Recovering From Rex Ryan

Marty Flaherty with lessons learned after the former Ravens defensive coordinator stymied the Steelers again.

How many times did you hear, in the week after the Ravens game, "I've got a bad feeling about this Jets game," or words to that effect?

What other type of feeling were you supposed to have, with Rex Ryan on the opposite sideline?

In nine seasons and 13 games against him since he ascended to the Ravens' defensive coordinator spot, the Steelers have scored 224 points on offense. That's 17.2 points per game, a rate that would've ranked among the top five scoring defenses every season from 2006 through 2013. And that weak output is bolstered by a 38-point aberration when the Steelers scored on drives of 20, 28, 36 and 44 yards off of turnovers in James Harrison's 2007 Monday night coronation. No matter how bad Ryan's team is, he seemingly always has a defensive surprise in store for the Steelers.

Antonio Brown certainly seemed surprised to find the Jets top pass rusher, Muhammad Wilkerson, sitting on a screen pass and forcing a fumble that enabled the Jets to go up 17-0. The next drive, Wilkerson stayed at the line of scrimmage to block Le'Veon Bell's path on a screen pass, allowing teammate Sheldon Richardson to tackle Bell from behind for a loss.

In the two prior games to the Jets, with Todd Haley calling the plays, the Steelers threw 61 passes, of which 27 -- 43 percent -- were short passes to the right side of the field. That's a good way to neutralize a pass rush. The Jets responded by neutralizing their own pass rush, deploying their best pass rusher as a spy to take away those short passes to the right side.

Haley is often criticized as being too reliant on screen passes, but he seems to have done a nice job this season of pairing those screen passes with variations that take advantage of holes that open when teams have those screens covered. Presumably, Ben Roethlisberger has the authority to read coverage and determine at the line which variation should be open.

But since Wilkerson's a 310-pound monster who's nobody's idea of a coverage player, Roethlisberger would be hard-pressed to spot the coverage pre-snap. As such, on more than one occasion, the Steelers carried out screen passes that had no hope of success when Wilkerson turned up where no star pass rusher would be expected.

Then, on the opening drive of the second half, Wilkerson barely touched right tackle Marcus Gilbert on a three-man rush. There was zero pressure on Roethlisberger when he threw his second interception of the game. Ryan's familiar with Roethlisberger's ability to throw on the move outside the pocket, changing the throwing angles so that DBs who were in good position when they turned their backs become hopelessly out of position. So rather than pressure him, Ryan used his best pass rusher to spy him and keep him in the pocket.

Roethlisberger might have had a chance to find Bell or Brown on the left sideline, but even those were tough angles for throws. Roethlisberger got impatient and made an unforced error, but it was a good call by the Jets that gave him plenty of time but nowhere to go with the ball.

Most times, when observers say a team got outcoached, it's a pejorative aimed at the losing coaching staff. In this case, for most of the game, I didn't have a problem with the Steelers' game plan. It was trumped by some terrific coaching on the other sideline. Ryan and defensive coordinator Dennis Thurman in particular took away most of the deep passes Roethlisberger loves and the short ones Haley loves. The Jets outcoached the Steelers without any help. But they got some help anyway.

I think the low point in the game in this regard was the botched fourth-quarter goal-line opportunity.

It was foreshadowed by a second-and-six in the red zone in which the Steelers gained two yards against four in the box, in large part because Ramon Foster and Kelvin Beachum managed to get one hand between them on linebacker DeMario Davis, who made the tackle.

When they can't block a linebacker against four in the box, why, against a goal-line formation at the one-yard line, would you run twice behind Foster and Beachum, at Wilkerson and 350-pound behemoth Kenrick Ellis? On their best day, neither Beachum nor Foster is a match for Wilkerson. And it wasn't close to their best day. No surprise that Wilkerson got deep penetration on both plays.

On the first play, running back LeGarrette Blount might have chosen the wrong side, but the second run to the left was definitely a called play and definitely hopeless. I didn't have a problem with the much-derided third-and-five running play at the end of the Buccaneers game, when David DeCastro was matched up against all-world DT Gerald McCoy at the point of attack. I think they had a better chance of getting five yards against that matchup than one yard against this matchup.

On third down, perhaps just to reinforce the lesson, Beachum and Foster couldn't manage to stop end Quinton Coples, with a double-team, leaving Roethlisberger running to his left in search of daylight. Coples is no scrub, but his pass rush doesn't come close to matching his draft pedigree.

I'm sure the coaching staff is getting blasted for having Harrison on the field with the offense, but they would've scored a touchdown if the runner followed his block instead of Beachum's and Foster's.

I doubt the Steelers would bring Mike Adams on the field in goal-line packages, even though they're OK with having Harrison out there. But unless I was imagining it, on at least one play, I saw the Jets' No. 60, left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson, line up on the right side and clear the way for a converted first down. If the team wants to be ambidextrous running the ball, they might consider experimenting with a similar swap that would put Gilbert on the left side, improving the run prospects on that side without a personnel swap that would betray their intentions to the opponent.

I didn't expect the offense to continue to roll against the Jets. Ryan is always at his best against the Steelers, and any coach who can find a way to beat Tom Brady with Mark Sanchez can make life difficult for any offense.

But I didn't expect a loss, either. The turnovers are what turned a game tougher than most expected into a loss. One hopes they won't be an excuse that would distract from the lessons that can be learned from the shortcomings exposed by the Jets.


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