FLORHAM PARK, N.J. - It's an imperative game for the New York Jets (1-3), who will collide with the Pittsburgh Steelers (3-1) Sunday. Both teams are sailing in opposite directions just a quarter of the way through the NFL calendar. The Steelers got its mojo back last Sunday night with a 43-14 drubbing of the Kansas City Chiefs. While the Jets dropped its second consecutive game losing 27-17 to the Seattle Seahawks.
The Steelers have a 17-5 advantage in the all-time regular season series between these two teams. However, the last time both teams met was in 2014 when the Jets came out victorious 20-13 at MetLife.
There's been plenty of talk about whether the Jets can salvage the season and fulfill its playoff aspirations, and a win on Sunday will push them in the right direction. Expect a very physical game when these two teams take the field. Here's what you should watch for:
WHEN: Sunday, October 9, 2016 1 p.m. EST
WHERE: Heinz Field Pittsburgh, PA
KEYS TO THE GAME:
Bring Ben Down-
Ben Roethlisberger is a top quarterback in the league and a two-time Super Bowl champion. He is 18-5 against the Jets all-time including 4-1 at Heinz Field. He already has 11 touchdown passes this season which is tied for first. The Jet defense knows it will face an elite player but will they be able to bring him down? Roethlisberger is known for pulling a Houdini and escaping the grasp of defenders looking to sack him. At six-foot-five 240 pounds, "Big Ben" is a load to corral inside the pocket. He isn't the quickest quarterback but his experience allows him to pin point where his receivers will be once he alludes the blitz. The Jets need to find ways to get in his face and obstruct his vision so that he can't sit back and pick them apart. If the Jets can pressure Roethlisberger playing a 4-3 a set, they'll have a good shot at winning the game. Leonard Williams, Muhammad Wilkerson, Sheldon Richardson, and former Steeler Steve McLendon, may be the most talented defensive line on paper. Sunday they'll need to show it on the field and it starts with maintaining a grip on Roethlisberger's jersey and taking him to the ground.
Before the season, wide receiver Brandon Marshall made a bet with Pittsburgh's Antonio Brown, that he would have more yards than him by the end of the season. So far, Marshall is trailing Brown by 120 yards. Marshall scored his first touchdown last week and the Jets need another strong performance from him. Marshall is a player that garners a lot of attention from opposing secondary's, getting him involved early could do wonders for the Jet offense late in the game. With Eric Decker out with a shoulder injury and Quincy Enunwa questionable with a sore knee, Ryan Fitzpatrick, who has struggled this season, needs a receiving threat to rely on. Marshall is a leader on offense and if he plays well the Steelers' defense won't be able to solely key in on the run. Marshall is an underrated blocker who's impact goes beyond just catching passes. If the Jet offense plays well, Marshall will have a something to do with it.
Gang Green's offensive line has played well this season but it has been the decision making that has cost the Jets some games this season. In the past, the Steelers where often called "Blitz Burgh," under former defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau for generating pressure on opposing quarterback's with exotic blitzes. Keith Butler is the current coordinator and I expect him to challenge the Jets by crowding the line of scrimmage often. Starting right guard Brain Winters is out with a concussion so Ryan Clady, Nick Mangold and James Carpenter need to pick up the slack and keep Fitzpatrick safe in the pocket. Look for linebacker Lawrence Timmons and defensive end Cameron Heyward to come off the edges. Heyward had three sacks last week and tipped a pass that was intercepted by linebacker Jarvis Jones. The element of pressure will be huge for both teams.
Avoid Secondary Mishaps-
Cornerback Darrelle Revis is doubtful with a hamstring injury. This is huge because it puts more pressure on the Jet safeties to defend the deep ball. Safety Calvin Pryor said the Jets' secondary is 'a target' for opposing offenses and it starts this Sunday. Antonio Brown, Sammie Coates and Markus Wheaton will look to have a field day against Marcus Williams, Buster Skrine and rookie Juston Burris. Roethlisberger has a strong arm and tremendous accuracy on his deep ball. We know the secondary is banged up but the Jets need to show continuity. If a defender gets beat that's one thing, but coverage meltdowns and missed assignments show a lack of preparation.
X-FACTORS- ROBBY ANDERSON & SAMMIE COATES
Jets wide out Robby Anderson is fast and it seems like every game he beats a defender deep. Last week he got a step on his defender but was under thrown by Fitzpatrick on what potentially could've been a big play. With Decker out and rookie Jalin Marshall doubtful, expect to see Anderson in some three wide receiver sets. The rookie out of Temple can flat out ball and he earned a roster spot with a strong preseason. Now Anderson must go out and produce for a banged up Jets receiving core. On the other side, Coates turned heads last week showing explosiveness as a vertical threat. The Jets may decide to put Burris on Coates, and it'll be interesting to see how often the Steelers go after the rookie corner.
Prediction: Jets 24-23
With all the negativity surrounding the Jets right now, I feel like they will come out and play inspired because the season is potentially on the line. Pittsburgh is tough to beat at home but the Jets will play a solid game and take care of the football. Although it seems like a long shot with all of the injuries, the Jets will find a way to win a hard fought game as a collective.
Marcus Reynolds is a staff writer for Jetsinsider.com/NYJScout.com. He can be reached on Twitter (@Marcus_JRNL), or via email (firstname.lastname@example.org).