The popular contention is that Sunday's tilt between the New York Jets and Pittsburgh Steelers will be a defensive battle. However, there are injuries to both team's most important defensive players, which could possibly see this game open up if neither can go.
For the Jets, its Darrelle Revis, who suffered a mild concussion late in Week 1 against the Buffalo Bills. As of Friday morning, Revis had been cleared to work out but not cleared for contact, and Rex Ryan has said that he won't let Revis fly out to Pittsburgh on Sunday if he hadn't been cleared. It looks like the Jets will go into Pittsburgh without the best corner in the NFL. And while Troy Polamalu isn't what he used to be and is getting up there in age, the Steelers are a better defense with him. Polamalu has not practiced this week after injuring his calf against Denver, and additionally, linebacker James Harrison is still nursing a knee injury and may not go. Could these key injuries on defense open the door for both offenses? Here are some key matchups in Sunday's high-profile game:
- Jets' Patchwork Secondary vs. Steelers Receivers/Ben Roethlisberger - If Revis can't go, Antonio Cromartie and Kyle Wilson will have to cover the Steelers' dynamic receivers Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown. Expect Ben Roethlisberger to test both early and often. You don't have too many chances to hit big passing plays against the Jets when Revis is out there, so I expect the Steelers to take some chances if Revis is out. Additionally, that means more time for Isiah Trufant and Ellis Lankster in the Jets' defensive backfield, which could present some opportunities for Emmanuel Sanders.
-Mark Sanchez vs. Steelers Defensive Backfield - Just like the Steelers trying to take advantage of Revis being out, the Jets might have a few chances to go downfield if Polamalu can't go. Mark Sanchez looked as confident and as comfortable last week as he's ever looked in an NFL game, so his confidence should be pretty high entering a tough place to play. But the Jets can't give too much respect to this vaunted Steelers defense, especially with some of their injuries. The Jets should attack the Steelers downfield the way they did the Bills last week.
-Jets' Defensive Front vs. Steelers' Offensive Line - The Steelers have had a poor offensive line for a few years now, and it doesn't look like it's gotten much better this year, thanks to some more injuries. Last week against the Broncos, Big Ben was sacked five times. The Jets didn't sack Ryan Fitzpatrick last week, and it will be interesting to see if they can turn that around this week. As always Roethlisberger will look to extend plays, often getting himself in a little bit of trouble. But the Jets can make him do that more than he usually wants to if they can disrupt things up front. It would be a good time for Quinton Coples' first NFL sack, or Aaron Maybin to shake off last week's nondescript performance and make an impact.
-Steelers' Run Defense vs. Shonn Greene/Tim Tebow - If I were the Jets, I'd challenge the Steelers downfield, but I have a feeling Rex Ryan and Tony Sparano are going to really want to keep the ball on the ground. Shonn Greene still hasn't proven anything, needing 27 carries against a softened, beaten Bills defense to gain 94 yards. As usual it comes down to the Jets' offensive line, but Greene just hasn't shown any ability to make something out of nothing or gain a few extra yards than his blocking has given him. If the Jets are going to heavily rely on him this week, as I think they are, Greene's going to have to do a bit better than stumbling for three yards on every carry. And oh yeah, there's Tim Tebow, who the jets are definitely going to feature again in the Wildcat and probably use a little more creatively this week. Tebow only had 11 yards on five carries in his Jets debut last week. A few big runs from him would help keep the Steelers' defense off their toes.