In the last few weeks, the Jets players getting the most attention and being deemed the "players to watch" for this game are Santonio Holmes, Mark Sanchez, Darrelle Revis, et al. A few years ago, one of the major decisions the Jets made was to begin drafting offensive linemen in the first round and grooming them into successful players.
Since then, the two that have stood out are left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson and center Nick Mangold. In this week's matchup against the Steelers, the Jets will need to rely on this unit to help lead their team to victory and a spot in the playoffs.
One of the main concerns facing the Jets is the position of right tackle. Last month against the Texans, Damien Woody injured his knee after falling on it and having it bent backwards. Woody chose to play through the pain and played as best he could against the Bengals and Patriots. Earlier this week on Nov. 14, it was diagnosed that Woody had partially torn his MCL in the knee he injured against the Texans.
Since the injury he and Wayne Hunter have been sharing snaps. Hunter will be expected to fill Woody's shoes for the next few weeks. The Jets say Woody will be out for at least two to three weeks after undergoing arthroscopic surgery this week.
To be truthful, there is a definite drop-off from Woody to Hunter. In the same game Woody was injured, Hunter was one of the linemen being blown back and allowing Houston defensive linemen to encroach on Sanchez. Luckily the Jets were able to escape that game with a win.
Not only is health an issue, the success on the offensive line is starting to become questionable. Against the Dolphins last week, the Jets were only able to rush for 87 yards and Sanchez was sacked six times. The Steelers have a strong run defense and an unreliable offensive line will only add to the Jets' latest woes.
In order for the Jets to be successful, they need to establish their run game and protect well. By establishing the run game they can expand their play-calling. When established early, the running game then allows the Jets to do a lot more to the Steelers defense like using a bootleg pass. One of Sanchez's strengths is running the play-action and bootlegging so he can throw it to one of his favorite targets, Dustin Keller.
Protection will be one of the deciding factors in Sanchez's success on Sunday. What fans cannot fault Sanchez for is that he is still a young quarterback. As a young quarterback, when he feels pressure, his ability to make decisions is impaired. By providing excellent protection, Sanchez will be able to read the coverage a lot easier and make a smarter decision when throwing the ball.
In the game against the Dolphins, Sanchez was pressured too many times, and sacked six times. When he was pressured, he ended up just throwing the ball and as a result, cornerback Sean Smith had a field day deflecting passes thrown by Sanchez.
While some may say Mark Sanchez and Brian Schottenheimer are the ones to blame for the Jets' lack of success on offense, it now rests on the shoulders of the offensive line. They will be playing against a tough and physical Pittsburgh defense; in order to succeed, protection and blocking are key so that Sanchez can make better decisions and so the offense has more decisions when it comes to play-calling. It will all unfold on Sunday as the Jets try to make the playoffs for the second year in a row.