The more I think about the game, the more uneasy I get. This has the feel of one of those games where the opposing defense dials up the blitz on every play, and Ben gets sacked about 8 times. It's going to be a painful day. Both teams have solid defenses and sputtering offenses, so this certainly seems like a 13-10 kind of game. The Vegas line of Steelers by 5.5 (earlier in the week it was 6.5) is still way too high, and the Steelers generally respond to being heavy favorites against quality foes by shitting the bed. I think these teams are very well matched, and the line should be 3 or 3.5.
When the Steelers have the ball...
The Steelers and Jets defenses are allowing a virtually identical 293.0 and 292.5 yards per game. Likewise, both squads don't allow much on the ground (60.1 and 88.5, respectively). That means the game will be won or lost by the PSO being able to fend off Rex Ryan throwing the kitchen sink at BBR, and Mark Sanchez breaking out of his funk.
The Jets only have 32 sacks on the year (11th in the league), sandwiched between Seattle (31) and Philadelphia (33). Of course, Buffalo only had 15 sacks before running into the Steelers, and they notched 5 in that matchup. Expect Ryan to overload the edge to overwhelm extra TE or RB in to chip and to exploit favorable personnel matchups. Also expect plenty of timing blitzes up the middle, to create confusion in the IOL. All of this will work.
OLB Calvin Pace (4.5 sacks) will make life miserable for Jon Scott. I'm putting the over/under for sacks allowed by Scott at 2.5. DE Shaun Ellis (4.5 sacks) will work the gap between Ramon Foster and Flo Adams, with help from OLB Bryan Thomas (4.0 sacks) on the edge. I'll say the Ellis/Thomas v. Foster/Adams combo has an over/under of 3.5 sacks. ILB David Harris (3.0 sacks) should account for the remaining 2 sacks getting lost in the handoffs between Foster and Pouncey, and Kemoeatu and Pouncey. Ryan would be smart to throw in a few corner or safety blitzes as well. In short, the best policy for the Jets would just be to throw everything at the slipshod PSO OL and dare BBR and BA to get the quick passing game to work, somehow, suddenly.
To counter this, I am confident that Bruce Arians will use absolutely no PAP, no quick screens to Mike Wallace, no short under routes to exploit the catch-and-go mismatches that Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown present to the Jets secondary (this is why we drafted these two, so naturally we won't play to their strengths). What we will see is plenty of lazy screens to the oldest and slowest WRs, with at least one obligatory screen each to Hines Ward and Antwan Randle El. We'll see plenty of dumpoffs to Mewelde Moore that come up just short of converting third downs. We won't see dumpoffs to Isaac Redman, because he has shown he could catch in the slop of the Ravens defense and bull through tacklers. There was a quick-fire pass to one of the rookies last week that we may never see again in our lifetime. There was also a pitch from Randle El that gained effective edge yardage, and that too will be retired. Expect plenty of Mendenhall up the middle for a loss, as defenders shred the gaps. Expect the running game to never get any momentum and to be abandoned by the second half. Expect nothing over the middle to Spaeth. And I would certainly rule out the no-huddle, which BBR runs quite effectively. Look for the worst offensive stats from this unit all year long.
Expected scoring drives: I'll say that we break our scoring drought as Ben is allowed to run the no-huddle during the BA-approved period, the wind-down to halftime. This is when BA likes to think about heading back to the locker room and popping a Hot Pocket into the microwave, which BA enjoys more than coming up with plays that actually work. Ben gets us to scoring position, and Suisham gets 3 on the board to bring us to 3-10. Late in the game, Ben beats the Jets secondary on the standy "heave it to Wallace and hope he outruns everyone," catching the Jets napping. This brings the score to 10-13, but then BA fucks up subsequent drives with his asinine and predictable playcalling.
When the Jets have the ball...
RT Wayne Hunter is the weakest spot on a pretty decent OL. This should mean LaMarr Woodley keeps collapsing the pocket and harassing Sanchez, and Woodley has been more effective recently. For some reason, the PSD seems unable to pressure weak offensive links that seem to be obvious mismatches, so expect Woodley to get stood up by Hunter, expect Harrison to be held on every play (not called), and most of the pressure coming from the DL collapsing the middle. Keisel will get his mitts in the air and deflect a couple of throws. Hood may get a sack. LeBeau would be smart to send Timmons or Gay on blitzes (timing, corner).
The opening drive always seems to find our defense adjusting to what opposing teams offenses are doing. Expect some initial success running the ball, the PSD clamping down, and an early FG. From there on it's all about numbers. How can the NYJO exploit the weak secondary depth, especially now that Polamalu is out? You should see plenty of throws to the TE Keller to exploit the soft middle, and you should see Cotchery and Holmes rotate against Gay, with great success. Ike will probably be on Braylon Edwards; the over/under for drops by Taylor and Edwards has to be 2.5. I'm envisioning Holmes beating Gay and the backup for Polamalu, presumably Will Allen (though Ryan Mundy could see time too), and taking it right down the middle for a score in the first half.
Whoever isn't on Gay will be matched up against McFadden, so I suspect that receiver will be the recipient of the usual late game breakdowns McFadden seems to enjoy so much. Since Holmes gets the early score, let's say a second half of offensive futility is interrupted by a third quarter pass play that goes long to Cotchery, resulting in a FG and a 13-3 lead. Then the PSO long pass to Wallace; then nothing resulting in points. The tone of the game will be weariness and cold futility, as Ben gets smeared and our PSD cannot return the favor. However, Sanchez won't have great success, because he's over-rated at this point and he forces too many inopportune throws. The NYJO will exploit a breakdown by McFadden late in the game but be forced to settle for a Nick Folk FG attempt, which he misses, not that it matters.
Ben, under pressure, throws one pick to Cromartie, but being sacked 8 times doesn't allow many attempts, so his stats will be pretty clean. Mendenhall will get stripped on a spin move. Sanchez will get picked by Timmons, and will lose a fumble as Keisel slaps the ball out of his hands. Steelers will notch 2 sacks (Timmons, Farrior). Much of the game will be a ST chess match for field position. The PSD will be on the field too long, but will play well overall.
Jets win 13-10.
Everyone will be very grumpy after this game, but we then win the next two to finish 12-4. Yay!