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Five takeaways from Steelers’ 31-13 win over Jets

It’s hard to imagine the Steelers worrying about the Jets in Week 17 this year.

The Steelers delivered another blow to the staggering Jets Sunday, beating them 31-13 at Heinz Field. Ben Roethlisberger threw four touchdown passes and he’s thrown nine in the last two games without an interception.

The Jets could have made the playoffs last year, but instead let the Steelers in when they lost at Buffalo in Week 17. If the Steelers (4-1) keep playing the way they did Sunday, they won’t be doing any scoreboard watching on the last day of the regular season.

The Jets aren’t a bad team

This might sound like an observation more fit for a preview of the game, but part of the reason the Jets are 1-4 is their brutal schedule. They split their first two games, losing at home to the Bengals and winning at Buffalo. Then they lost at Kansas City, at home to Seattle and Sunday in Pittsburgh.

When the Steelers fell behind 13-7 in the second quarter Sunday and struggled to pull away early in the second half, there were grumblings on social media that they were in danger of losing to an inferior opponent like they’ve done a few times in recent seasons. Every year since 2012, they’ve lost at least once to a team with a 5-11 record or worse. The 2016 Jets might fall short of the playoffs, but they’re better than the 2015 Ravens and the 2014 Buccaneers.

The point is that the Steelers revealed some character in this win. Not everything went their way early in the game like it did last week against Kansas City, but they still won comfortably the way good teams do.

Le’Veon Bell had a career-high nine receptions

The Jets are second in the NFL with 3.0 yards allowed per carry. It shouldn’t be surprising, then, that they held Le’Veon Bell to 66 yards on 20 carries.

Bell more than made up for it with a career-high nine receptions for 88 yards. He was more of an asset in open space than he was between the tackles. Three of his most crucial touches came after the Jets took a 13-7 lead in the second quarter.

The Steelers started at their 25 with 2:06 left in the first half. Bell caught a nine-yard pass from Ben Roethlisberger. On the other side of the two-minute warning Bell ran for six yards. Two plays later, from midfield, Bell caught an eight-yard pass from Roethlisberger. The Steelers eventually took a lead they wouldn’t relinquish when Roethlisberger threw a one-yard touchdown pass to Jesse James.

Bell didn’t touch the ball for two straight possessions early in the third quarter, and Chris Boswell kicked a 47-yard field goal on the first of those drives to make it 17-13.

The Steelers didn’t take control of the game until they again put Bell to work. He caught 11-yard passes on two straight plays and followed that with a six-yard run to help sustain a drive that ended with Roethlisberger’s five-yard TD pass to Brown on the first play of the fourth quarter that made the score 24-13.

Bell was suspended for the first three games of the season for failing to show up for a drug test. His absence didn’t cost the Steelers a win two weeks ago at Philadelphia, but if he played it’s safe to assume the Eagles wouldn’t have won that game so easily.

No Gilbert, no problem

Since the Steelers used two first-round picks and two second-round picks on offensive linemen between 2010 and 2012, the line has evolved from a liability to a strength.

There have been some peaks and valleys in the trajectory of that progress. Ben Roethlisberger played 16-game seasons in both 2013 and 2014. He was sacked 42 times in 2013 but just 33 times in 2014 after the Steelers hired Mike Munchak as offensive line coach. Roethlisberger’s been sacked nine times this year and is on pace to be sacked just 29 times if he plays all 16 games this season.

The Steelers didn’t have one of those aforementioned draft picks Sunday. Right tackle Marcus Gilbert sat out with an ankle injury. Chris Hubbard made his first career start in his place, and Pro Football Focus gave him the highest grade among all Steelers players Sunday.

Roethlisberger had enough time in the pocket to get his shoes shined. He was sacked just once and according to ESPN.com, he was pressured on just four of his 48 dropbacks. Part of it was because the Jets blitzed Roethlisberger only 13 percent of the time, their lowest blitz frequency in the last three seasons.

Either way, it’s so nice to see Roethlisberger standing in the pocket after so many years of life on the run.

Roethlisberger has 15 touchdown passes, more than any Steelers quarterback through five games. It’s hard to believe, but he’s never had more than 32 in a season. That’s tied for 59th on the all-time, single-season list. He’s on pace for 48 this season. If he can even come close to that number in 2016, it would be another feather in the the cap for this offense.

And the offensive line is the engine that makes it all go.

Sammie Coates is the Steelers’ clear No. 2 receiver

It sounds strange to say a wide receiver had a breakout game after dropping four passes, but that’s just what Sammie Coates did Sunday.

Despite playing with stitches in his hand (which would explain the drops), Coates matched the career-high six receptions he had last week against the Chiefs. But he went from 79 yards and no touchdowns to 139 yards and two touchdowns. Those were the first two touchdowns of Coates’ career and he’s averaging 22.2 yards per catch, leading all players in the NFL who have double-digit receptions.

The second-year receiver is second on the team with 19 receptions. Le’Veon Bell, who has 14 catches in two games, probably will surpass Coates. But no other Steelers receiver has more than nine receptions. Among receivers, Coates has emerged as Ben Roethlisberger’s second option.

Has Coates made the Steelers forget about Martavis Bryant? Well, Bryant hasn’t played more than 11 games in either of his two seasons. He was suspended for the first four games of 2015 and knowing what we know now, it wouldn’t be surprising if he sat out the first six games of his rookie season because of an unofficial team-imposed suspension.

Having Bryant for a full season could have meant another win or two for the Steelers in 2014 and 2015. Who knows how differently the playoffs would have turned out if they could have avoided the wild-card round in each of the last two years?

Just by playing more than 11 games, Coates can do something Bryant hasn’t done.

Coates caught a 47-yard, tone-setting pass on the Steelers’ first play against the Chiefs and a 72-yard touchdown pass on the Steelers’ third play against the Jets. Roethlisberger is using him as an early-game hammer reminiscent of Mike Wallace. But neither Bryant nor Wallace averaged 22.2 yards per reception for a season.

There were whispers that the Steelers drafted Coates in the third round last year because of concerns about Bryant. Right now it looks like a smart pick.

Jarvis Jones does everything except sack the quarterback

Jarvis Jones doesn’t have a sack this season and he has just five since he was drafted 17th overall in 2013, but he’s been an important part of the Steelers defense in the last two games.

A week after his interception set up a 15-0 first-quarter lead against the Chiefs, Jones single-handedly stalled a Jets drive early in the third quarter.

The Steelers had just settled for a field goal and a 17-13 lead after Antonio Brown returned a punt 33 yards to the Jets 31. Ryan Fitzpatrick completed a nine-yard pass to Austin Seferian-Jenkins and it looked like the Jets might be able to put a drive together. But Jones deflected a Fitzpatrick pass on the next play and stopped Matt Forte for no gain on a shovel pass to force a punt.

That set the tone for a second-half shutout by the Steelers defense, the first since Week 15 last season when the Steelers came back from a 27-10 deficit to beat the Broncos 34-27.

Jones might not be piling up the stats that show up on paper, but he’s been doing a lot of nuts-and-bolts work and the Steelers will have a decision to make in March when he becomes a free agent.

Follow Mike @Steel_Tweets

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