The Pittsburgh team the Jets will face Sunday is not your father's Steelers, or even your big brother's. Ben Roethlisberger has retired, WR JuJu Smith-Schuster has gone to Kansas City, RB James Conner's in Arizona, LB T.J. Watt is on Injured Reserve. Heck, they don't even play at Heinz Field anymore.
The Jets would like to get some payback for their 10 losses in 11 visits to the Steel City over the years, but they also know about playing slightly desperate AFC North opponents. Cincinnati was 0-2 before leaving MetLife victorious last week, and Pittsburgh is 1-2 and on a two-game losing streak this week.
These are five Green & White players to watch as the Jets undertake their newest quest for .500 at the venue recently renamed Acrisure Stadium:
QB Zach Wilson — Wilson has sat out the first three games rehabbing his right knee. He's been cleared to return as the starter and it will be interesting to see how ambitious HC Robert Saleh and OC Mike LaFleur is with the playcalling for their second-year QB. Whatever Zach seeks to do, probably the top two goals are quick releases — to stay out of the grasp of ROLB Alex Highsmith, who's picked up the sack slack after Watt's injury with 4.5 sacks — and no turnovers. Wilson comes into this game with those streaks from last season of 156 consecutive passes and five straight games without throwing an interception. The Steelers lost the turnover battle in losing their last two games, at home vs. New England and at Cleveland.
WR Elijah Moore — Joe Flacco threw the ball to Moore 22 times in three games. Moore caught 12 for 139 yards. Fair numbers, but is Moore ready for an explosion in the Zach's-back attack? Elijah did after all lead the Jets last season in receiving yardage (538), TD catches (5) and 20-yard receptions (9). Z.Wilson could find him and G.Wilson open in the Pittsburgh secondary, considering the Steelers have yielded three 100-yard wideouts already in Ja'Marr Chase (@ CIN, 10-129-1), Nelson Agholor (vs. NE, 6-110-1) and Amari Cooper (@ CLE, 7-101-1) and almost a fourth in Jakobi Meyers (vs. NE, 9-95-0).
See the top photos from Wednesday's practice leading up to the Steelers game.
DL Quinnen Williams — Williams didn't have a monster game vs. the Bengals but it was still one of the best of the fourth-year man's Jets career. He had a sack of Joe Burrow, three QB hits that tied for a career high, plus drawing a holding penalty on Cincy's rookie LG. The Steelers have done a good job protecting Mitch Trubisky, Big Ben's successor to start '22, but otherwise Pitt's passing production has been bottom half of the league. If Quinnen as Mr. Inside and Carl Lawson (team-leading 5 QBHs) as Mr. Outside can harass Trubisky, the Steelers will remain low in the NFL rankings for third-down conversions (tied for 24th) and possession time (32nd).
CBs D.J. Reed and Sauce Gardner — The Jets corners have had some fine moments but haven't been perfect. They'll be needed at the top of their games if Trubisky gets some time to throw. The Steelers wideouts no longer feature Schuster but they have Diontae Johnson, who has the fifth-most receptions in the NFL since 2020, Chase Claypool, and rookie George Pickens, who has declared, "I'm open as soon as I get off the line" and had an Odell Beckham-esque one-handed grab at Cleveland. Coordinators seem to be singling out Gardner, but he's responded with four PDs, tied for fifth in the league, and will be looking for a few more breakups plus his first pro pick on Sunday.