By Christopher DiMarino
This is another entry in a set of early looks at the teams the Steelers will play in the 2012-13 season. The goal is to acclimate the average Steelers fan to the offseason changes each team they will face has made. This will make the in-depth analysis in the week before the game more familiar and understandable.
Who: New York Jets vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
What: Week 2 Regular Season Matchup
Where: Heinz Field
When: 4:15 EST Sunday September 16th, 2012
Key Free Agent Additions and Losses:
|Key Free Agent Additions and Losses|
|Position||Name||2011 Team||2012 Team||Role|
|QB||Tim Tebow||Denver Broncos||New York Jets||Starter|
|WR||Chaz Schilens||Oakland Raiders||New York Jets||3rd String Backup|
|OT||Stephon Heyer||Oakland Raiders||New York Jets||1st String Backup|
|OT||Ray Willis||New Orleans||New York Jets||Depth|
|S||LaRon Landry||Washington Redskins||New York Jets||Starter|
|SS||Yeremiah Bell||Miami Dolphins||New York Jets||Starter|
|K||Josh Brown||St Louis Rams||New York Jets||Starter|
|RB||LaDainian Tomlinson||New York Jets||San Diego Chargers||Retiring|
|TE||Matthew Mulligan||New York Jets||St Louis Rams||Depth|
|C||Robert Turner||New York Jets||St Louis Rams||Depth|
|DE||Ropati Pitoitua||New York Jets||Kansas City Chiefs||Depth|
|OLB||Jamaal Westerman||New York Jets||Miami Dolphins||Starter|
|CB||Marquice Cole||New York Jets||New England Patriots||Depth|
|S||Brodney Pool||New York Jets||Dallas Cowboys||1st String Backup|
|QB||Mark Brunell||New York Jets||UFA||1st String Backup|
|QB||Kevin O\’Connell||New York Jets||UFA||2nd String Backup|
|WR||Plaxico Burress||New York Jets||UFA||Starter|
|WR||Michael Campbell||New York Jets||UFA||Practice Squad|
|WR||Logan Payne||New York Jets||Released||Practice Squad|
|OG||Trevor Canfield||New York Jets||Released||Practice Squad|
|DB||Donald Strickland||New York Jets||UFA||3rd String Backup|
|DB||DeAngelo Smith||New York Jets||UFA||Depth|
|S||Jim Leonard||New York Jets||UFA||Starter|
New York made a few big changes this offseason, but I think they kept their identity intact. They traded with the Denver Broncos to get Tim Tebow for a very cheap price (4th and 6th round draft picks) considering he was a first round pick (1.25). Denver traded a 2nd, 3rd and 4th round picks to trade up and grab Tebow in the 2010 draft. When you consider what Denver spent on him, and what they received from the Jets, it looks like a steal. I don\’t want to read too much into him, but he will add some kind of value to the Jets. I am very particular about the skills I think a quarterback needs to play in the NFL. Tebow lacks most of them, but somehow wins games. Whether he\’s on the field for 10 plays a game, not at all or even beats the odds and becomes the starter, at the very least he will generate publicity for the Jets.
The Jets added some quality depth by signing tackle Stephon Heyer and kicker Josh Brown. Heyer has been a solid contributor in the NFL for a few years and is a capable injury replacement. Nick Folk had a poor 2011 season making only 76% of his kicks. Brown gives him competition and protects the Jets from a having to settle for a declining kicker.
The Jets made some big moves at safety. They let Brodney Pool and Jim Leonard go and signed Yeremiah Bell and LaRon Landry. Landry is recovering from a season ending Achilles injury. The issue is that an Achilles strain also ended his monster 2010 season after only 8 games. He will figure to miss a good portion of camp but can be an impact player when healthy. Bell had another solid year starting at strong safety for the Miami Dolphins last season. He\’s topped 100 tackles in each of the last 4 years and while he is getting old (34), he still plays hard.
Last season, the Jets had Eric Smith, Leonard and Pool start at safety. Smith stepped up and led the team in tackles. Leonard started opposite Smith, but did not last. For the second year in a row, he suffered a season ending injury in December. After playing at a marginal level for the Ravens, he followed Rex Ryan to the Jets in 2009. He also contributes in the return game and looked ready to become a star, but failed to impress in 2009. After the two major injuries he, like Landry, will have a hard time getting back healthy. While the Jets have said that they will work Leonard out when he gets healthy, they seem ready to proceed with Landry and Bell as their starters.
LaDainian Tomlinson will be the biggest loss for this team. He had over 700 yards, 3 touchdowns and no fumbles last season. While his play was a far cry from his prime, he complimented Shonn Greene extremely well. Joe McKnight had a decent sophomore year and will take on the role vacated by Tomlinson\’s retirement. On offense the Jets also lost their backup quarterback Mark Brunell. He was an aging veteran, but challenged Mark Sanchez enough that Ryan threatened to start him. This sparked Sanchez on a few occasions and he had great statistical games afterwards. While this may just be an anomaly, having Tebow in this role instead could really push Sanchez to high levels this season.
The Jets let Plaxico Burress walk and in doing so lost a starting receiver who had 8 touchdowns. To get younger at wide receiver, the Jets signed Oakland Raiders backup Chaz Schilens. While tight end Dustin Keller was the most popular target for the Sanchez, the rest of their receivers outside of Santonio Holmes aren\’t very proven. Only Jeremy Kerley and Patrick Turner are returning from the position from last season.
On defense, the Jets let starting outside linebacker Jamaal Westerman walk. He wasn\’t really a starting caliber player and did not perform well enough to earn his spot (32 tackles and 3.5 sacks in 16 games). This was a team that needed some new talent on the defense. The once stout unit that Ryan touted had a big drop off last year. Losing key players in the previous years took a big toll.
2012 Draft Analysis:
2012 Draft Recap
Robert T. Griffin
The Jets had a very interesting draft. They had picks in the middle of the first 3 rounds, then didn\’t pick again until after midway through the 6th. This came as a result of some trades before and during the draft. Their first trade of the draft was used to acquire highly touted wide receiver Stephen Hill. Considered a late first round pick by many, the Jets pounced on him when he dropped into the 2nd round. Likely figuring the Chicago Bears were going to choose Hill (they ended choosing Alshon Jeffery), the Jets traded their 2nd (47th), 5th and 7th round picks to move up the 4 spots and grab the speedy receiver.
New York was without their 4th and 6th round picks because of the trade with the Broncos to acquire Tebow. Combine that with the previous trade up and that eliminated the last 4 rounds for the Jets. The Jets were awarded 4 compensatory draft picks (two in the 6th and two in the 7th rounds). New York also got a 6th round pick back when they traded recently signed quarterback Drew Stanton and their 7th rounder to the Indianapolis Colts. This 7th round pick used in the trade with the Colts came from a trade with the Jacksonville Jaguars as compensation for defensive back Dwight Lowry.
The Jets selected Quinton Coples with their first round pick and filled a huge need. Coples had a few questions about his athleticism and consistency in college, but he has the size and experience to succeed. As a result of these questions (and a bad combine), Coples dropped from a projected top 10 player to a mid 1st round value. At 6\’6 and nearing 300 lbs he is a player that can move all around the defensive line which is why many speculate the Jets passed on the smaller Melvin Ingram to select him 16th overall.
Hill was a player who had the opposite draft trend of Coples. Hill was originally a mid round value and shot up to late first round projections when he clocked a sub 4.4 second 40 time. With that speed moving his 6\’4 frame and almost 40 inch vertical, he looks like a younger version of Burress. In the 3rd round the Jets took outside linebacker Demario Davis. He is a sideline to sideline type tackler who can track the ball well with his speed and instincts (similar to Sean Spence). The Jets may have drafted him to help cover athletic tight ends, especially considering they are in a division with the New England Patriots.
Ryan is entering his 4th season as the head coach. While he is known for his boisterous nature and lavish guarantees, he has failed to leave his mark. He was an accomplished defensive coordinator for the Baltimore Ravens before taking this job with the Jets in 2009. This year will be crucial for him as how he follows up the mediocre 8-8 record his team put up last season could lead to immense pressure or relief. He has admitted that promoting team captains and promising Super Bowls put undue stress on his team. I think he\’s done with the media circus and has matured into a coach that can focus on the game and succeed going forward.
Tony Sparano was brought in to replace Brain Schottenheimer as the offensive coordinator. Schottenheimer left for the St. Louis Rams after receiving criticism for his offensive scheme. Sparano was fired from his head coaching position with the Dolphins during his 4th season. He had a great first year leading the Dolphins to the playoffs after going 11-5, but finished only 29-32 over his 4 years. Sparano was likely sought for his run/pass balance, ability to simplify the playbook for the quarterback and familiarity with the Wildcat formations (for new quarterback Tebow).
The Jets have a few new faces in key coaching roles as well. They replaced all of their coaches in the trenches by naming Dave DeGuglielmo the new offensive line coach and Karl Dunbar the new defensive line Coach. They also hired Sanjay Lal to coach their wide receivers. Mike Pettine will remain the defensive coordinator. He followed Ryan from Baltimore in 2009 where he was a linebackers coach. The Jets can attribute their strong special team play to special teams coordinator Mike Westhoff. He\’s entering his 12th season with the Jets and has been coaching in the NFL for 30 years.
Last Year\’s Stats:
2011 Team Stats
New York Jets
Fumbles Lost (2011)
Sacks Allowed (2011)
Avg Time of Possession
Fumbles Recovered (2011)
Punt Return Avg For
Punt Return Avg Against
Kick Return Avg For
Kick Return Avg Against
Field Goals Made
3rd Down % Offense
3rd Down % Defense
4th Down % Offense
4th Down % Defense
Red Zone % Offense
Red Zone % Defense
Offensively the Jets are their own worst enemy. They came under criticism last season for throwing the ball too often. That\’s a complicated argument given how the NFL is changing to a more pass centric league. However, the Jets best attributes were time of possession, first downs and points scored. If they can expand slightly on these stats by running the ball more effectively they will put themselves in a good situation. They need an offense that can support their strong defense. Burning time off the clock and playing the field position battle should be their primary goals on offense. While Sanchez is far from a superstar, he has played some solid games when asked to simply be efficient and augment the run.
The Jets defensive stats might look good, but the truth is that 2011 was an off year. The Jets defense is typically a top rated unit, easily performing in the top 5. While their pass defense continued to impress, they slipped big time in rushing yards against. After allowing 1454 yards rushing in 2010, they allowed 1777 in 2011 (20 extra rushing yards a game). Losing Shaun Ellis to the Patriots might have been a contributing factor. Failing to stop the run caused their points against rank to jump down to 20th in the NFL. Their turnover differential dropped from +9 in 2010 to a -3 in 2011 and they allowed 11 additional field goals as well (18 in 2010, 29 in 2011). For the Jets to succeed, they need this defense to perform. Stopping the run might be the biggest piece of the puzzle, but drafting a big prospect like Coples to rush the passer might be just what they need.
Rookie wide receiver Kerley was the primary punt returner last season, and that was the only facet of special teams that wasn\’t superb for the Jets. McKnight and Antonio Cromartie lead a kick return unit that was ranked 4th in the league. The Jets were also top 10 at covering both punts and kicks. Their low field goal percent is a cause for concern, but they mediated this by bringing in Brown to challenge Folk for the starting position.
This team was very interesting in clutch situations. On offense, they were in the bottom half of the NFL on 3rd and 4th down conversion percentage, but the best in the league in the red zone. Maybe they scored on 1st and 2nd down once they got close to the end zone. The Jets defense was the exact opposite. They were 4th in the league at stopping 3rd downs and the best on 4th downs, but ranked 16th in the red zone. Consistency will be the big word for the Jets in 2012. If they improve even slightly in a few key areas and level out their performance, this is a team that could jump from 8-8 to 11-5 in a snap.
I have been on a roller coaster ride as a Jets admirer. I considered them one of my favorite teams to watch until they added Brett Favre to their roster a few years ago. I instantly hated them for the entire 2008 season. In 2009, they lost Favre but they hired an ex Raven for a head coach. While I can settle my personal biases, I\’m still very cautious of my opinion of the Jets. At times they exhibit the defensive prowess that could make a Steelers fan tip their hat. At other times, they squander opportunities and misfire on offense. Either way, I think that 2012 will be a good year for the Jets.
They made a smart move by hiring Sparano to run the offense. While his relationship with Sanchez might take a while to develop, Sparano is perfect for him. Much like Ben Roethlisberger, Sanchez must prove to Sparano that he can learn a new system. McKnight looks ready to replace Tomlinson and the rookie Hill could be an improvement over Burress. But the Jets can\’t just replace losses, they need to grow. To improve in 2012 they need to run the ball effectively. When they can keep defenses honest, they will find several chances to get Holmes the ball and hit Hill deep.
The defense did exactly what it needed to and grabbed players where it had glaring gaps. Coples will provide pressure and can start Week 1. After inconsistent safety play over the past two seasons, the Jets grabbed a pair of talented new safeties. The biggest hurdle for this defense is keeping Darrelle Revis happy. He has shown that he won\’t play unless he\’s satisfied with his contract. He is talented enough that General Manager Mike Tannenbaum should just pay him and keep him focused on football. If he does, then the Jets will once again have one of the NFL\’s most talented secondaries.
The Jets have one big advantage this season, their schedule. They play two of the weaker divisions in the NFL. The NFC West (49ers, Rams, Seahawks and Cardinals) has a few up and coming teams but a lot of questions marks. The AFC South (Texans, Colts, Titans and Jaguars) is a mirror of the NFC West but with a little more potential. Sharing a division with the Patriots is tough, but having the Dolphins and Buffalo Bills makes up for it. The Jets\’ two other opponents are the Pittsburgh Steelers and the San Diego Chargers.
The biggest gap in the final score between these two teams in the last decade is 11 points. The two teams have met 6 times in that time period and the average score differential is less than a touchdown (5.5 points). Two of those games were decided by field goals in overtime and both teams own a record of 3-3. This will be a close match between two defensive teams and that is the history to prove it.