Pittsburgh gave up 163 total yards, and held a 38-21 time of possession advantage last week in a 31-28 victory over Cleveland. Browns K Phil Dawson missed a 53-yard field goal attempt with six seconds remaining that would have tied it. Despite getting throttled in every other aspect of the game, Cleveland was in position to win this game because their kick returner, Josh Cribbs, had one kick returned for a touchdown, and another to the Steelers' 3-yard line. Clearly, this is an area of concern for the AFC North leading Steelers. Rookie LB LaMarr Woodley is out due to a hamstring injury, so starting LB James Harrison will fill his place on the kick coverage team. Harrison is the team's special teams captain, and usually only covers punts.
Washington comes into Sunday with three kick return touchdowns of his own, and is averaging 33.5 yards per return. The 1-8 Jets have been every game they've played except for a 38-14 whipping at the hands of the Patriots (there was something to do with a camera that game) and a 38-31 loss to Cincinnati, in which they got a last-second touchdown to break within a touchdown. Washington's success in the return game has helped a beleaguered offense a great deal, and it's the only positional advantage the Jets have over Pittsburgh.
Clemens officially took over the starting job from incumbent Jets QB Chad Pennington in Week 9, and had decent results. He completed 23-of-42 passes for 226 yards and a touchdown without an interception in the Jets' 23-20 loss to Washington. Clemens staked New York to a 17-3 lead at one point. A defense should always fear the young quarterback playing for a team with nothing else to lose, especially when the younger quarterback has a considerably stronger arm than Pennington. Clemens is going to have to do a lot if he wants to get eight Steelers defenders out of the box. The Jets haven't had a 100-yard rusher since Week 6. It's been two years since the Steelers last allowed one.
Polamalu's best strength is concealing the defense's true intentions on that particular play. He has a knack of confusing quarterbacks into the wrong read, and will look to mess with Clemens' head. Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau has been working the Steelers' Cover 2 and Nickel defenses to high success this season, but he sometimes shows as many as five defenders on the line of scrimmage before the snap, and drops three of them into coverage. This all keys off Polamalu, who oftentimes is freelancing around the line of scrimmage, and blitzing where he feels it is necessary. Whether Clemens will be able to recognize where the defenders are dropping to – in particular, Polamalu, who, when he's at his best, is more like an underneath linebacker – will determine much of his success.
RB Willie Parker vs. Jets front seven
The Steelers have been in this game twice this season. They went up against Denver when, going into the game, the Broncos were statistically the worst run defense in the league. Parker had an effective 93 yards on 21 carries, but didn't score. Going into Week 10's match-up against Cleveland, the Browns were at the bottom in rush defense, and Parker had 105 yards on 25 carries. Again, no touchdown. It seems to be the recurring theme in Parker's season. He has only reached the end zone twice – once more than QB Ben Roethlisberger. Parker leads the AFC with 873 yards, a comfortable 113 yards ahead of Colts RB Joseph Addai. The Steelers have been using Roethlisberger's arm the majority of the red zone plays this season, and there's no arguing that philosophy is working. Parker is getting carries, but it doesn't seem they are coming in succession. With his speed, he's due for a game-changing long run.
The Jets provide little reason on paper to suggest that big play won't happen. Multiple times, even. New York's opponents have rushed for a league-high 313 times against them, and they allow 4.4 yards a carry. If the Steelers want to give Parker the ball 15 times in the first half, it's very likely he will be over 100 yards at the end of the second quarter. To the Jets' credit, they don't allow many points, considering how many yards they give up per game on the ground (159, highest in the league), but they really don't have an answer for the effective Steelers rushing attack.
Steelers run defense vs. RB Thomas Jones
There is something to be said for the best defense being a good offense. It's even more accurate when a team has neither, like the Jets. While the Jets struggle to get the ground game going when they have possession, sustaining drives and keeping Roethlisberger, Parker and the other explosive members of Pittsburgh's top-five offense off the field might be the best chance the Jets have to score an upset. While the Jets offensive line is young and head coach Eric Mangini seems to want to employ more of a zone-blocking scheme that requires the running back to make a cut and advance up the field, Jones is more of a straight-line runner, and hasn't been very patient in choosing a hole, even when one has been available. Jones needs to get in sync with the maturing offensive line, he's already proved to be a high-end runner in the NFL.
The Steelers run defense has been filthy all season, and has stopped better backs than Jones (Travis Henry, Willis McGahee and Frank Gore). But with athletic playmakers on the outside like Jerricho Cotchery and Laveraneus Coles, They are able to spread out and force the Steelers to stay honest in their coverage. If Jones can exploit that, he has a chance to be the back to break Pittsburgh's 34-game streak of not allowing a 100-yard rusher.
|The Coolong Scorecard|