Steelers vs. Jets: Takeaways from New York's 19-6 Loss to Pittsburgh
The defense was not quite as dominant as it has been in recent weeks, but the offense was unable to capitalize when it had opportunities to score. A pair of interceptions by rookie quarterback Geno Smith was the biggest difference in the game.
Here are the takeaways from the Jets' third loss of the season.
Geno Smith Is Still a Rookie
After last week's huge win over the Falcons in front of a national audience, the football world may have gotten ahead of themselves with their praise for Geno Smith, forgetting that he was still prone to playing like the rookie he is.
Smith made a handful of solid throws to move the ball, but he was caught taking too long to get rid of the ball too many times—an old habit of his from earlier in the season.
What really did Geno (and the Jets) in were his turnovers, particularly on his brutal interception in the end zone. Not only did Geno cost the Jets a chance at points to keep the game close while giving the ball back to the Steelers, but he also missed Jeff Cumberland wide open in the end zone.
Geno still has plenty of time to develop into the quality starter he is capable of becoming, but this was a reality check for a player in his sixth NFL start.
Subpar Pass Protection
Geno Smith will take most of the heat for this loss, but he was not given anything near the quality of pass protection that he has been accustomed to.
Because they were finally able to work with a lead, the Steelers pass rush was able to operate on all cylinders—and the Jets simply weren't ready.
Smith was sacked three times, but he was pressured into a making a lot of throws before he wanted to—including the game-sealing interception to Lawrence Timmons in the red zone.
Again, the pass protection has been very strong through the first five games, but this was a humbling week against an underrated pass-rushing group in Pittsburgh.
Missing Offensive Weapons
Just like last year, injuries (and suspensions) to the wide receiver and tight end positions have hurt the Jets' passing game and have contributed to their inconsistent play form the quarterback position.
Without Santonio Holmes or Kellen Winslow, the Jets had to be heavily reliant on backups by the likes of Clyde Gates and Konrad Reuland—with predictable results.
The Steelers were able to focus their efforts on stopping known commodities like Jeremy Kerley and Stephen Hill. Outside of a few grabs from Clyde Gates, the Jets were not able to stretch out the Steeler defense and failed to generate many big passing plays as a result.
The good news is that Holmes and Winslow will eventually return this season, but it could be a rough stretch over the next month or so until they return.
Antonio Cromartie Is Not the Same Player
Despite some scary developments regarding Antonio Cromartie's knee injury earlier this week, Cromartie was able to suit up this week—but he did not turn in a typical performance from a player of Cromartie's caliber.
The Steelers picked on Cromartie as much as any corner on the Jets. He was the victim of the only touchdown of the game, allowing Emmanuel Sanders to beat him deep for a 55-yard touchdown. He looked slow to turn, and he didn't have his elite recovery speed at his disposal to make up for his mistakes.
Cromartie was already off to a slow start while he was dealing with a hip injury from training camp, but dealing with a bad knee along with the hip was simply too much. Perhaps Cromartie will turn in a better performance next week with another week to heal up.
Tight End Coverage Issues Return
As good as Rex Ryan's defenses have been in New York, covering opposing tight ends has always been a weakness of his units.
Their tight end troubles appeared to finally be behind them after the first four games, but they had yet to face a legitimate threat at the position until Tony Gonzalez tore apart their defense in Week 5.
Now, after a six-catch, 84-yard game from Heath Miller, it is clear that quality tight ends can still have their way with the Jets defense.
Part of the issue is that the Jets can no longer rely on their cornerbacks to hold up in single coverage on an island. As a result, the Jets have to divert more safety help to playing deep rather than clogging up the middle of the field or blitzing.
Edge Pressure Is Still a Weakness
Coming into this game, the Jets had a clear-cut advantage over the banged-up Steeler offensive line with their young, elite defensive line.
While the Jets were able to sack Ben Roethlisberger four times, Muhammad Wilkerson was the only player that was able to be consistently disruptive all afternoon. More often than not, Ben Roethlisberger had enough time to go through his progressions and hit his receivers.
One of the reasons for the Jets' lack of pressure from the outside linebackers was because they lost Antwan Barnes for the season to a knee injury, according to ESPN. Barnes gave the Jets a boost in obvious passing situations rushing off the edge.
Without Barnes, the Jets will need to get more out of Quinton Coples to boost their pass rush, particularly from the outside linebacker position.
The Jets Need to Pass to Win
The Jets played the first half unlike any of their other games so far: they ran the ball much more than they threw it, showing shades of the old "ground and pound" offense.
While it made sense to take the ball out of a rookie's hands against a Dick LeBeau defense, it may have cost the Jets the game.
Running the ball does take the ball out of the quarterback's hands, but at the expense of giving him more opportunities to throw and make plays. The Jets protected the ball by running more, but they were unable to generate many big plays and sustain offense.
The Jets did crank up the passing in the second half. Even though they did not score (thanks to a pair of interceptions in the red zone) they were at least able to move the ball and generate some offense.
It may go against conventional wisdom when it comes to dealing with a rookie quarterback, but the Jets need to stick to Marty Mornhinweg's philosophy of moving the ball primarily through the air.
The Jets Are Not Quite Ready to Contend
Looking at the season as a whole, the Jets have already exceeded expectations through the first six weeks, sitting at 3-3 while still in realistic playoff contention. Barring an epic collapse, the Jets will be playing meaningful football deep into December.
The Jets have a young roster with a handful of young, talented pieces—but they have shown that they are still not quite ready to play with some of the best teams in the league.
This was a very winnable game for the Jets, but rookie mistakes by their quarterback and inconsistencies at the receiver and offensive line positions ultimately cost them a victory that a more veteran team would have made.
Simply put, a quarterback as good as Ben Roethlisberger would not have thrown the two brutal red-zone interceptions that cost the Jets a chance to win the game.
The future for the Jets is bright, and they should only continue to get better, but the Jets really showed their youth against a veteran team like the Pittsburgh Steelers.