It's almost time for the Jets to visit Pittsburgh, the city of hills and bridges and rivers and Über cars. Will this be the Green & White's 2016 waterloo, or can they auto-drive up and out of their 1-3 starting hole?
And have we beaten this multiple metaphor into submission yet? It will take a similar effort for the Jets to beat back the brawny Steelers in their lair. Head coach Todd Bowles ticked off the elements of the task:
"Other than the quarterback, the receivers, two good running backs, a big offensive line, they play well on defense, tough, physical 3-4 scheme, good linebackers, good front, ball-hawking secondary. You know, it's going to be another tough game. They made the playoffs for a reason.
"I'm excited about what we're doing and our chances going in."
Here are seven points ahead of Sunday's visit to Heinz Field at the confluence of the Ohio, Allegheny and Monongahela rivers:
1. The Uphill RivalryThe Steelers have been one of the Jets' most difficult rivals since they first met in 1970 at old Three Rivers Stadium. The Jets have dropped 17 of 22 overall, seven of eight in Pittsburgh, and five of six at Heinz. The one win was by 22-17 in the 2010 regular season, setting the stage for the AFC Championship Game return match five weeks later. The Jets have split the last six overall with the Steelers, posting underdog wins in 2007 (the Jets coming in 1-8 to the Steelers' 7-2) and 2014 (1-8 to 6-3). These one-win Jets will need a similar effort.
2. Pouring It On at HeinzThe Terrible Towel-waving, black-and-gold-clad home crowd forms a formidable 12th man, as the Steelers' home record the last two years indicates. In their last 10 Heinz games (8-2 record), they've outscored foes by an average score of 31-18, and their plus-11 turnover margin is tied for best in the league. The Jets had done well on the road in Bowles' first season, but this year there's that big minus-7 TO enchilada at Kansas City. They need to show that the visitors-bearing-gifts vibe is history since four of their next five games are on the road.
3. Making Ben GentleBen Roethlisberger, standing tall as ever in the pocket, is off to a strong start, and over his career he's won five out of eight over the Jets. But the Green & White have often given as good as they've gotten against Roethlisberger, who in those eight games has thrown seven TDs to nine INTs with a 79.5 passer rating and has been sacked 23 times. Nine of the last 20 sacks have been supplied back back-seven Jets players. The blitz has been big in toppling Big Ben in the past. Could it be again Sunday?
4. Antonio Brown ... and a Showdown?In a league of superb wideouts, Antonio Brown is at the top of the list. Since 2013, his 403 receptions and 5,400 yards are first among all WRs and second isn't even close. "A lot of people struggle with him," Jets DC Kacy Rodgers said. "He's a dynamic, dynamic receiver." As for Brown's 35 touchdown passes the last four years — all thrown to him by Ben Roethlisberger — he's tied for first. With whom? The Jets' Brandon Marshall, of course.
5. Green Wall vs. the RunThe Jets run defense has been the rock of the D — their 70.3 yards/game and 3.09 yards/rush allowed are both second in the NFL and the yards/game is fourth-best after four games in franchise history. Muhammad Wilkerson leads the defense with 4.5 TFLs. The green wall hasn't slowed the completions over that wall so far, but a good pass defense still depends on a one-dimensional offense, and that again will be key for the Jets vs. Le'Veon Bell and DeAngelo Williams. DT Steve McLendon's recipe: "The biggest thing for us is to play extremely fast, extremely hard, extremely physical and smart — just do what we know how to do best."
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6. FitzDrivesOne thing Ryan Fitzpatrick has done well this season is drive engineering. He's averaged 6.4 plays/drive, third-best among all NFL quarterbacks, and 36.5 yards/drive, fourth-best. It does no good to turn the ball over at the end of a six- or seven-play drive, but if Fitz and the offense can move on crisp passing — Jalin Marshall may be back, Eric Decker may not — and timely Matt Forte and Bilal Powell contributions, it could help to at least calm down the Heinz faithful and limit Ben, Antonio Brown and company's time on the field.
7. Field Position SlumpRookie WR Charone Peake got the ball rolling, so to speak, when he picked up the bouncing fumble and took off for the end zone late vs. Seattle. As we noted at the time, it was the Jets' first return touchdown of any kind since 2013, ending the NFL's longest drought at 39 games. The Jets would love more return TDs but they don't necessarily need them as much as they need takeaways, stronger returns and stronger coverage — in other words, field position. Last week's 20.3-yard-line average drive start was their second-worst at home since 1993.