The Pittsburgh Steelers and the New York Jets have a rich history. While the two franchises are far from being rivals, they’ve squared off in many high-stakes games, which have often gone to the wire with dramatic finishes.
The Steelers home opener of the 2012 season however, was a tale of one and three quarters.
Picking up Where They Left Off….
Much has been made of the age of the Pittsburgh Steelers defense. And, if the “Old and Slow” motif had a lot less to do with the loss in Denver than is commonly understood, it’s a perception that the Steelers will need to fight until some of their younger defenders begin to deliver consistently.
Yet its also a useful metaphor for understanding the Steelers defense because it began the game just as it had finished against Denver – allowing the opposing offense to go the length of the field and looking tentative doing it.
- The Steelers offense was likewise slow out of the gate, settling for long field goals not even threatening to score touchdowns.
Yes, it may have been a bright sunny day in Heinz Field, but the Steelers collectively looked ever bit like an old Chevy struggling warm up on a cold Monday morning as they built up an edge in time of possession while the Jets built up a 10-6 midway during the second quarter.
But it was during the self-same Jets field goal drive that things began to change. A series of penalties, and smart running plays, brought New York down to Pittsburgh’s 19. Mark Sanchez had already miss fired several times on this drive, and in the red zone he was worse – in fact he didn’t complete a pass during the entire second quarter.
Steelers Warm Up and Get Humming
With 6:43 remaining in the second half, Ben Roethlisberger led the Steelers down the field with surgical precision hitting five receivers.
By the time he hit Heath Miller on a fade route in the corner of the end zone, the Steelers were up by three and had consumed 5:40 off the clock.
- And unlike the Broncos game, this momentum shift was for real.
It would be deceptive to say that the Steelers defensive performance during the second half evoked memories of ones put on by the 2008 and 2010 defenses. There were no turnovers, and only a few “Splash” plays.
But the unit made plays when it counted, LaMarr Woodley’s sack of Sanchez that forced the Jets to punt away their first possession being one such example.
Thus far, Todd Haley’s offense has been characterized more for its efficient ball-control ability rather than for its physicality or fireworks. In their first possession of the second half Ben Roethlisberger and Todd Haley showed they weren’t afraid to air it out, as Ben Roethlisberger rocketed a 37 yard bomb to Mike Wallace in the end zone, putting the Steelers up 20-10.
Closing Out with a Workman Like Performance
The Steelers closed out the remaining quarter with a workman like performance. A look at the stat sheet might lead one to wonder why the Steelers final margin wasn’t higher, but penalties buried the Steelers deep on several drives, including one drive that featured a 2nd and 30 and a 3rd and 32 situation (the record will reflect that Antonio Brown had a 25 yard catch and run in that situation that allowed Drew Butler to pin them back into their territory.)
Other signs of hope included:
- Santonio Holmes abused Ike Taylor early in the game, but Taylor kept him quiet after the first quarter
- The Steelers running looked absolutely anemic at times, but both Redman and Dwyer showed a lot of fight, and ground out yards when the Steelers needed them to
- The offensive line managed to stay healthy for an entire game and protected Roethlisberger well
- For his part, Roethlisberger (and perhaps Haley) showed that Ben can be Ben while not holding on the ball too long
The Steelers run defense, however, leaves a lot to be desired. The Jets would have been wise to try to run more, yet fortunately they kept trying to let Sanchez win the game for them.
The biggest difference in the defense however, was Ryan Clark. Clark was all over the field tackling people in the backfield and breaking up passes. Clark’s hit on Ike Taylor’s phantom pass interference call provided a text book example of how you can still hit hard while staying in the rules.
Steelers Closing in on Their Identity?
Both Bill Cowher preached and Mike Tomlin preaches that a team finds its identity in the first 4-6 games of a season.
- The ’08 team showed that it could and it would deliver wherever and whenever the game was on the line
- The ’10 team revealed that it knew no bounds in over coming adversity
In contrast, the ’09 team exposed a chronic inability to close and atrocious special teams. The ’11 team disclosed that it was one team on the road, and another at home.
In the 2012 Pittsburgh Steelers have shown Steelers Nation a lot of different looks. That’s to be expected two games into the season.
If Pittsburgh’s workman-like performance against the Jets left room for improvement, the Steelers also gave signs that they were capable of taking the steps needed to grow improvement.