The 31-13 score said a blowout loss, a third consecutive defeat for a team struggling to find its way. But DE Muhammad Wilkerson insists the Jets, a club that entered Sunday's fourth quarter trailing the Steelers just 17-13, aren't far away from turning the corner.
"It's difficult when you have a good week of practice and then the outcome on Sunday is not the outcome that you want. A lot of people don't realize that there's a lot of effort and preparation put in throughout the week," he said during an appearance on Inside the Jets. "Of course it may be a loss on Sunday, but it's really just one or two plays that can cause us to lose a game. And it's small mental mistakes."
With outcomes in doubt the past three weeks, the Jets haven't been able to come up with the two or three plays to put them over the hump.
"When we're coming in today, on a Monday, and we watch film, that's what makes it hurt so much. That it's something so simple, so small like miscommunication or not executing just one play could be the outcome of us losing," Wilkerson said. "So we just really have to make sure we pay attention to detail more and we have to keep on fighting and pushing. We can't give up now because we're 1-4."
After racking up seven sacks of Bengals QB Andy Dalton in Week 1, the Jets have been held to five sacks over the past four contests. They were only able to get to Ben Roethlisberger once in Sunday's defeat as the Steelers at times opted for max protection which featured doubled teams up front. Roethlisberger also operated almost entirely out of the gun and was quick with his releases. Sometimes RBs are staying in to chip in before leaking out as well.
"Teams are definitely blocking us up because we know we're a dominant group up front," Wilkerson said. "We just have to make sure as a defense we're collectively getting after it each and every play and just playing that much harder to try to make the plays that we can and are supposed to."
Wilkerson, who has 2.5 sacks, is part of a unit that ranks No. 2 against the run at 68.4 yards per game. The Jets held the Steelers to just 61 yards on 24 carries for an average of 2.5 yards per attempt.
"For myself and the guys up front, that's what they're going to do. Teams are going to run it away from me and have tight ends chip me to slow me down or misdirection to slow all of us up front," Wilkerson said. "We just have to make sure we just keep getting after it and for the plays that come for us when we have to make it, we just have to make sure we make them."
The Jets' next challenge will be a balanced Cardinals' attack that ranks No. 11 on the ground and No. 16 in the air. RB David Johnson is an emerging stud, WR Larry Fitzgerald still is performing at a high level and veteran QB Carson Palmer is expected to return from a concussion.
"I think for the most part it's really going to be like the Pittsburgh game — a team that's going to try to have a lot of explosive plays and try to throw the ball over our heads and try to the run the ball. But of course, I feel like we're a dominant group up front and we won't let anybody run the ball on us," Wilkerson said. "We haven't had an 100-yard rusher on us this year, so that's definitely a goal for us each and every week. So we're going to make sure we're going to hold up to that standard. But for the most part, really focus on communication on the back end and the guys up front as well with the linebackers. We have to make sure we're all on the same page, all 11 guys. Know the call, know the communication and know what has to be done."
Wilkerson, who leads the Jets with six tackles for loss this season, has registered 24 total stops along with 4 QB hurries. In his sixth NFL season, the 26-year-old Wilkerson knows a lot of football remains for a team focused on finishing as Cardinals' Week begins.
"We know the talent that we have. We know the team we're capable of being," he said. "Of course, the record doesn't show, but it's a long season and we have to make sure we start to play up to the talent that we have and start to rack up those numbers in the win column."