Much was made this week of the Pittsburgh Steelers being without their top two right tackles in Marcus Gilbert and Ryan Harris, paving the way for utility offensive lineman Chris Hubbard to make his first NFL start. But facing a New York Jets defensive line loaded with premier players and first-round picks, Hubbard was almost flawless in pass protection, while holding his own in the run game as well.
“Preparing throughout the week was big,” said Hubbard. “Watching a lot of game film and studying my opponents. Being able to recognize what they’re doing and when they’re doing it was important.”
The Jets' creativity up front defensively presented an intense challenge for Hubbard and the rest of the Steelers offensive line, but the group prevailed in the end, allowing just one sack on a play in which Ben Roethlisberger probably held the ball too long.
“They definitely ran a lot of twists,” Hubbard said. “Managing that throughout the game really helped me out. Shout out to Dave DeCastro because he really helped me out as far as the T/Es (tackle-end stunts) and all that stuff.”
* Success in the ground game was hard to come by against that ferocious Jets front seven, but Le'Veon Bell’s impact was felt in the passing game, as the running back racked up nine catches for 88 yards to go with his 20 carries for 66. The Jets really struggled to keep track of Bell out of the backfield, even losing him completely several times for sizable gains.
* It’s pretty unusual to look at a stat line of six catches for 139 yards and two touchdowns and be slightly miffed, but that’s the bizarre situation we find ourselves in when examining Sammie Coates’ performance on Sunday. The receiver opened the scoring with a 72-yard touchdown catch from Roethlisberger on what looked like the start of a career day, but Coates struggled through drops for most of the game, including a handful of would-be touchdowns.
On one post pattern before the end of the first half, Coates inexplicably slowed his route after breaking inside, and the ball glanced off his hands for what should have been yet another bread-basket touchdown grab. The receiver did bounce back with several big grabs in the four quarter, including a 5-yard touchdown pass with 1:46 left to cap the game’s scoring.
Coates reportedly suffered a severe laceration on his hand that required stitches at halftime, but the Steelers continued to utilize him without hesitation throughout the game.
“I’m not into that,” said Mike Tomlin. “I’m not into excuses. His performance is his performance. He had some up plays, he had some down plays. It’s good to learn while we win and that’s all I’m going to say about that. We’re not looking for comfort or excuses regarding his finger.”
* Stopping Brandon Marshall looked like a monumental task early on, as the veteran receiver snagged six passes for 86 yards and a touchdown in the first half. With Ross Cockrell shadowing Marshall throughout most of the game, the Steelers defense bounced back to hold the Jets top receiving threat to just two catches for 28 yards in the second half.
“We played well as a defense today, and I’m very happy about that,” said Cockrell. “The plan in the secondary was just to throw the house at them and see how they dealt with it. We tried to switch it up as much as possible, tried to show them some different looks. I think it worked well for us.”
Cockrell struggled with Marshall for much of the game, but was actually in position for a game-altering interception on the Jets lone touchdown of the game, only to have the ball bounce off his hands and right to the waiting mitts of Marshall. While the Jets receiver certainly got the better of the matchup, two big third-down pass breakups from Cockrell stymied potential Jets touchdown drives.
“Brandon Marshall is a class act,” Cockrell said. “This was my first time going up against him. We played some man-to-man, we played some Cover 2, we threw a lot of different looks at him. I know what my role is, my role is going to be a guy who can disrupt guys at the line of scrimmage and I’m working hard at it.”
* It was a big game for Jarvis Jones, who had two quarterback hits, three tackles, a pass breakup, and a big third-down tackle of Matt Forte on a shovel pass with the Steelers protecting a 17-13 lead in the third quarter. Jones’ impact as a pass rusher has been minimal this season, but he continues to play the run at a high level and make sound tackles while setting the edge defensively.
* The Steelers came up with three sacks on the day, and probably should have had a few more if not for a couple of Ryan Fitzpatrick escapes. Lawrence Timmons and Arthur Moats split a sack, while Vince Williams and Anthony Chickillo each tallied one. Chickillo’s first NFL sack came on an impressive edge rush, getting just enough of a step on right tackle Ben Ijalana to knock the ball loose from Fitzpatrick’s grasp. The Jets recovered, but the 8-yard loss put them in a second-and-18 situation that helped force the team to settle for a field goal when they couldn’t pick up the ensuing first down.
* The fact that it feels like a footnote tells you all you need to know about Roethlisberger, who was a ho-hum 34-47 for 380 yards, four touchdowns and for the second straight week no interceptions. While pressure wasn’t an issue behind an offensive line that dominated, Roethlisberger’s ability to keep moving through his progressions and allow his receivers to work free opened up the underneath passing game, and made it impossible for the Jets to maintain coverage on Pittsburgh’s vast array of weapons.
* Jordan Berry was phenomenal yet again. Three punts on the day, all of them inside the Jets 13-yard line. The second-year man is quickly establishing himself as one of the best punters in the NFL.