The last month for the Steelers and Jets have been remarkably similar. They both got blown out by the Patriots. Against everyone else, however, they're playing a lot of defense but not exactly lighting the world on fire when they have the ball.
For the Steelers, the offensive struggles haven't been a huge problem because an opportunistic defense has found ways to get key and timely turnovers. The Jets have had that luck most of the season, but just couldn't come up with it last week at home against Miami.
Of course, the reason for each team's offensive woes result from different causes. For the Jets, it's Mark Sanchez reverting to the turnover-prone liability that he was most of last season, coupled with the running game being less effective than it was at the outset of the year. There are many that assumed both were likely to happen at some point in the season. Maybe they were, but the latter was especially inevitable with LaDainian Tomlinson getting the bulk of attention in the ground game.
The Steelers, meanwhile, are dogged by a depleted offensive line and a coordinator who refuses to adjust to that reality. Perhaps that's being too cruel, but so far all the only answer Bruce Arians seems to have developed against the problems with blocking are quick receiver screens to players at the line of scrimmage. While that strategy might be smart to get Mike Wallace the ball when corners are playing off, it's woefully inadequate when it's the only means for Ben Roethlisberger to get rid of the ball quickly.
It was assumed and hoped that Heath Miller would be back this week, though that is increasingly seeming like it won't be the case. Nice that the Steelers lose a starter for two weeks on a heinous cheap shot by a Ravens player that wasn't even flagged. Disgusting. Worse still, reports are now saying Troy Polamalu won't be active, either.
Those are both significant, especially Troy, who has come up with huge turnovers in three consecutive games. For the Jets to have a chance to win, they'll need a much better performance out of Sanchez. Polamalu being out doesn't assure the Sanchise can be competent, but it certainly makes matters much easier on him. The Jets won't be able to run much, so it's imperative to get as much pressure on Sanchez. After a few down weeks, LaMarr Woodley is playing at a high level again. And Damien Woody will miss the game, opening up that more of a chance to him to have a big impact.
The Steelers can still beat the Jets without Polamalu and Miller, but it will be that much more difficult. While I'm not conceding the loss, I want to put the game in some perspective. Even if the Steelers lost and the Ravens beat the Saints, the Steelers would remain in first place in the AFC North by dint of a better division record. So let's all thank the Bungles again for beating the Ratbirds back in September. Of course, that would make the Week 17 game against the Browns a pretty huge deal for the Steelers. Cleveland has certainly been much more feisty this season, though by then hopefully Pittsburgh would have a lot of its main contributors back. There's no excuse for not beating Carolina no matter who you're missing.
With Ryan sending the house, it'll be difficult for Roethlisberger to have time to go deep for Mike Wallace, even if he weren't being covered by Revis. So it's going to be incumbent on other receivers to come up with big plays. That happened last week with great catches by Hines and Randle El. Hopefully that manifests itself again, along with a better scheme by Arians. I'll just go ahead and presume the former has a better chance of happening. The Patriots had a lot of success with quick release plays against the Jets, but then he know that's not Arians' nor is it Roethlisberger's style. Best case scenario, the pass blocking can provide protection in turns to open up big plays, or even red zone conversions.
And, yeah, there's the return of Santonio. I'll be the first to say I wasn't on board with the stupid trade that sold him to the Jets for pennies on the dollar. At the same time, Holmes saying he expects a standing ovation from Steelers fans on Sunday is a little annoying. I mean, yeah, 'Tone, you were really good, and you made a mammoth play to win a title but you weren't exactly a team icon for a generation, either. I'm sure he'll get some cheers and deservedly so, but not the hero's welcome he presumes is coming. Santonio had a horrible drop last week that might have even cost the Jets a loss, so he no doubt is looking to rebound, in addition to exacting a measure of revenge on a team that dumped him for cheap. Without Polamalu, that will be easier. Then again, he still has Mark Sanchez throwing him the ball. That's still the greatest impediment of all.