
*The Steelers defense got off to a slow start giving up 17 points in the first quarter. Coming into the game the Jets had only scored 36 first quarter points in 9 games. On the opening drive the Jets were able to pound the ball on the ground before the Steelers stiffened inside the five and held the Jets to a FG. The second drive was a one-play, 67-yard TD set up by effective play-action where both Jets receivers in the pattern were open as the Steelers safeties, notably Mike Mitchell, bit. After an Antonio Brown fumble deep in Steelers territory the Jets struck again with a Vick scramble being the big play. It proved to be all the Jets would need.
*After three straight games generating multiple turnovers the Steelers got none in this one.
*William Gay has been one of the better defenders all season. He had a chance at an easy interception in the middle of the third quarter on the Steelers goal line. It went through his hands and fell incomplete. The Jets kicked a FG on the next play to go up 20-3.
*The Steelers missed numerous other opportunities to make big plays. Gay missed a tackle on the opening drive on Vick behind the line-of-scrimmage. James Harrison missed on a similar opportunity late in the game vs. Percy Harvin. Overall the tackling was not great.
*The Steelers got big hits from Sean Spence and Vince Williams early in the game on special teams units. That can help light a fire under a team. Clearly it didn’t this time.
*Shaun Suisham has been surprisingly ineffective (5-for-15) in his career from 50 yards and beyond, but he nailed a career-best 53-yarder the last play of the first half.
*Suisham missed a 23-yard FG in the 4th quarter with the Steelers down 20-3. It was the shortest miss in the NFL this year. Inexcusable.
*Down 20-6 the Steelers called an onside kick and recovered it. Darrius Heyward-Bey was called offside, but the call was questionable and not challenged.
*I didn’t see much good worth commenting on.
*The Steelers deferring the opening kickoff after averaging 41+ points the last three weeks seemed curious, if not downright dumb, against a weak Jets secondary.
*Last week I wrote, “The offensive game plan was excellent…” This week facing a weak Jets secondary the Steelers spent much of the early part of the game trying to slow up the pass rush with screens. The Jets were largely playing off coverage and it appeared the 8-10 yard gains were there for the taking. I’m not sure why the Steelers got away from what had been so successful the past couple weeks.
*James Harrison in goal line package. Huh? Targeting James Harrison? (Tomlin denied it). Enough said.
Big Officiating Calls:
*Losing tends to highlight officials calls but the refs appeared to blow two in this one. Vick appeared to fumble late in the first half going out of bounds. The refs never saw it and the Steelers challenged. The television commentators and replay official in the booth unanimously saw it as Steelers ball. The refs didn’t and Antonio Brown fumbled a punt back to the Jets on the next play.
*On the aforementioned onside kick it was very questionable that DHB was offsides. It sure was not obvious from the replays.
The Steelers will take on the (2-7) Tennessee Titans, Monday, November 17 at LP Field in Nashville. Kick-off is scheduled for 8:30 EST and will be nationally-televised on ESPN’s Monday Night Football.
Reminder: You can hear me on the pregame show on WDVE & 970 ESPN before every Steelers game and on weekdays on 970 ESPN from 3-6 pm. You can follow me on twitter @DavidMTodd.