The New York Jets have a shot at defeating the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 5 action if they follow this blueprint to success.
Sep 15, 2016; Orchard Park, NY, USA; New York Jets head coach Todd Bowles on the sideline during the first half against the Buffalo Bills at New Era Field. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports
The New York Jets (1-3) season has gone from one of guarded optimism to a realization that this team is truly not the one with playoff aspirations that were hoped for by the most fervent fans. It’s not like the signs weren’t there. When exactly has quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick put together two good seasons in a row? How often do 30-year-old running backs dominate the NFL? After top receivers started to consistently beat Darrelle Revis in the second half of 2015, why would we expect him to turn back the hands of time?
Ok, so that’s the bad news. Allow me to present the blueprint for success against the Pittsburgh Steelers this week. The Jets have played 10 games in Pittsburgh, losing 9. After suffering a blowout loss in Philadelphia, the Steelers responded with a dominant victory over the Kansas City Chiefs. They beat a team that came off a six-interception performance against Fitzpatrick in Week 3.
The Jets come into this game reeling.
Fitzpatrick is an embattled player, throwing nine interceptions in the last two games. A closer look illustrates most of these were in the fourth quarter while desperately trying to bring his team back from large deficits. These were created by a lax secondary that gives up the most yards per attempt in the NFL (9.7). The high-flying Steelers with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, wide receiver Antonio Brown and a rested running back Le’Veon Bell are not the team these Jets should face on paper.
Good thing the game isn’t played on paper or in Madden. There are areas in which the Jets have the ability to attack the weaknesses of Pittsburgh but the room for error is razor thin. Make no mistake, the Steelers are one of three legitimate Super Bowl Champions from the AFC. If head coach Todd Bowles turns this around, he needs to follow this blueprint for victory.
Next: Provide extra help in the secondary
Oct 2, 2016; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; Seattle Seahawks tight end Jimmy Graham (88) catches the ball against the New York Jets in the second half at MetLife Stadium. Seattle defeated New York 27-17. Mandatory Credit: William Hauser-USA TODAY Sports
Provide extra help in the secondary
Last week against the Seahawks, the Jets secondary got caught misreading patterns and allowed big plays that extended drives. Despite the final score and another three Fitzpatrick interceptions, this game was within reach for New York.
To a fault Bowles, a former defensive back himself gives his players the latitude to make reads and leaves them on one on one matchups. Against Buffalo and Cincinnati, the one on one matchups (Revis?) were exploited for big plays. Meanwhile against the Chiefs and Seahawks, poor safety route recognition allowed players to get wide open.
As much as Bowles likes to bring the heat, there will be a need to dial this back and allow his big defensive line to pressure and contain the elusive and powerful Roethlisberger.
He has a tendency to lose patience and take shots. Drop linebackers into coverage to keep an eye on tight end Jesse James and Bell. Keep the safeties back and allow the corners to attack Brown on the short patterns which he does such a great job extending into big plays. Blitz at your own peril against this team, you don’t rattle a guy like Big Ben with a few hits. Save that for Tom Brady.
Next: The front seven needs to control the run
Sep 15, 2016; Orchard Park, NY, USA; Buffalo Bills running back LeSean McCoy (25) is tackled by New York Jets defensive end Sheldon Richardson (91) and defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson (96) during the second half at New Era Field. The Jets beat the Bills 37-31. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports
The front seven needs to control the run
The Jets defensive line has been the strength of the team. Lead by the line, the Jets allow the second fewest rushing yards per game in the NFL (70.8). This has to continue this week but make no mistake, Bell is the best running back they have faced all season.
The Jets needs to tackle and control the gaps.
Bell is a slashing runner who can turn on a dime and elude the best defenders. The last time the Jets played Pittsburgh, Bell was held to 36 yards as the Jets won in their horrific 2014 season (4-12), Rex Ryan’s last.
Next: The Fitzpatrick Story
The Fitzpatrick Story
Fitzpatrick is rarely the reason why the Jets fall behind but he has been the reason the sinking ship falls faster. There are fewer more difficult places to play than Pittsburgh, among the best fans in the NFL. Heinz Field is unforgiving when their team gets a lead. If the defense is unable to manage the tempo of this game and Fitzpatrick is forced to pass, he will be a sitting duck against their ball-hungry defense.
There is good news however. The Steelers have a vulnerable defense against the pass, allowing 316 yards per game, 30th in the NFL. Even without wide receiver Eric Decker, the Jets have an opportunity to produce on Sunday. Fitzpatrick has already won a tough road game this season against a strong defense and it’s not out of the question for this to happen again.
One factor to watch out for is phenom linebacker Ryan Shazier, who is still questionable.
This will be a large factor for the Jets if he is unable to suit up. Few players have the physical gifts of this young star. Without Shazier, many things open up in the middle of the field for New York in the passing game. Which leads me to…
Next: Unleash Bilal Powell in the passing game
Dec 19, 2015; Arlington, TX, USA; New York Jets running back Bilal Powell (29) runs for a touchdown during the first quarter against the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
Unleash Bilal Powell in the passing game
Powell has proven to be every bit the playmaker as a receiver out of the backfield. However, the problem has been by the time he is called into action, the Jets are either in 3rd and long or well behind.
Getting Powell involved as a threat early will force the Steelers to be less aggressive in attacking Fitzpatrick.
Forte showed some flashes early in the season, you can still see the veteran savvy but that only goes so far.
The Steelers are a difficult team to run against, so the path to victory will be through the air and with Decker unavailable, Powell is needed to emerge as a key component in the passing game.
Next: Bottom line
Sep 25, 2016; Kansas City, MO, USA; New York Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick (14) hands off to running back Matt Forte (22) during the second half against the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium. The Chiefs won 24-3. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports
While a Jets victory will be one of the big upsets of 2016, it is by no means impossible. The strengths of this team quite nicely attack areas of vulnerability with Pittsburgh.
The most critical issue will be the ability of the defense to contain an explosive passing game.
This team does not have the guns to match up one on one against the playmakers of the Steelers and Bowles must dig deep to create a scheme that will protect against big plays. If he cannot, then you can rip up the rest of this blueprint.