The Pittsburgh Steelers will play the New York Jets Sunday at Heinz Field on and it will be their third home game of the 2016 regular season. Below are seven things that I believe the team will need to do in order to come away with their fourth win of the season.
Help Hubbard’s Cupboard – With Marcus Gilbert out injured and Ryan Harris now on Reserve/Injured list, Chris Hubbard will make his first career start Sunday at right tackle and against a very good Jets defensive front. Hubbard will likely see quite a bit of Muhammad Wilkerson and Leonard Williams on Sunday and he’s going to need some help on the edge in form of a tight end and chipping running back throughout the game. We could see quite a few 6-man-protections on Sunday from the Steelers in order to ensure Hubbard gets the help he needs. This will definitely be something we chart after the game.
Move Fitz – While Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick has had a very rough start to the 2016 season, he’s still very dangerous and extremely smart. We know and he knows that he can play much better than he has and the Steelers have to make sure they limit his effectiveness Sunday by getting him to move off his spot and not let him step up into the pocket to throw. Despite all of his interceptions this year, Fitzpatrick has only been sacked 6 times and 4 of those came last weekend against the Seattle Seahawks, who mostly used four-man pressures throughout the game. He seems to have handled blitzes well so far this season so Steelers defensive coordinator Keith Butler needs to pick his spots carefully when it comes to sending more than four after the Jets quarterback.
Deep and playable – We will find out very shortly whether or not Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis will play against the Steelers as he enters Sunday listed as doubtful with a hamstring injury. Even if Revis does play, he won’t be 100 percent. The Jets secondary hasn’t played well at all this season and they’ve had their share of miscommunication problems as well. This is a secondary that can be beat for big plays by the Steelers if quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is given time in the pocket. So far through four weeks the Jets defense has allowed 17 explosive passing plays of 20 yards or more and a league-high 7 double explosive passing plays.
Ring the Bell on the edges – The Jets run defense has been fairly solid so far this season and even though the Steelers have a great middle runner in Le’Veon Bell, it’s hard to expect him to get much yardage straight ahead Sunday afternoon. The Steelers best shot at big plays on the ground will likely come on the edges and they like to use a pin and pull scheme occasionally in order to get center Maurkice Pouncey on the move and out on the edge with Bell following. A pitch or two to either side a few times on Sunday probably wouldn’t be a bad idea as it would get Bell to the outside and in space as well. In short, the Steelers need to make the Jets edge defenders have to play the outside run on Sunday.
Remember the backs – The Steelers defense did a great job of defending running backs Sunday night against the Kansas City Chiefs and it didn’t hurt that they built a huge first quarter lead that got the opposing offense out of their gameplan. The Jets bring two accomplished running backs to Pittsburgh Sunday in Matt Forte and Bilal Powell and both can catch the ball effectively out of the backfield. So far this season the two have 26 catches combined for 186 yards receiving. Don’t think the Jets won’t try to get both involved in the passing game early in order to give Fitzpatrick some easy throws that could potentially go for 20 yards or more.
Have a Marshall plan – Jets wide receiver Brandon Marshall, while up there in age, is still one of the top 10 or 15 players at his position in the league. With fellow wide Eric Decker out Sunday and Quincy Enunwa nursing a knee injury, the Steelers defense can focus on keeping Marshall from going off and it probably wouldn’t be a bad idea to let cornerback Ross Cockrell follow him around just as he did back in Week 2 when he was asked to spend a lot of time covering Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green. The defense has to make Enunwa beat them.
Control the controllable – On paper, this is a game the Steelers should win and especially if they keep the little things they have control over, controlled. Pre-snap penalties, post-play penalties, turnovers, and drops can all turn this game around very quickly. Despite their record, the Jets are still a good team and their offense would love nothing more than to work on some shorter fields in addition to their defense loving to get after Roethlisberger on third and longs because of a false start. Like every game, Steelers can’t beat Steelers and especially not Sunday against a team full of talent such as the Jets.