Sunday’s match-up between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the New York Jets features two teams with something to prove to the rest of the league.
The Jets are looking to prove that last week’s 48-28 thrashing of the Buffalo Bills was no fluke.
While the Steelers, much like last year, are looking to prove that they haven’t lost a step after another opening day defeat, this time at the hands of the Denver Broncos.
The Jets and Steelers are two evenly matched teams, both with strong offensive weapons and a physical defense.
The outcome Sunday could come down to a few key elements going one team’s way in order to decide who walks out of Heinz Field with the win.
KEYS TO VICTORY FOR THE JETS
Pass, pass, and pass: New York quarterback Mark Sanchez is coming off arguably the best performance of his career, as he went 19-for-27 for 266 yards and three touchdowns against Buffalo.
While you can’t compare Buffalo’s defense to Pittsburgh, the Steelers had their hands full trying to stop Denver’s passing attack last Sunday night. And while Sanchez is no Peyton Manning, the Steelers’ secondary has been the weak link of their defense for a while now.
Don’t be surprised if Sanchez and the Jets attack Pittsburgh’s secondary by throwing early and often, even throwing in a little no-huddle to get try and tire out the Steelers’ defense, something Peyton Manning was very effective at in week one.
Pressure Roethlisberger: Simply put, the Steelers’ offensive line is hurting at the moment, and with the ineffectiveness of the running game, it puts more pressure on quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to make plays.
Jets’ head coach Rex Ryan loves to dial up blitzes, and if he can put the heat of Roethlisberger, it could slow down the Steelers’ passing game, which seemed to be the only bright spot the Steelers had on offense against Denver.
If Roethlisberger is allowed to stand in the pocket or extend plays with his feet as he does so well, if could spell disaster for the Jets.
Win the special teams battle: This game could ultimately come down to who makes a play on special teams, whether that is a big return or a forced turnover.
Both teams have very good return men (Antonio Brown and Chris Rainey for Pittsburgh; Joe McKnight and Jeremy Kerley for the Jets) who have to capability to turn games around with one big play. For the Jets to win they will need to outplay Pittsburgh in the special teams department. If not, I believe the edge goes to the Steelers.
KEYS TO VICTORY FOR THE STEELERS
Establish the run: This goes back to the second key to victory for the Jets. The Steelers tried and failed to establish the run game against Denver, forcing Roethlisberger into many difficult 3rd-and-long situations.
Offensive linemen Ramon Foster and Marcus Gilbert should play Sunday, giving the Steelers a boost up front. Many Steelers fans believe the team should abandon the running game and put it in Roethlisberger’s hands, but having Roethlisberger throw 40 times a game is not the answer. If the Steelers can get the running game going against the Jets, it should open up more holes for an already effective Steelers’ passing game.
Create turnovers: For the Steelers to win Sunday, they are going to have to create turnovers, something they struggled to do last season as well as against Denver in Week 1.
Against the Broncos, the Steelers forced one turnover in the first quarter when Larry Foote forced a fumble that Lamarr Woodley recovered. The defense didn’t come close to taking the ball away the rest of the game. They’ll need to on Sunday if they plan on beating the Jets.
Finish drives: The Steelers' offense was able to put together a few long drives against the Broncos, but twice had to settle for field goals while Denver’s offense generated touchdowns.
If the Steelers are able to drive down the field against a good defense like the Jets, they need to come away with a touchdown; especially in they get inside the five yard line. The difference between six points and three points could be the difference between the Steelers being 1-1 or 0-2 after Sunday.