The Pittsburgh Steelers and New York Jets have played some very tight, physical ballgames in recent years and there is no reason to suggest this one won’t be the same if not similar. There is however a storyline that has emerged that we haven’t seen in previous match-ups and that of course is the injury bug plaguing both teams.
Hard to believe in week two that injuries are already such an issue but this is football and this is the NFL. The Jets will be without All-Pro cornerback Darrell Revis is out without concussion-like symptoms and tight end Dustin Keller will miss the game with a hamstring issue. The Steelers will again be without James Harrison whose knee injury is obviously far more significant than he or the team has let on. The more surprising injury if you can call it that is the one to Troy Polamalu who will more than likely be out with a calf strain. Keller has had some pretty good games against the Steelers so his loss is tough for New York.
One other fairly significant injury for the Jets is a hamstring injury to linebacker Bryan Thomas and the reason his loss becomes important is that this coould potentially open up the running game and allow Heath Miller more opportunities as well.
So how do the main injuries this week impact the game-planning? Perhaps in more interesting ways than you might think. First of all, there are many who believe that Ryan Clark returning to the line-up and playing the free safety position, the defense may actually be ‘better’ than if the roles were reversed like last week in Denver. I understand why people might think that, but I disagree. Will the defense be a ‘safer’ one? Yes, more than likely, but I don’t see it being better.
The Steelers, even with Troy Polamalu on the field last week, sat back and were picked apart by Peyton Manning. They completely abandoned the blitz and paid dearly for it. Do we expect Dick LeBeau to actually rev up the blitz with Polamalu out? That will be an interesting question moving forward tomorrow but I wouldn’t expect it. I believe you’ll see more ‘bend don’t break’ defense this week in the hopes that Mark Sanchez will make mistakes on his own.
With Harrison once again out, Chris Carter gets the start again and I’m guessing Jason Worilds will see time as well. We know that Carter is less than stoudt against the rush so he must get some pressure on Sanchez and when Tim Tebow is in he must do a better job than James Harrison did in the playoff game last year containing the option which I guarantee you’ll see.
Offensively for the Steelers, Todd Haley has known for a few days now that Revis won’t play so I look for him to dial up some special things to take advantage of his absence. Don’t be misled however because Dominique Rogers-Cromartie and Kyle Wilson are no slouches at corner. I definitely believe you’ll see Mike Wallace get a few chances down-field this week compared to last when he really was targeted just once deep. My feeling is that the benefactors of Revis’ absence will be Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders. Both men should be able to get open and create issues for the Jets’ defense.
Of course none of this really matters if the offensive lines for each team can’t protect their respective QBs. That’s why you’ll see each team try to establish some semblence of a running game early to keep the opposing defenses at bay. As is Mike Tomlin’s mantra, “the standard is the standard,” the Pittsburgh Steelers need to step up and take advantage of the Jets’ injuries. A loss means the Steelers would be 0-2 and 0-2 against the AFC with a trip to Oakland looming next week.