The Pittsburgh Steelers are hosting the New York Jets in Week 5 at Heinz Field, and it is time for us to go behind enemy lines to get the low down on the Jets in this AFC Matchup. I was able to ask MacGregor Wells (contributor at Gang Green Nation) a handful of questions about the upcoming matchup.
Take a look at the interview below...
There was a lot of talk about the Jets coming into this season, and they certainly have stumbled out of the gate. What are the main factors you point to when it comes to their slow start?
The main factors are as follows:
i. A brutal schedule to start the season that includes five playoff teams from 2015 in the first six games, and four of those six games on the road. Jets fans knew the beginning of the season was going to be very challenging; even the best teams struggle to defeat playoff teams on the road.
ii. A brutal start to the season by quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who has thrown 10 interceptions in the first four games of the season, and thirteen in his last five games going back to last season's finale. Fitzpatrick struggles more than most quarterbacks when playing from behind, and he has played from behind a lot.
iii. A back seven that can't cover anybody. The Jets have seven passes defended as a team in the first four games. Four individual players in the NFL have more than the Jets entire team, and the Jets are last in the NFL by a wide margin in this category.
Ryan Fitzpatrick was the big talk of the offseason, and his holdout equated to a big one-year deal. He has struggled, but other than the interceptions, what have been the main areas of Fitzpatrick's game which have the offense searching for answers?
Other than the interceptions? That's a bit like asking, other than that whole shooting thing, how did you like the play, Mrs. Lincoln? OK, here's the thing. Fitzpatrick has always been a mediocre, journeyman quarterback. He had a nice year last year, but his flaws didn't magically go away. Some regression to the mean was to be expected in 2016. Combine that with the tough set of defenses he has faced to start the year and the deficits he has found himself in and his flaws have been exposed with a vengeance. He doesn't really read the field post-snap. On virtually every play Fitzpatrick makes a pre-snap read, determines where he's going with the ball, and locks on, regardless of what happens post-snap. That works OK against bad pass defenses because the Jets have very good receivers when healthy who can be counted on to win their matchups against lesser defenders. The Jets played an easy schedule last year against a ton of bad pass defenses, and Fitzpatrick was successful throwing repeatedly to his two top receivers, Marshall and Decker. However, against better pass defenses Fitzpatrick's limitations are evident. Over and over again you see him stare down a blanketed receiver while receivers run wide open on the other side of the field, where he never even looks. The result, for a quarterback who is not the strongest armed or most accurate, is a ton of contested passes and interceptions against better pass defenses, and that's exactly how things have played out in 2016. People talk about how he has to adjust, but in his mid thirties, Ryan Fitzpatrick is not going to learn new nuances of the game or make new adjustments. This is who he is, for better or for worse, and against top pass defenses, it's very much for worse.
Defensively the Jets are a team with a tremendous amount of talent along their front. They are able to get after the quarterback, and will need to do so in Week 5 against Ben Roethlisberger. What is the area of weakness on the Jets' defense which has fans concerned?
I delved into this a bit above. Going into the season there was concern that the defense did not have an established second outside cornerback. Jets fans thought this could be a problem all year long. What was not expected was that nobody else on the team would be able to cover anyone either. The Jets have had constant breakdowns in assignments in the secondary, allowing opposing teams to have multiple touchdowns on deep balls in which nobody appears to be covering the receiver. In addition, even without the breakdowns in communication and blown assignments, the Jets just do not have anyone who is even average at their position at covering receivers, with the possible exceptions of cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Buster Skrine. Even Revis has been bad this year. He has given up multiple touchdowns and has yet to snag a single interception or defend a single pass. The linebackers to a man can't cover anyone, and the safeties are incapable of staying with a running back out of the backfield or a decent tight end. These are problems that go deeper than just a few blown assignments and a few breakdowns in communication. Even if those problems are solved the Jets will struggle in pass coverage because they just don't have many good cover guys. A return to Revis Island levels of play would go a long way toward solving those problems, as it would allow the Jets to ignore his assignment and roll extra support to other areas, but that ship, I think, has sailed. Revis may not be as bad as he has looked at times early this year, but the days of him shutting down #1 receivers are gone.
Injuries are part of the game, but they can decimate a lineup. Matt Forte is dealing with a couple injuries, Darrelle Revis has a hamstring injury and Eric Decker's season could be over. How will the Jets handle some of these injuries in Week 5?
Decker probably won't play. That's a big blow to the Jets offense. Now there is word Quincy Enunwa, the Jets third wide receiver/ h-back/ tight end/ multipurpose weapon has a knee injury and is questionable for the game on Sunday. If he plays he may be hampered by the knee. The Jets number one wide receiver, Brandon Marshall, will play but is still hampered somewhat by his knee problems. The Jets fourth wide receiver, Jalin Marshall, is out with an injury. That leaves rookies Robbie Anderson and Charone Peake as possibly the only healthy bodies at wide receiver, as supplemental weapons to a limited Brandon Marshall, and possibly newly acquired tight end Austin Sefarian Jenkins will make his debut at tight end. Jets fans like what they saw out of the rookies in training camp, but neither one is ready for a major role in the offense. We have no idea what to expect, if anything out of Jenkins. If Enunwa does not play it will be difficult to envision much success by the Jets in the passing game.
Revis is looking doubtful for Sunday, and as much as he has struggled early this season he is still by far the Jets' best pass defender. If he can't go on Sunday it is difficult to imagine how the Jets can hope to contain Antonio Brown. Brown would have been an extremely difficult assignment for Revis; for any other Jets defender he's all but impossible to defend.
Forte's injury is probably the least concerning for the Jets. If he can't go, backup running back Bilal Powell is a more than adequate replacement. There should not be much of a drop-off in production from Powell.
Looking at the Steelers' defense, there are certainly deficiencies. How will the Jets attack the Pittsburgh defense on Sunday?
I think the Jets would have preferred to go pass happy against a Steelers team that has been very stout against the run but does not have an elite secondary. If the Jets had a healthy Brandon Marshall, Eric Decker and Quincy Enunwa the Jets would probably have liked those matchups and gone to a heavy air attack. However, if the options are a limited Marshall plus two rookies as the top three targets that's a less promising strategy. If that's how the injuries play out I think the Jets will attempt a run heavy, ball control offense and an extremely heavy load to Brandon Marshall in the passing game. That's not exactly a great formula for success against the Steelers, who always defend the run well, but if the options are give the ball to Powell or throw it to rookies, my guess is you'll see a heavy workload for Powell both carrying the ball and on screens and short passing routes. If, however, the Jets get behind by multiple scores, as is certainly a good possibility, the Jets will be forced to abandon the run and force the ball to receivers not ready to carry the load. In that case the interceptions could start flowing and this game could get out of hand in a hurry.
Extra Credit: This Steelers are 7-point favorites at home, how do you see the game playing out, and what is your final score?
I wish I could be optimistic about this game. But I don't see how the Jets contain Antonio Brown. I think the Jets stout run defense could limit Le'Veon Bell's effectiveness in the running game, but the Jets have no answers for him in the passing game. On offense the Jets would prefer to run without many of their best receivers, but the Steelers are very good at shutting down the run. The Jets best hope here is to put on a fierce pass rush that manages to get to Roethlisberger early and often, resulting in multiple sacks and turnovers and an early double digit lead. Then the Jets could try to go conservative, bleed the clock, and hope the defense can hold on. That's possible with the Jets defensive line, but it's not the way to bet. Realistically this game has a Steelers blowout written all over it. If Brown and Bell have a lot of success early, as I expect them to, the Jets will be playing catchup all game, and that's a very bad look for a Jets offense with a depleted receiving corps and a limited, turnover prone quarterback. I don't usually do scores; they're just such random guesses. But I will be surprised if the Steelers don't win by multiple scores. If you insist on a number, let's say Steelers 34, Jets 20.