The Pittsburgh Steelers will play their fifteenth regular season game of 2019 on the road on Sunday against the New York Jets with a chance to get to four games over .500 for the first time this season and in the process keep the No. 6 seed in the AFC for at least another week. Below are seven key things that I believe the Steelers will need to do in the game to come away with their ninth win of 2019 against the Jets.
No more streaking – The Steelers have now turned the football over at least once in 21 consecutive games and that’s no laughing matter at this point. Against the Buffalo Bills last Sunday night the Steelers offense committed five turnovers. The fact that the Steelers still lost the game by only seven points is a testament to how good their defense really is. If the offense can stop turning the football over starting Sunday at MetLife stadium, the team should win the game. Stop the streak, already.
Get edgy – The Steelers didn’t run the ball effectively or enough last Sunday night against the Bills and that’s unfortunate. While the Steelers offense will face one of the NFL’s top run defenses on Sunday in the Jets, that unit can still be ran on and especially outside the guards and on the edges. Offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner must get right guard David DeCastro on the move early and often against the Jets defense and a few crack tosses and outside zone runs should also be mixed in. The Steelers have the offensive line and running back in James Conner to run successfully on the Jets throughout the game.
Don’t let the Bell toll – If the Jets are smart, they’ll attempt to get the ball in the hands of running back Le’Veon Bell at least 25 times Sunday afternoon. While Bell has not been great this season in averaging a lot of yards per carry, he is still very effective out in space as a pass catcher. Both explosive plays that Bell has registered this season have come via receptions. So, the Steelers defense must not let Bell have anywhere near his best game of the season on Sunday, which is 129 total yards from scrimmage. If he comes close to that number, then odds are good the Jets won the game. Bell’s going to get his touches, but that noted, getting him down on the ground quickly will go a long way in the Steelers getting a win. He would love nothing better to be the one mainly responsible for lighting up the Steelers defense as part of the Jets winning.
Hot sacks – The Steelers offense couldn’t handle the blitz consistently last Sunday against the Bills. By the time the unit figured one blitz, the Bills changed things up. On Sunday against the Jets, the Steelers will face a defensive coordinator in Gregg Williams, who is ultra-aggressive when it comes to getting after opposing quarterbacks, and especially inexperienced ones. Williams will sugar up his fronts on Sunday in attempt to have Steelers quarterback Devlin Hodges unsure about what he’s looking at. The Steelers need better hot reads on Sunday against the Jets than they had last Sunday night against the Bills. Hodges must have somewhere to go with the football quickly when numbers come after him. Speaking of getting the ball out quickly, that would be a good game plan for Hodges on Sunday in general. The Steelers offense absolutely must handle the blitz better this Sunday than last Sunday.
Sunday sack lunch – An already below average Jets offensive line will be even worse on Sunday against the Steelers as starting right guard Tom Compton is expected to sit out the contest with an injury. That means the jets will be on their third different starting right guard of the season. Next to the right guard will be right tackle Brandon Shell, who has allowed six sacks this season. The Jets other tackle is none other than former Steelers draft pick Kelvin Beachum. This Jets offensive line will be ripe for the Steelers front to pick apart and especially when it comes to outside linebacker T.J. Watt. The Steelers should be able to get after Darnold in obvious passing situations and maybe quite a bit more in the fourth quarter if the team has a lead. This could be a game where we see half a dozen sacks or more.
Use the middlemen – The Steelers offense will have wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster and tight end Vance McDonald back from injuries on Sunday and those two players should give Hodges a few middle-of-the-field options. Throw in running back James Conner being a reputable pass catcher in the middle of the field via screens and there’s no reason for the Steelers offense to not be able to attack the Jets defense in areas other than just outside the numbers. The Jets pass defense is ranked in the bottom third of the league in average gain and completion percentage when it comes to throws in the middle of the field less than 16 yards past the original line of scrimmage. We need to see at least half a dozen green dots in the middle of the field on Hodges’ passing chart Sunday.
Berry good punting – Punts are a bad thing for the Steelers right now due to their quarterback situation and punting is much better than a turnover. Steelers punter Jordan Berry has had a very good season overall but has slipped some in his consistency the last few games. A few well-timed punts that force the Jets to start deep in their own end could wind up being big on Sunday. Winning the field position battle is crucial for the Steelers every week right now due to the play of their offense.