After the Jets’ Week 15 win at Pittsburgh, Rex Ryan told his team to leave their notch in Heinz Field because the Jets would be back. That performance by the Jets was spearheaded by an efficient offense, a bend-but-don’t-break defense and some superb special teams play.
Buried beneath the surface of 22-17 victory, though, was the Jets’ inability to get off the field on third down. Time after time, the Jets forced the Steelers offense into third-and-long, and time after time they gave up big plays to give Pittsburgh a fresh set of downs. All in all, the Steelers went 11-for-17 on third downs, and if not for a Jason Taylor safety late, the game could have easily gone into overtime.
Ahead of Sunday’s AFC championship, the Jets are starting to get defensive about their third-down play, even as they realize that the Steelers productive offense will gain yards.
“They are going to move the football, there’s no question about it,” Ryan said. “If we’re going to expect to win this game we’re going to have to play better defensively without question.”
Pittsburgh rolled off three long scoring drives of 16, 10 and nine plays, respectively in last month’s matchup. It helped the Steelers control the clock and keep momentum away from the Jets. Hardly an easy task — just ask the Patriots.
There’s reason to believe this matchup will go better for Ryan’s bread-and-butter unit, and not just because Bart Scott says so. The Jets have increased their blitzes in the past month and threw multiple looks and wrinkles in their coverage schemes to confuse Peyton Manning and Tom Brady.
“We’re going to show them different looks, we realize that third down is important,” defensive end Mike DeVito said. “We just got to make sure that we execute better [then] we’ll be fine.”
Being healthy may help the execution. Defensive end Trevor Pryce and safety Eric Smith should both near full strength and able to play, unlike their last trip to Pittsburgh when Rashard Mendenhall rushed for 99 yards and a touchdown.
Even starting nose tackle Sione Pouha is fully fit, having been hampered by a hand injury for more than six weeks. Pouha had been cleaning around his locker and had reached into a garbage can and sliced his hand open. The Jets are hoping that on Sunday in their return trip to Heinz Field, they draw first blood against the Steelers.
“Watching the film, we did about as bad of a job defensively as we could on third down,” cornerback Drew Coleman said. “We didn’t do a good job of plastering the receivers early in the game. A lot of time it was busted coverage in the secondary, poor communication that led to their big plays on third down.”
In the win over Pittsburgh, the Jets conceded four drives of at least 50 yards. The only time the Jets stopped the methodical Pittsburgh offense on an extended drive came on the game’s last play when Marquice Cole defended a Ben Roethlisberger pass in the end zone.
“It comes down to us making corrections and doing things the right way this time,” Coleman said. “We know that we can’t let them do that to us this time, drive down the field the way they did time after time. It puts too much of a burden on our offense if we let them move the ball like that.”