Lots of plays stand out in the Steelers' impressive defensive performance against the pass, but what's important is showing how they were able to overcome a slow start.
Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez was 10-for-27 passing after a 4-for-5 start. One of the big throws he made early was a 45-yard bomb on which wide receivers Jeremy Kerley and Stephen Hill executed a smash route perfectly, victimizing a confused Steelers secondary.
It would be one of the last times the Jets' offense was able to make a big play on the Steelers' defense in the game. The coverage was outstanding, and freakish plays like the second one we'll highlight, from outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley, accentuated an outstanding second half of defensive football.
GIFs and breakdowns after the jump.
The Jets have the ball at their 34-yard line on first-and-10. The lined up Kerley in the slot, and Hill on the line on the outside. Safety Ryan Mundy is in the slot over Kerley, and Lewis is over Hill on the outside.
On the snap, it appears the Steelers are in zone. The question is, what zone is it?
On a smash route, twin receivers run together, one of them stops and turns, often with a quarterback pumping a pass toward that receiver, getting the defenders in zone to freeze. The other receiver streaks down the seam or to the corner, and if the defenders hesitated, the receiver is left running down the field wide open.
To counter that, the deep safety is playing over the top, and can move to make a play on the ball.
In this case, it appears as if Mundy, the free safety, is a "robber," which essentially plays inside and closer to the line, but drops back with a deep receiver.
Lewis freezes on Hill's hitch, but drops back to shade Kerley as he breaks up field., looking like he expects deep help. Mundy passed Kerley off to his outside. Since the inside linebacker, Larry Foote, dropped into the same spot Mundy rolled to, it would seem like Mundy had deep coverage responsibility in a cover 2 look.
Lewis doesn't realize there isn't anyone behind him until Sanchez lets go of the deep pass. Toward the end, S Ryan Clark is seen running from the opposite side of the field. suggesting he was take to the deep sideline out of cover 2.
Without knowing the defensive play call, it's hard to assign blame, even though it appears Mundy is the one out of place.
However it gets broken down, some sort of miscommunication occurs that allowed Kerley to run unguarded for the catch and the 45-yard gain.
The biggest reason the Steelers won this game was because their secondary eliminated the kinds of mistakes highlighted in Play 1 over the second half. Outstanding coverage led to Woodley's individual contribution in the third quarter.
It's the 3rd quarter, 6:23 left and the Jets have the ball 2-and-16 from Pittsburgh's 45-yard line.
Sanchez drops back to pass, and Woodley is rushing off Sanchez's right side. For whatever reason, the Jets' protection shifts inward, leaving RB Shonn Green to block Woodley 1-on-1. Green appears to be aiming to chip Woodley at the line of scrimmage, and seeing Woodley come free to his outside, he shifts backward, trying to pick him up.
Green loses his balance, and Woodley sees this, breaking back to the outside to avoid him.
Green does a nice job of recovering, though, and is able to get his shoulder on Woodley's thigh, possibly saving Sanchez's fumble statistics and possibly his life.
This puts Woodley in the air, and while his legs are off the ground, and gravity is being fought off by his right arm being on the ground, Woodley reaches up with his left hand, and grabs Sanchez's right, throwing arm, denying him the opportunity to make a clean throw.
Woodley's great effort forces Sanchez to shuffle to his left as he's re-establishing his grip on the ball. He is only able to manage a weak throw to his left that flutters harmlessly into the ground, just as LB Lawrence Timmons crushes him.
Great effort by Woodley, and great coverage down field, prevented Sanchez from throwing cleanly, and led to another incomplete pass.