Saturday, September 15, 2012

New York Jets: Return Mission to Pittsburgh

From the desk of:   A BLUE BLOODED GIANTS FAN

Rex Ryan's War:

Battles Of 2010 Still Fresh In Both Team's Memory

Since the AFL/NFL merger, the Jets have faced the Pittsburgh Steelers twenty-one times overall.  Prior to 2010, the Jets managed a mere three regular season victories over one of the eldest franchises in football history.  All three wins came at home.  Back in 1998, the Jets were 24-20 victors. In 2003, the Jets pitched a 6-0 shutout.  And in 2007, Gang Green squeezed out a 19-16 win.

Gang Green's fourth and last victory over the Black and Gold came in December of 2011, when D-Generation Rex defeated the Steelers in Pittsburgh for the first time in Jets franchise history.  To the chagrin of many, the Jets achieved an improbable 22-17 victory.  The 2010 Jets would eventually play their way into the AFC Championship Game.  Similar to the way the Jets season series played out against New England, perhaps a second encounter against Pittsburgh was in the cards.  For the Steelers also managed to play their way into the AFC title game.

For the second time in just a little over a month's time, the Jets flew back to Pittsburgh to play in the final American Football Conference match-up of the season.  The winner would go on to play in Super Bowl XLV.  Back in 2004, the Steelers defeated the Jets in the AFC Divisional round.  In this, their second ever playoff match-up, the Pittsburgh Steelers defeated the Jets once again, this time by a heart crushing 24-19 margin.

The Jets flew back to New York a broken team.  Repairs to Rex's Jets squadron lasted throughout the 2011 season while Pittsburgh went on to lose Super Bowl XLV 31-25 to Aaron Rodgers the Green Bay Packers.

This coming Sunday, the two teams will meet again in Pittsburgh.  For the Jets, the team's futility in Steel City should be a non-issue.  That December 2010 win should still be fresh in many Green minds. But so should that AFC title game loss.  After all, it was D-Generation Rex's second consecutive championship game loss.

Losing Super Bowl XLV wasn't too catastrophic to Steel City's collective mental health; I don't think. They have a whole display cabinet filled with Lombardi trophies. Their Sunday opponents however, only have one trophy, obtained in upset fashion, going on what will soon be forty-three years ago.  The head coach of today's Jets, in word at least, has practically guaranteed a second.  But his time to get it done is running short.  Presently, Pittsburgh is no better off.  They are a rapidly aging team.  And after dropping this season's opening game to the Denver Broncos, and after last season's incredulous loss to Tim Tebow and those same Denver Broncos, the Steelers are as desperate as any team in the league, which includes the Jets.

Both teams are up against the proverbial wall.  But while time might be running out for each team, consider only one coach's job may wind up in peril.  Say Pittsburgh and the Jets both have miserable seasons, odds are the Steelers stick with Mike Tomlin, while Rex Ryan's future in New York becomes far more doubtful, or precarious at best.

D-Generation Rex is on a mission.  Coach Ryan is the first to admit sometimes there are setbacks and sometimes there are unexpected victories.  Rex and a few others have been on both ends.  But outside of Rex, Marc Sanchez, Bart Scott, Mangold, and a select few, I don't know how many Jets share the same level of understanding into the immediacy of their situation.  Somehow, Week Two doesn't seem to carry with it the sense of desperation Gang Green's overall season does.

In Week Two, I think the Steelers are (collectively) the more desperate team and will respond in kind.  For one day at least, I feel they will play with a greater togetherness.  Many current Steelers have been together for a very long time.  So many of their players march to one beat.  Rex Ryan historically has received that kind of unyielding support from his players.  This season's dynamic still needs to prove to what degree.  But that's just my impression as an outside observer.  The Steelers are desperate to keep themselves from starting 0-2, while the Jets are trying to win their second game.  So which team's edge is sharper coming into Sunday?

Make no mistake, Big Ben has the rings Marc Sanchez is still hopeful of being fitted for one season.  Therefore this is Marc's game.  This is his season.  However, even should Marc Sanchez and the Jets play a near perfect game Sunday, history shows us the Jets do not score more than twenty or so points against the Steelers.

What ever the Jets plans for Tim Tebow, if Marc Sanchez plays like he did last week, he will force the Jets to limit Tebow Time, and continue playing the hot hand.  BOOM!  There it is.  This is all in Marc Sanchez' hands.  The Jets road record in Pittsburgh, and Tim Tebow's last second playoff victory last season with Denver be damned.  Marc Sanchez won in Steel City before.  And Pittsburgh's defense is compromised enough to allow him to do it again.  He may have to.  Marc may be forced to out-score the Steelers. However, he will have to do it without Dustin Keller.  That means without his safety net Marc Sanchez will be forced to make better initial reads.  Last week Marc Sanchez masterfully incorporated a head fake and pump into his game and threw touchdowns.  That's what quarterbacks get paid to do - not what Tim Tebow brings.

The Steelers are currently injured at their strengths; linebacker and safety.  Two of Pittsburgh's biggest defensive guns will be missing from Sunday's game.  Word is, Safety Troy Polamalu and Linebacker James Harrison are highly questionable; doubtful; or just plain - out.  Any way you dress it, they are compromised.  As such, Pittsburgh's situation on defense is an invitation for Marc Sanchez to repeat his Week One performance against Buffalo.

Of course surrendering twenty-eight points to the Bills raises its own set of questions.  But lets assume the Jets defense plays this Sunday, and throughout the season, as well as they are projected to be. Consider this about Week One.   Buffalo never blitzed Sanchez, and Mario Williams never got his hands on Sanchez.  No Buffalo Bill ever touched Sanchez.  It is safe to assume, that will not be the case against Pittsburgh.  On defense, the Steelers still field a formidable front seven.  The Jets O-Line had a good week against the Bills.  The Black and Gold are a different animal though.  Marc Sanchez and the O-Line both will most likely have to repeat their efforts, and outscore the Steelers.

Here is the biggest problem facing the Jets this Sunday - Ben Roethlisberger and the absence of Derrelle Revis.  Without Derrelle Revis, there goes whatever pass rush the Jets had.  It's well known Rex relies on his corners to indirectly get pressure on the QB.  Still without a legitimate individual pass rusher, Rex relies on coverage and a bevy of blitz packages to pressure the passer.  That's where Big Ben comes in.  He always seems to bust loose from the pocket.  Just ask Santonio Holmes.  He's the baby Huey of the NFL.  I mean that in a good way.  He's so big, he is hard to bring down.  But what this stumblin', bumblin', rumblin' steel worker does best is thrive on busted plays.  That's why these recent games between the two teams are always close.  And that's why the Steelers usually come out on top.  The Jets defense is already compromised heading into Sunday, but even when healthy, Big Ben still does just enough to foul the Jets best laid defensive plans.  Pittsburgh it seems, is always only a late 4th quarter possession and a busted play away from potential victory.  This Sunday, I think the Steelers sneak by.

I think it is going to be a great game.  Can the Jets win with some turnovers or breaks?  Yes, and don't rule it out.  A win would also work particularly well considering the Jets play Miami the following week.  Losing great games however are no consolation...; as if there were such a thing in the National Football League.


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