As we’ve been doing for several years now, we’ll break down the Pittsburgh Steelers’ opponent each week, telling you what to expect from a scheme and individual standpoint. Like last year, Josh Carney and I will cover the opposing team’s defense. I will focus on scheme, Josh on the players.
Today, scouting the New York Jets’ offense.
ALEX’S SCHEME REPORT
Jets’ Run Game
It’s a two-headed attack at running back between a couple of young runners, second-year Michael Carter and rookie Breece Hall. It’s been a pretty even split for both men. Carter is playing the slight majority of snaps, 56.5% to 41.8%, with Carter having 28 carries and Hall 21 carries. Hall has the better relative numbers, a 5.3 YPC compared to Carter’s 4.4, but sample size is low and that could provide a lot of noise. Generally speaking, Carter is more of the early-down back while Hall sees more work in passing situations. They will use Pony groupings with both both men on the field, too.
They do have only seven runs of 10+ yards, tied for 21st in football, but they’ve been playing from behind in all three of their games so they haven’t gotten to run the ball as much as they’d like. This group is also looking for their first rushing touchdown of the season, too.
Schematically, there’s a mix of inside zone and one-back power. Their gap schemes seem to be a bit more efficient and they allow too much penetration with their zone scheme. Here’s a look at both, zone and then gap.
While I’ll save more of the individual stuff for Josh, both their backs are tough and run hard. Pittsburgh’s team pursuit will need to be strong. One man might not always get the job done. Elsewhere, WR Braxton Berrios has three runs and they use a lot of jet motion and jet runs too on the perimeter. Over the last two games, they’ve most often come on 2nd and long (8+) from around their own 30 yard line.
There’s also a fair amount of RPOs being run. Mostly on 1st down but also on a third and goal against the Cleveland Browns that resulted in a receiver fade for a touchdown.
Their offensive is hurting, losing three tackles, but my impression of the Jets’ line is that it’s a big group of guys. No small players on this unit. They have big people even relative to their position like LG Laken Tomlinson (6’3, 323), C Connor McGovern (6’4, 306), and RG Alijah Vera-Tucker (6’4, 308) who played tackle at USC.
Overall, the Jets’ offense ranks 20th at just 17.3 PPG, scoring nine in the opener, 31 in Week Two, and 12 in Week Three. They’ve struggled in situational football, just 19th on third down at 36.2% and 21st in the red zone at 50% of those drives ending in touchdowns. They’ve turned the ball over seven times to start the year, at least once in each game and four times last week.
Jets’ Pass Game
Zach Wilson will make his first start of the year after injuring his knee in Week 1 of the preseason, taking back over for Joe Flacco. I’m not sure which quarterback I’d rather face. No stats for Wilson this year but last season, his rookie year, he completed under 56% of his passes while throwing more interceptions (11) than touchdowns (9). We’ll see what Year Two brings. Certainly, Wilson is far more athletic and that’ll be an element to deal with that wouldn’t have been the case with Flacco.
Rookie WR Garrett Wilson, one of the team’s three first round picks this season, has been their standout weapon. Team leader in targets (32) and receptions (18) with two touchdowns and an 11.9 average. TE Tyler Conklin is actually tied for the team lead in receptions with 18 but is averaging under eight yards per catch. Corey Davis took advantage of a blown coverage in Week 2 for a long touchdown, giving him a 18.7 average this season. Elijah Moore hasn’t been incredibly impactful but is another young, athletic receiver the team has been stockpiling. The offense still lacks explosion with just six completions of 20+ yards, tied for 27th in the league.
The line has struggled to protect Flacco. He was sacked nine times in the first three games, at least twice in each outing. They’ve allowed a ton of interior pressure and have lost three tackles so they could really be in a rough spot.
Schematically, here’s the #1 thing you need to know about the offense, at least with Flacco running it. First down playaction. This team loves doing it. Not just 1st and 10 but the first play of drives, looking for a big play to get things going. Hadn’t really been successful but they’re not ones to give up trying. Ton of it against the Bengals. Lots of jet action, too.
This isn’t much of a tendency but just to show the sorta old-school nature of the offense, check this one out. Seven-step drop from under center with the stop ‘n go to the bottom. You don’t see that much anymore.
While the offense hasn’t been very good, it’s at least creative conceptually to the point where the Steelers were borrowing formations and route concepts from it. They’re aligning Wilson all over the field and getting him in the slot with a lot of nods and creative routes for him to run, using his athleticism and burst to create a lot of space. Getting playmakers the ball in creative, smart ways…what a concept.
One last note. Gotta talk special teams here. Punter Braden Mann has executed a 4th down fake this year, a 17-yard completion in Week 2 against the Browns. Came early in the game, 1:41 in the 1st, on 4th and two on their own 46 yard line. Right gunner to the boundary (fakes often thrown to boundary so it isn’t as far for the punter to heave it) WR Jeff Smith ran an out route and Mann hit him for a good gain and YAC. So something to keep an eye on. It’s on tape.
Josh’s Individual Report
It’s Jets week, Steelers fans!
Needing a bit of a get-right game after two frustrating losses, the Pittsburgh Steelers welcome the New York Jets into Acrisure Stadium for a battle between two 1-2 teams with questions at quarterback and on defense.
After three strong starts to open the season from the veteran Joe Flacco, the Jets and head coach Robert Saleh are turning to second-year quarterback Zach Wilson for the Week 4 contest as the former BYU star is returning from a knee injury suffered in the preseason.
Flacco was admirable in his three starts to open the season, including leading a historic comeback on the road against the Cleveland Browns in the final two minutes of the game, picking up a thrilling 31-30 win on the road.
Wilson is the intended franchise guy in New York though, one that fits the mold of the modern NFL quarterback today with the athleticism, mobility, impressive arm strength and ability to make throws into seemingly impossible windows with varied arm angles and impressive accuracy.
There’s not much tape worth looking at with Wilson because it’s a new year and a relatively new offense, but the Steelers will have to be mindful of their rush lanes on Sunday afternoon as Wilson will pull the ball down and use his legs to create splash plays when things break down around him.
When he’s in the pocket though and throwing in rhythm, he has a really strong core of weapons to work with, especially at receiver.
Rookie Garrett Wilson is taking the league by storm. A former Ohio State star and a first-round pick this year, Wilson has been able to get open against anyone whenever he wants. Though he’s had some issues with drops on the year, he can work inside or outside and excels at creating separation in his routes.
He’s the second-most targeted receiver in football in the red zone, and he’s as quick twitch as they come in a phone booth at the position, able to explode in and out of cuts to create easy separation.
He’s a tough cover for anyone, but especially in the slot. He has great speed and really has a knack for finding the soft spot in the defense to hook up with his quarterback for splash plays. He’ll be a handful on Sunday.
Along with Wilson, the Jets have the likes of Corey Davis and second-year pro Elijah Moore to work with at receiver.
Moore is a high-level route runner with impressive football IQ within his routes. He has a great feel for when to break off a route and sit in a zone, or when to extend his routes to the boundary or down the field.
He hasn’t been used quite as often as the Jets would probably like early in the season, but he draws a ton of attention from defenses due to his route running.
Davis is the possession receiver, the one who consistently comes up with the big catch on the third down, can take a shot over the middle and make plays through contact. Though he hasn’t quite lived up to the big contract he signed in free agency, he’s dependable for the Jets as a No. 3. That’s good enough.
At tight end, the Jets signed Tyler Conklin and CJ Uzomah in the offseason, giving Wilson two dependable security blankets at the position.
Uzomah is a good blocker at the position, one that moves bodies in the run game. He also has really good hands over the middle and can be relied on to make the tough catches in traffic.
Conklin came on strong last season in Minnesota and turned that into a solid contract from the Jets in free agency. He can stretch the field vertically in the passing game and can make things happen after the catch. That said, early in the year he’s struggled with drops and overall ball security, coughing it up a pair of times.
In the backfield, I love the 1-2 punch the Jets have with second-year running back Michael Carter and rookie Breece Hall.
For my money, Carter is one of the toughest running backs in the NFL, pound for pound. He has impressive speed, but is so darn strong for his size. He can make you miss in a phone booth and isn’t afraid to lower his head and create yards.
He has the speed to turn the corner and rip off explosive runs too, and does a great job of getting North-South in a hurry, which the Jets desperately needed at the running back position.
Hall is the guy that the Jets are super high on at the position though. They spent a high second-round pick on him and he’s delivered reasonably well to this point. He can catch the football out of the backfield, has good long speed to rip off explosive runs on the ground, and has the power to break tackles and consistently churn out yards between the tackles.
Both will be a handful for a defense that has struggled to stop the run so far this season.
Up front, the Jets have had their issues protecting Flacco through three games. Wilson’s mobility might help that a bit, but down to their third left tackle, it could be a long day against Alex Highsmith.
Here’s how I expect the Jets to line up left to right on Sunday:
LT — Conor McDermott
LG – Laken Tomlinson
C — Connor McGovern
RG — Alijah Vera-Tucker
RT — Max Mitchell (R)
I am a big believer in the guard combination the Jets have with Tomlinson and Vera-Tucker. That’s two big, athletic bodies on the interior that get good push in the run game and use their feet and hands well in pass protection.
McGovern is a fine center overall, but he’s not moving the needle much. McDermott looked really, really rough coming in for George Fant after an injury last week and will have to square off with Highsmith on Sunday.
At right tackle, Mitchell is playing really well as a rookie. He is a guy I was high on at tackle coming out of Louisiana, one that I mocked to the Steelers a few times prior to the draft. He has great feet and good hand placement in the run and pass. He lacks some length overall, but he’s a really solid player.
On special teams, the Jets have had their ups and downs.
Punter Braden Mann has had a few shanks this year, but he has pulled off a successful onside kick, a successful fake punt, and was recently named the AFC’s Special Teams Player of the Week in Week 2.
He has a big leg. Consistency is an issue though.
Same for veteran kicker Greg Zuerlein. He has a very strong leg, but his consistency issues has caused him to bounce around the league throughout his career.
Braxton Berrios handles the kick and punt returns duties. He’s lethal back there, capable of taking any touch to the house with his speed and overall vision in the open field. He’ll be used as a weapon on offense too as the Jets try to get the football into his hands in space to let him work.