Sep 152012
 

Mark Sanchez Grows A Lovely Beard

The Pittsburgh Steelers 2012 Revenge Tour continues this weekend against the New York Jets. Last week, it was a return date with the team that knocked them out of last year’s playoffs. On Sunday, they face the quarterback who engineered what is destined to go down as one of the most shocking losses in Black and Gold history. Let’s hope the second time’s a charm.

It’s a marquee match-up between two marquee franchises who will take the field minus some marquee names. Read on.

STEELERS DEFENSE vs JETS OFFENSE

The QB being referenced in my intro is of course Tim Tebow, who was traded from the Broncos to the Jets over the off-season. And while he’s listed as a QB, Tebow isn’t the Jets current QB. That dubious honor is still held by Mark Sanchez. Thus far in 2012, St. Timmy hasn’t done any actual quarterbacking, instead being used to run the ball out of the option and occasionally lining up at split end.

Sanchez enters his fourth NFL season at a critical point in his career. He led the Jets to the AFC Championship game his first two years before ultimately falling short against the Colts and Steelers. The team regressed last year, falling to 8-8 and missing the playoffs. Despite having his best year so far, statistically speaking, veteran receivers Derrick Mason, Plaxico Burress and Santonio Holmes pointed to his lousy work ethic and penchant for making drive killing mistakes as the reasons the offense struggled.

Jets management evidently disagreed with that assessment, ditching Mason and Plax (and probably would’ve cut ‘Tone as well except they signed him to a lucrative 5 year deal prior to the 2011 season) and giving Sanchez a contract extension. Instead, offensive coordinator Brian Shottenheimer was made the scapegoat for a disappointing season. The team brought in former Dolphins head coach Tony Sparano, whose experience at calling plays is limited to one year under Bill Parcells with the Dallas Cowboys.

After neither Sanchez or Tebow led a single TD drive during the preseason, the Jets exploded for 48 points last week against the Buffalo Bills. As it’s early in the season, it’s hard to say if the Jets offense is that good or the Bills’ D is just that bad. What we do know is the Jets featured a balanced attack with RB Shonn Greene rushing 27 times for 94 yards while Sanchez threw 27 times, completing 19 for 266. Rookie Stephen Hill, a big (6’4) quick kid out of Georgia Tech caught two of Sanchez’s three TDs.

The good news is it appears the Jets will be without one of Sanchez’s favorite targets, TE Dustin Keller. The bad news is it appears the Steelers will be without two former Defensive Players of the Year. As usual, Mike Tomlin was full of BS on Tuesday when he claimed both Troy Polamalu and James Harrison should be ready on Sunday. Neither practiced on Friday which pretty much guarantees neither will see the field this weekend.

I wrote about the sad state of the Steelers D earlier this week but it bears repeating that this unit is extremely shaky. With Harrison out, the team has repeatedly failed to pressure the QB. With Troy out, their big play potential is significantly diminished.

Perhaps this will be the week one of the youngsters finally makes an impact. Maybe Harrison’s replacement, Chris Carter, will rise to the occasion. Maybe Jason Worilds will realize his supposed potential. Maybe Lawrence Timmons will once again be Troy Lite as he was back in 2010 when he looked like a budding star for one brief moment in time. Or maybe somebody else entirely will emerge as a new force on D.

In any case, the unit which once could be counted on week in and week out is suddenly the NFL’s equivalent of a box of Sarris candy. You never know what you’re gonna get.

STEELERS OFFENSE vs JETS DEFENSE

#FreeToddHaley

That’s my rallying cry this week. And it will remain my rallying cry until Art Rooney II goes back to concentrating on the little things like making sure his players aren’t cutting obscene rap songs instead of dictating the offense employ game plans from 1942. I admire the fact Haley clearly respects the Rooneys but at some point you gotta dance with the girl that brung ya. It was painfully obvious last week that Haley was eager to impress his new boss by emphasizing Deuce’s beloved running game. That’s not going to fly this week.

Speaking of the running game, Tomlin did mention they were looking at expanding Jonathan Dwyer‘s role after he was by far the most impressive back last week in Denver. Dwyer worked his ass off, literally and figuratively, to emerge as the preseason’s most improved player. It looks as if his work has carried over to the regular season so why not ride the hot hand?

Of course, if they continue to hand the ball off on every first single freakin’ first down, my tv might not survive the afternoon. The Steelers are not going to succeed by using the run to set up the pass. They’re only going to be effective if they use the pass to set up the run. You play to your strengths and the strength of the offense lies in their superstar QB and his fleet of talented receivers. With RG Ramon Foster and RT Marcus Gilbert back to provide protection, there is no reason not to air it out early and often.

Especially against a Jets D which is experiencing issues similar to the Steelers’. Some of the veterans, most notably loudmouth LB Bart Scott, are showing clear signs of decline. Then we have the best CB in football, Pittsburgh native Darrelle Revis, who was concussed last week and will not play this weekend. Remove Revis Island from the equation and you should have plenty of open real estate to take advantage of.

The question this week is whether the Steelers will take indeed advantage of their strengths or whether they’ll stubbornly stick to a outdated game plan destined to fail. LaMarr Woodley tweeted the team will not start 0-2 under his watch. Let’s hope his words prove prophetic.

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