PRELUDE TO STEELERS VERSUS THE JETS
The Pittsburgh Steelers had great news going into the game. James Conner and JuJu Smith-Schuster planned to play. The Steelers reported no one as questionable or doubtful. The full 53-man roster was available to play.
The other storyline coming into the game was the first game Le’Veon Bell would face his old team. The New York Jets have others with ties to the Black & Gold. Hines Ward is their wide receiver coach. Hines made it clear that he always roots for the Steelers but wanted this win. That’s the type of competitor he is. Kelvin Beachum and Steve McLendon are both team leaders. McLendon characterized the Steelers and their next man up philosophy before the game.
The Steelers mission was clear. Win this game and they continue to control their destiny to make the playoffs. Mike Tomlin announced that Devlin “Duck” Hodges was the starting quarterback. A chance to redeem his inferior performance last week.
THE STEELERS FORECAST
Steelers Depot gives us specific things we should look for during the game. I always read these articles prior to kickoff:
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Matthew Marczi described what we should watch for in the game against the Jets. On offense, see if the line protects the quarterback, ball handlers protect the ball, and the Steelers run the ball more consistently. The defense must tackle better to shut down the Jets running game. Jordan Berry must avoid silly mistakes and shanks.
Tom Mead identified the key matchup to watch this week. How will the Steelers offense deal with the blitz schemes Gregg Williams creates?
KEYS TO VICTORY
Dave Bryan identified the 7 keys to a Steelers victory against the Jets. First, the offense must stop the streak of turnovers. Second, run effectively to the edges of the Jets defense. Third, the defense holds Bell well under his season best 129 total yards. Fourth, handle the Jets blitzes and get the ball out quickly. Fifth, T.J. Watt and the defense must get to Sam Darnold on passing downs. Sixth, complete at least six passes in the middle of the field to receivers like JuJu Smith-Schuster, Vance McDonald, and James Conner. Seventh, control field position through consistent punting.
Alex Kozora forecast what would happen in his Steelers versus Jets prediction. Alex foresaw a win if Shaun Sarrett adjusts Pittsburgh’s six-man protection scheme, they foil a trick play, and the running backs break some tackles. On the other hand, the Steelers lose if the defense plays too much spot drop zone, offense gets stuck in the middle of the field, and Duck Hodges does not process his progressions properly on passing plays. Alex predicted a Steelers 16-13 victory.
You can compare these pregame guides to Alex’s analysis of the game’s winners and losers which came out within minutes of the final whistle. How does his analysis compare with your view of the game?
The Steelers possessed the ball six times in the first half. The first four drives ended with interceptions or punts. Duck Hodges went to the bench and Mason Rudolph led two scoring drives to end the half.
INTERCEPTION FOLLOWED BY A THREE AND OUT
The Jets scored on the game’s opening drive. The Steelers response started at their 21-yard line. Hodges completed a nine-yard pass to Diontae Johnson to convert a third and five. James Conner ran 15 yards for another first down and penetrated Jets territory. The Jets stuffed two runs setting up a third and ten. Duck passed toward Vance McDonald in the middle of the field while under pressure. Tarell Basham intercepted the ball at the 34-yard line. I believe Duck’s relative short height for a quarterback limits his vision when linemen are in front of him. This drive accounted for four of Conner’s six rushes in the game.
The next drive is a short three and out. The Jets sack Hodges on second and nine. He then checks down to McDonald who gains just nine of the 14 yards needed for a first down. The Jets get the ball and score a field goal to go up 10-0.
STEELERS LOSE A SCORING OPPORTUNITY AND JAMES CONNER
The Steelers offense gets the ball back at the 25-yard line following a touchback. Hodges completes a pass to Nick Vannett who gains 18 yards. Conner follows with a 12-yard run. Then he loses a yard on the next play and goes off the field. His last play of the game and probably the season. James Washington snags a five-yard pass and referees penalize Arthur Maulet for a horse collar. Washington leaves the field. Hodges completes two short passes to set up third and three at the Jets 19-yard line. The Steelers need points. He passes toward Jaylen Samuels, but Marcus Maye intercepts the ball in the end zone.
I noticed that James Conner was running very upright. In rugby, we train players to run at a tilt to protect themselves and make it difficult for tacklers to penetrate. I wonder if Conner was running this way to protect his shoulder from taking to much contact. In any case, he left the game with a thigh bruise and did not return.
RUDOLPH TAKES THE REINS
Mason Rudolph led the next Steelers drive. He completed a 13-yard pass to James Washington on third and 12 but that was about it. His first drive ended with Rudolph scrambling for five yards on a third and 11 play. Rudolph started his second drive in the hole following a special team’s penalty. Rudolph connected with Washington for another 13-yard pass. At the two-minute warning, Diontae Johnson got a first down with a nine-yard reception. Jaylen Samuels took the ball to the 30-yard line with a 27-yard catch and run. JuJu missed a pass that looked like he turned to run before securing the ball. Then the Jets sacked Rudolph and the Steelers are out of field goal range. On third and 19, Washington picked up eight yards on a short pass to give Chris Boswell the opportunity to kick a 49-yard field goal and the Steelers first points of the game.
STEELERS TURN A TURNOVER INTO SEVEN POINTS!
At this point, a Steelers fan stopped by my table to complain about everyone cheering in the café for scoring a field goal. I waved him away since the half was not over and the Jets were trying to score. The Steelers got the ball back when T.J. Watt strip-sacked Sam Darnold and recovered the ball. Just one timeout but the ball was at the 41-yard line. Gain ten yards and the Steelers could score another field goal! Jaylen Samuels up the middle for six yards and the Steelers take their final timeout. A short pass to Jaylen Samuels who manages to scoot out of bounds to stop the clock. On third and three, Rudolph takes a shot at James Washington. The pass is incomplete, but the referees throw a flag for illegal contact giving the Steelers five yards plus the first down. There are nine seconds left. The ball is at the 29-yard line. Time for one play, then kick the field goal. Instead, Rudolph throws deep to Diontae Johnson to tie the game with four seconds left.
Mason Rudolph looks like he has come off the bench to lead the Steelers offense to more points.
The Steelers possessed the ball six more times in the second half. James Conner was out with a bruised thigh. But Mason Rudolph helped the Steelers score ten points in the last minutes of the first half and they were getting the ball to start the second half.
PUNT, PUNT, PUNT …
The Steelers net just ten yards on their opening drive. The Steelers start at their own 30 and gain a first down on JuJu’s effort. Diontae Johnson reaches the 45-yard line on a short pass to set up third and five. But the next play call is a screen pass to Vance McDonald who Jamal Adams drops for a five-yard loss. The Steelers must punt.
The Jets take a three-point lead with their opening drive of the half. The Steelers respond with a six-yard drive. On third and four, Rudolph passes to James Washington. Rudolph placed his pass so the receiver was between the defender and the ball, but Washington just can’t adjust and the ball falls to the ground. The Steelers punt again.
Diontae Johnson gave the Steelers good field position by returning a punt 17 yards. Benny Snell ran six yards on the first play to take the ball from the 42 to the 48-yard line. After losing five yards on Maurkice Pouncey’s bad snap, Rudolph completes a first down pass to JuJu for 14 yards. Another first down would put the Steelers in field goal range to tie the game. However, Kerrith Whyte gains three yards on first down then Rudolph throws two incompletions. The Steelers punt for the third time this half.
DUCK RETURNS, CHANGE AT CENTER
The fourth drive begins at the 39-yard line near the beginning of the fourth quarter. B.J. Finney replaced Pouncey at center. Rudolph hurt his shoulder and the Duck is back in the game. Kerrith Whyte gains a first down after two straight runs. Then Snell runs for three yards to take the ball from midfield to the Jets 47-yard line. Hodges completes a 15-yard pass to Diontae Johnson, and Snell goes up the middle to take the ball to the 29-yard line. The Steelers are again in field goal range to tie the game. Quinnen Williams races unblocked to chase down Hodges for a nine-yard loss. Finney makes a bad snap and Hodges is down for an eight-yard loss. The Jets have pushed the Steelers offense out of field goal range a second time and force another punt.
The Jets score another field goal on the ensuring drive. Now the Steelers must score a touchdown to save their chances of winning the game. The Jets force a three and out. The Jets sack Hodges on second down. With a third and 14, Hodges pass to McDonald is incomplete. It is doubtful if he would have made a first down if he caught the ball. The Steelers possessed the ball five times in the second half and punted five times. But they would have one more shot to win it.
The offense gets the ball at their own 40-yard line with no timeouts but 1:27 on the clock. Hodges connects with Diontae who gets out of bounds. He completes a pass to Deon Cain for six yards just past midfield who also gets out of bounds to stop the clock. On third and seven, Hodges throws deep to James Washington and the ball goes through his hands. On fourth and seven there is still 44 seconds left to go for a first down. Another bad snap but Hodges fields the ball. He passes deep down the middle of the field, but JuJu can’t come down with the ball. The clock shows 39 seconds on the clock, but the Steelers offense has run out of downs. Game over.
The Steelers defense gave up ten points early in the game including allowing the Jets a 75-yard opening drive. The slow start put the Steelers in an early hole.
BELL EMBARRASSES THE DEFENSE
Le’Veon Bell embarrassed the Steelers defense on the opening drive. He ran the ball four times for 26 yards plus caught two passes for six more. The defense blew a couple chances to stop the drive. On third and three Sam Darnold threw an incomplete pass to Robby Anderson. But, Minkah Fitzpatrick arrived a fraction of a second too early and an official flagged him for pass interference. The Jets had a first down instead of punting.
On the next play, Mike Hilton tagged Jamison Crowder down after a bad snap. On third and six Bell gained five yards to set up a fourth and one. Isaiah Buggs tried to get off the field, but the Jets did a quick snap and a first down. Take your pick. The Jets had the option of a first down by accepting a penalty for offsides, accepting a penalty for too many players on the field, or just taking the seven yards Bell gained. The Jets declined the two penalties and took Bell’s yards. Darnold completed a 23-yard touchdown pass to Robby Anderson.
DEFENSE GIVES UP ANOTHER EARLY SCORE
The defense did not allow the Jets to exploit their first interception. Joe Haden defended a deep pass to Frankie Luvu on first down. They held Bell to two yards and tackled Bilal Powell for just five yards on a short pass to force a punt.
However, they gave up a field goal after Braxton Berrios returned a punt 20 yards to the 41-yard line. Bell’s eight-yard run on first down ended up giving the Jets a third and two play. Ty Montgomery got the first down. On the next set of plays, the defense stopped Bell before making a first down on a third and two play, but he had done enough damage as the Jets kicked a 54-yard field goal at the start of the second quarter.
DEFENSE SETTLES DOWN AND WATT MAKES A BIG PLAY
The defense settled down after the first two scores forcing three and outs on the next two Jets possessions. The second drive included Bell reversing field and high stepping in the backfield only to have Bud Dupree tackle him for an 11-yard loss.
The Jets final drive of the first half started following the Steelers field goal. There was 1:18 on the clock but the Jets came out passing. They wanted to score before the halftime whistle. Darnold completed three straight passes and advanced the ball from the 15-yard line to midfield. Darnold went back to pass a fourth time. T.J. Watt got to him and stripped the ball from Darnold and recovered his own forced fumble. A big play that the Steelers used to tie the game before the halftime whistle.
A slow start but the defense ended the half big with a crucial turnover.
The Steelers defended against five Jets drives. They gave up six points which proved to be the difference in the final score.
DEFENSE GIVES UP SCORE ON JETS OPENING DRIVE
The Jets started their first drive of the second half at the 19-yard line. Bell ran four times in this drive but only gained ten yards. On third and three, Sam Darnold just made the first down before Mark Barron tackled him. It looked like a defender missed him once in the backfield, but their drive continued. Trevon Wesco gained 32 yards which was the longest play from scrimmage for the day. No one was covering him, and he took the ball all the way 19-yard line. The big play woke the Steeler defense up. They stopped the Jets three straight times ending with Bud Dupree’s sack to force a field goal.
JETS PUNT TWICE BUT THREE BIG PLAYS LEAD TO THREE
The Steelers stop Bell on the next drive. Two runs for six yards. Then Mark Barron defends a pass intended for Jamison Crowder and the Jets must punt.
An official’s call extended the Jets next drive. Benny Snell dew a neutral zone infraction on fourth and five from the 15-yard line. Their long snapper lifted his head and Snell stepped in. In an identical play last week, Kam Canaday did the same thing and referees called it a false start. The Steelers did force a punt three plays later but now they could punt from the 24-yard line with more time taken off the clock.
This week. Jets long snapper brings his head up, Steelers called for neutral zone infraction.
Last week: Steelers long snapper brings his head up, Pittsburgh called for false start. pic.twitter.com/UjQLB1IUiP
— Alex Kozora (@Alex_Kozora) December 22, 2019
The defense gave up three big plays on the next drive. First, Darnold completed a 14-yard pass from the Jets 22-yard line. He followed that up with a 20-yard completion to Crowder which put the ball into Steelers territory. The Jets had a third and 13 from the 35-yard line. It would be a 50+ yard attempt if held to a short gain. Instead Bell gains 11 yards and the Jets convert a much easier 42-yard field goal to extend their lead to six points.
SIX POINTS TOO MANY
Bell lost two yards on three carries on the final drive, but Tomlin had to expend his timeouts. In the end, The Steelers defense played well. In most circumstances limiting an NFL opponent to 16 points would lead to a win.
But the Steelers lack an offense and that meant that several missed opportunities to intercept the ball hurt. The Jets had given up 3.5 sacks a game. The Steelers vaunted pass rushers got two. The Steelers needed the defense to win this game. The defense played very well just not good enough. The early hole the defense allowed meant the six points given up in the second half were six too many.
I break special teams play into six phases: Kickoffs, kickoff returns, punts, punt returns, field goals & blocking field goals (I’m not counting extra point plays).
Boswell kicked off three times. His first kickoff was a touchback. Ty Montgomery returned Boswell’s second kick from the 13-yard line to his own 25 when Trey Edmunds tackled him. The Jets held on the play, so referees marked the ball at the 15-yard line. Braxton Berrios muffed Boswell’s last kick at the 13-yard line but recovers the ball at the 17 to end the half.
Sam Ficken kicked off five times. Kerrith Whyte fielded the first kick at the four-yard line returning the ball just 17 yards to the 21-yard line. The second kick was a touchback. Whyte returned the next two kicks 24 yards each. Whyte carried the first to the 30-yard line and the second to the 26-yard line. Ficken’s final kick was a touchback. Four of five Steelers starts were at the 25 or better while two of three of the Jets starts were well behind the 25. Advantage Steelers.
Jordan Berry punted seven times averaging 39.9 yards a punt. Braxton Berrios returned the first punt which was 59 yards. Berry shortened up his range afterwards. The next traveled only 31 yards before going out of bounds at the Jets 40-yard line. He then punted three straight times that the Jets fair caught behind the 20-yard line. His sixth punt was only 24 yards and was fair caught at the 22, he needed just a little more length. His final punt was for 45 yards and the Jets fair caught the ball at the 34-yard line. Berry’s first kick outdistanced effective coverage. The second was extremely poor. But the last five were decent punts which did not hurt the Steelers.
Lac Edwards punted six times averaging 45.8 yards per punt. There was also a punt negated when the long snapper raised his head to draw a neutral zone infraction. Diontae Johnson returned three punts for 40 yards. Diontae returned one eleven yards to the 24-yard line but referees flagged Jordan Dangerfield for hold pushing the ball back to the 14. Three of Edwards punts put Pittsburgh behind the 20-yard line. He netted 40.1 yards a punt. The Jets big return led to a field goal. Both punters had short kicks giving the opponent good starting position. I give the edge to Pittsburgh as Diontae’s returns gave the Steelers good field position in the second half. Advantage Steelers.
Chris Boswell made his 49-yard field goal attempt. Ficken made all three of his attempts. His 54-yard field goal is a career long kick. His two second half field goals were the difference in the final score. Advantage Jets.
DAVE BRYAN’S VICTORY PUNCH LIST
- The offense must stop the turnover streak. Duck Hodges threw two interceptions including one in the end zone. Yoi!
- Run effectively to the edges of the Jets defense. The Steelers ran 12 plays by the tackle or outside. Five were successful with three going for first downs. James Conner converted two of three for first downs. So, the Steelers were successful on 41.7% of the running plays toward the edges.
- The defense holds Bell well under his season best 129 total yards. Bell had 72 rushing yards plus 21 receiving yards. Just 93 total yards but he made some key runs that kept Jets drives moving.
- Handle the Jets blitzes and get the ball out quickly. The Steelers gave up four sacks plus the quarterbacks had to pass under pressure resulting in two interceptions and some incompletions.
- Watt and the defense must get to Sam Darnold on passing downs. Watt strip sacked Darnold once. The turnover resulted in Pittsburgh tying the game. However, Darnold was able to pass with little pressure.
- Complete at least six passes in the middle of the field. Duck completed a nine-yard check down pass to McDonald. Rudolph completed a five-yard pass to Diontae on second and ten. That was it. Hodges pass that was intercepted was to the middle of the field. The last pass to JuJu at the end of the game was in the middle. Two completions out of six passes attempted to the middle of the field.
- Control field position through consistent punting. The Jets returned the first punt 20 yards. Berry kicked a short 31-yard punt that went out of bounds at the 40-yard line. His next four punts were around or behind the 20-yard line. His last punt was a 45-yard lick that was fair caught at the 34-yard line from deep in Pittsburgh territory. The first two punts or coverage were shaky but the final five were acceptable.
YOUR HOT TAKES DURING THE GAME
FIRST HALF READER COMMENTS
Steelers Depot readers commented 928 times on the game’s first half Live Update and Discussion Thread.
Early in the game few bright spots but yours truly highlighted one: “Washington is steady; snags ball out of the air like a frog’s tongue on a fly.”
After Conner left the game with a bruised thigh, Stevie D concluded, “Time to find RB…….James Conner not the answer can’t be RB in NFL and get hurt every time you carry the ball.”
Jason Linuma saw the surreal as Dupree recorded another sack. “We are in Bizarro World this year. Dupree is great and the offensive line sucks”
Chad Weiss voiced many views after the strip-sack. “TJ watt dpoy kids a game changer”
Super Sean had the top comment of the half: “HOW THE HELL IS TOMLIN DOING THIS? Every time we should be dead in the water, he makes a change and we’re right back in it. We should have been roadkill weeks ago. How is this possible?” Piftfan explained that “It’s because he’s a crappy coach with an idiot for OC. Ask any expert.” Super Sean still marveled that “This QB dance is something else. It’s like he’s swapping tires in the NASCAR pit.”
Joshwa liked what he was seeing. “Man, gotta give Rudolph props. He has come out and is playing with something to prove. Beautiful throw.”
Nice finish to a half that did not start well at all.
SECOND HALF READER COMMENTS
Just 590 comments in the 2nd half live discussion. I had problems connecting to the thread at the end of the game. Not sure if it was Disqus or just my laptop.
Hyped Up Hypocycloid appreciated Rudolph’s effort. “I give Rudolph a ton of credit for working on his game and coming out with confidence.”
Roger Wesley was not happy with the offensive play calls … “and randy strikes again.”
Reggie Cunningham observed, “That was a bad play call. You only need 5 yards.” On third and five, Rudolph completes a pass to Vance McDonald that loses five yards. Go figure.
SeventhHeavan wants more Kerrith. “Whyte has so much speed. Why don’t they use him on screens?”
We had an unusually small number of comments in the second half. Anyone else have connection problems?
I am extremely disappointed that the Steelers lost this game. They no longer control their destiny and must have help to make the playoffs. However, I am not surprised by the loss nor by the Steelers current record.
NO QUARTERBACK; NO EXPECTATIONS
Five other NFL teams lost their starting quarterback for the season. The Indianapolis Colts and the Washington Redskins lost their starter during the preseason. The Colts named Jacoby Brissett their starter and he has played 14 of 15 games. The Redskins have rotated between three quarterbacks. The Denver Broncos lost Joe Flacco after he started eight games. The Detroit Lions lost Matthew Stafford after he played nine games. The nearest parallel to the Steelers is the Carolina Panthers who lost Cam Newton on week 2 of the season. The Colts are the only team with a shot at the playoffs at 7-8. They lost to the Steelers earlier this season.
Just the loss of Ben Roethlisberger should have dampened any hope of reaching the playoffs early this season. Add extended absences by the Steelers best running back and wide receiver for extended periods this season due to injury and preventing opponents from blowing them out of games was a more reasonable goal.
JETS EARNED CROWING RIGHTS
The Jets won this game. Le’Veon Bell contributed to their victory. Like he said, “You know every win feels great but this one had a little extra topping to it.” He deserves his treat. He earned it. I loved seeing Hines Ward as a receiver coach. He got his Gatorade shower and deserved it. A nod to former Steelers Kelvin Beachum and Steve McLendon.
SPEAKING OF CROWS
The Steelers have one more game. It is no guarantee to get into the playoffs, but I want to see them finish the regular season with a win. Duck Hodges is the starter with Rudolph’s shoulder injury. I doubt that James Conner or Maurkice Pouncey will be ready to play.
The Steelers defense has stepped up and kept us in many games. The Steelers still have a chance with one game left in the season. The Baltimore Ravens will sit Lamar Jackson. Still the chances of winning are not great since it has been the offenses inability to protect the ball or score points that is the problem.
Next men up. Here we go.
YOUR MUSIC SELECTION
I always like to offer a music selection. There is a song called Next Man Up by Notdawon, but the lyrics are too much even for me. So, you’ll have to settle for Disappointed But Not Surprised by Arik Lau.