Two AFC teams, the Steelers and Jets, will meet up on Heinz Field in Pittsburgh this Sunday looking to improve their playoff chances, but the two teams find themselves in very different positions entering Week 5. Pittsburgh rebounded nicely from a tough performance in Philly to rout the Chiefs last Sunday. All-Pro running back Le’Veon Bell is back in action after sitting out the first three games and Antonio Brown is being his typical superhuman self.
The Jets, on the other hand, stumble into this game at 1-3, their only win coming against the Bills. While they’re still in the AFC East race, the Patriots have a two-game lead and welcome back Tom Brady. If Gang Green has designs on a playoff berth, the J-E-T-S better make some moves quickly.
New York at Pittsburgh
Kickoff: Sunday, Oct. 9 at 1 p.m. ET
TV Channel: CBS
Spread: Pittsburgh -7.0
Three Things to Watch
1. Le’Veon Bell
DeAngelo Williams was Pittsburgh’s starting running back the first three game and looked the part, rushing for 265 yards and three touchdowns. But after a brutal loss to the Philadelphia Eagles in which Williams only ran for 21 yards, head coach Mike Tomlin was ready for Bell to return from suspension. He immediately reclaimed his spot as the top RB in football, rushing for an impressive 144 yards and gaining another 34 through the air in last week’s win over Kansas City.
Bell will face a tougher test then the Chiefs’ this week, however, as Jets boast the NFL’s second-ranked run defense, limiting opponents to just 3.1 yards per carry. That fearsome Jets’ defensive line, led by Muhammad Wilkerson and including Sheldon Richardson and Leonard Williams, has disrupted every running game it has matched up against. Watching Bell, Williams, and the Steelers’ offensive line face off against New York’s defense should be quite the thrill for fans of ground-oriented offense.
2. Where’s the Fitzmagic?
Last season, the Jets’ near-miss effort to make the playoffs was fueled largely by Ryan Fitzpatrick’s ability to put together a strong season that resulted in 3,905 passing yards and 31 touchdowns. His rapport with wide receivers Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker was a big reason why the team eventually decided to bring Fitzpatrick, a free agent, back into the fold in late July.
To this point, that has seemed like a mistake. Despite the emergence of Quincy Enunwa as the No. 3 receiver and the addition of running back Matt Forte, one of the most productive pass-catching ball carriers in the league, Fitzpatrick’s play through four games has looked less like his first season with the Jets and more closely resembled his first season in the league, a rough four-game stint with the Rams. Through a quarter of the 2016 season the QB has completed only 55.8 percent of his passes for 1,012 yards, four touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Two weeks ago against the Chiefs, Fitzpatrick threw six picks in one game and added three versus the Seahawks in Week 4. If the Jets want to win this game then their quarterback will need to right the ship. Otherwise, the man who Marshall this week referred to as the team’s “anchor” will continue to drag his team down with him.
3. Downed Jets
While Pittsburgh has added back a key piece, the Jets might be without a couple of theirs, particularly those heavily involved in New York’s ability to compete with Pittsburgh’s potent passing attack. Decker is dealing with a torn rotator cuff that caused him to miss last week’s game, and there have been reports that he may miss the rest of the season. Decker was incredibly consistent last year and losing him for the duration would be a huge blow to the Jets’ passing game.
Battling without Decker to match shots with Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown is tough enough, but now Darrelle Revis is questionable to play Sunday as well. Despite his decline from the position of undisputed top cornerback in the NFL, Revis is still a premier man-to-man corner and not having him able to cover Brown means the Jets will have a much tougher time reining in the best wide receiver in the league.
The Jets are a talented team and Todd Bowles is a strong head coach. This team is better than the 1-3 record it sports and it will likely turn its season around. However, the Steelers began the season as one of the AFC favorites to reach the Super Bowl and have done nothing to hurt that reputation aside from one dud performance (the other favorite, New England, just did the same thing). With Le’Veon Bell in midseason form and the Ben Roethlisberger-Antonio Brown connection running strong, it all just seems like too much for the Jets to handle. Perhaps if Darrelle Revis was playing and Ryan Fitzpatrick had some confidence it would be a different story, but as things stand currently the Steelers should win this game fairly easily.