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Jets-Steelers: 10 Things to Look For

The NFL stands for Not For Long, and that stands for preseason public perceptions of all 32 teams as well as for winning streaks, losing streaks and careers.

Who would've thought, for instance, that the Jets, listed outside their locker room as a trap game for every other team in the league back in August, would now be 3-2 and must guard against being trapped by the 0-4 Steelers en route to playing the 4-1 Patriots at MetLife Stadium the following week.

Head coach Rex Ryan vows that won't happen.

"There will be no letdown," Ryan stated Wednesday. "If the Pittsburgh Steelers beat us, it's because they beat us. There's no other factor because our focus is strictly on them. For us, we have to improve by leaps and bounds as a team. We know there's a lot of areas we can improve in. That's where our focus is. We learn from what happened, some of the things we need to correct, and you move forward to your next opponent. That's where we're at.

It'll be a hard-hitting game against a fairly desperate opponent that has beaten the Jets 18 times in 22 games all-time — but that we have beaten in our last two meetings in the Meadowlands. And there will be, oh, at least 10 things to look for in this game on Sunday.

1. Toppling Big Ben — Our defense's mission is to shut down the run to get after the pass. That could be doable since Pittsburgh's jumbled run game is 32nd with 58.0 yards per game and 28th with 3.2 yards per carry. Then the defense will try to beat a path to Ben Roethlisberger's door. "They're still led by Big Ben," said LB David Harris. "He's a hard guy to tackle for one man and he makes a lot of good plays out of broken plays, so that's what we want to stop."

2. Cancel the Mane Event — S Troy Polamalu is a seven-time Pro Bowler with dynamic potential. As former teammate Willie Colon said, "He's a wild cowboy. He can wreck a game all by himself." Yet this season Polamalu has no interceptions, no fumbles forced or recovered, no sacks. We'll want to keep this cowboy lassoed and prevent him from rising head and shoulders above the offense for our best chance to win.

3. Willis Reed on Turf? — That might be overstating it, but if No. 31, Antonio Cromartie, takes the field for warmups, it could send electricity through early-arriving Jets fans. Cromartie hyperextended his knee during Thursday's practice, is questionable for this game and will be a gametime decision. If no Cro, it'll be Darrin Walls and Kyle Wilson on the corners and Isaiah Trufant in the slot.

4. Balance Beam — The Steelers' defense is unusually lopsided, ranking 25th against the run and fifth vs. the pass. This would seem to play into the Jets' offensive balance in their last two wins: 63 runs to 53 pass plays. Especially since our three-headed backfield was finally reunited for the Falcons and showed promise with Bilal Powell's quick cuts, Chris Ivory's power running and Mike Goodson's speed, with OC Marty Mornhinweg able to dial up Geno Smith passes more when he wants to than when he has to.

Record 3-2 0-4
Points Scored/Game 19.6 17.3
Points Allowed/Game 23.2 27.5
First Downs Gained/Game 17.6 19.5
First Downs Allowed/Game 16.4 17.5
Yards Gained/Game 350.6 341.3
Yards Allowed/Game 299.0 321.8
Turnover Margin –9 –11

5. Sure Hands — After six drops in the rain at New England, our receivers took to drills and to the ball machine with a vengeance. Result: No dropped passes the past two games. The two-minute drive to beat Atlanta had the feel of a JUGS drill: Slant to Stephen Hill — thunk! To Jeremy Kerley — thunk! To Hill, to Clyde Gates — thunkthunk! Sure-handedness will go a long way toward optimizing Geno Smith's dropbacks against a hungry Steelers front seven that has only four sacks in four games.

6. No Neutral Site — NFL ticket lore says Pitt travels well, and the last time the Steelers visited the Meadowlands, in 2007, their colors were very visible in the stands. The Jets (1-8 that day) still prevailed but it was an uphill battle before closing the 19-16 overtime victory over the Steelers (7-2). This time we're hot (3-2) and Pittsburgh's not (0-4), so don't sell off those tickets. Keep 'em, come on down to MetLife, and help put a lid on the black and gold, which in turn will help turn those Terrible Towels into crying towels.

7. Safety Dance — Watch for who's lined up next to Dawan Landry at safety for the Jets. Antonio Allen had been starting, but Jaiquawn Jarrett got the start at Atlanta and Josh Bush joined those two in base, nickel and dime play. "You can never be satisfied," said Bush, who logged 25 defensive snaps vs. the Falcons compared to 20 in his previous 20 games as a pro. "We still need to clean up a lot of things. We haven't played a perfect game yet on defense, so that's something that we're striving to do."

8. Folk, Hero — That's what Rex says he calls his kicker these days, and we've put it in a headline or two. And why not? Nick Folk has hit six game-winning kicks for the Jets since 2010, the latest at Atlanta, and he's No. 2 in the NFL since '91 in career fourth-quarter FG percentage. Further, if he gets a FG try vs. Pittsburgh and bangs it through, that will make him 12-for-12 and break his own franchise record for most FGs without a miss from the start of a season, which he set with 11 in a row in '11 and equaled last year.

9. Turnovers, Anyone? — The Jets are still 30th in turnover margin at minus-9 and the Stillers still 31st at minus-11. But the Jets are coming off Geno and the defense's impressive plus-1 over the Falcons while Pitt has yet to take the ball away from anyone. For what it's worth, the Jets are plus-3 in their last five games against the Steelers dating to the '04 postseason game at Heinz Field.

10. Marty's Happy Tears — What's the over/under on how soon after he's introduced at halftime that Marty Lyons, the 13th inductee into our Ring of Honor, begins to choke with emotion? Whatever the number is, Bob Wischusen has the under. "Marty cries at the drop of a hat," said Wischusen, Lyons' partner in the ESPN New York 98.7FM booth. "There's a 12-minute countdown clock on at halftime and we might need six minutes for him to stop crying." But "Shoes" and many of us in the stands will be moist-eyed the entire time during this surely emotional intermission before the teams get it on for the second half.

Regular-Season Series Record Steelers 16-4
     Last Game Steelers 27-10, 2012
     Last Jets Win Jets 22-17, 2010
Regular-Season Record @Jets Steelers 9-3
     Last Game Jets 19-16 OT, 2007
     Last Steelers Win Steelers 20-3, 2000
Postseason Record Steelers 2-0
     Last Game Steelers 24-19, 2010

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