The Jets are now 3-3. Gang Green was dominated by the Steelers today at MetLife Stadium, 19-6. This was an ugly performance by the Jets. Pittsburgh won the battle at the line of scrimmage, won the turnover battle, and won the game. The Jets had no answers for the Pittsburgh receiving trio of Emmanuel Sanders, Antonio Brown and Heath Miller, who combined for 18 catches, 240 yards and a TD. The Steelers controlled the game nearly from start to finish, never relinquishing the lead after the 5:25 mark of the second quarter, and never really being threatened. Geno Smith, facing the best defensive coordinator he's likely to see this year, reverted to his rookie turnover machine ways, throwing two interceptions in the red zone and throwing two other passes that should have been picked off. The Jets offensive and defensive lines, which should have had their way in this game, were instead outplayed by the Steelers. The pass defense was completely overmatched, and Antonio Cromartie was atrocious again. Join me below as we recap.
There's not a lot of good to come out of this game, but there were a few relatively bright spots.
Stephen Hill: He continues his development into the kind of big play receiver the Jets thought they were getting when they drafted him. Hill finished with only 3 catches for 46 yards, but he also got wide open behind the defense for what would have been an easy TD if Geno Smith hadn't badly overthrown him. Hill also continued to show major improvement in hanging onto the ball, particularly on the sideline pass when he was drilled by the Steelers' defender but hung onto the ball and stayed inbounds. Nicely done. Two of his biggest problems a year ago were his terrible hands and his inabilty to beat teams deep, despite his 4.35 speed. Lately, both those issues appear to be gradually resolving themselves. By next year we just might have the beast we wanted when we drafted Hill.
Jeff Cumberland: Since the last half of last year all this guy does is make plays when he is targeted. Another 4 caches for 59 yards today to lead the Jets. The Jets really need to get Cumberland targeted on a more consistent basis.
Clyde Gates: He wasn't great by any means, but for Gates, this was progress. He led the Jets in receptions with 5, held onto the ball for a change, and was more involved in the offense than he has been in a long time (not a particularly good thing for the Jets).
The Pass Rush: Another 4 sacks today. This was really a mixed bag, as outside of the sacks, the pass rush was not all that intense, and Wilkerson left a safety on the field early in the game when he failed to wrap up Big Ben in the Steelers' end zone. Still, in a day with few positives, the pass rush wasn't bad.
Rex Ryan and Marty Mornhinweg: To be sure, there was an excuse, as the Steelers had two weeks to prepare for this game while the Jets had three practices. Nonetheless, the Jets were thoroughly outcoached in this game. The Jets' pass defense had no answers for the Steelers' passing attack, and no in game adjustments to fix things. Dick Lebeau took Geno to school, as the rookie QB came crashing back down to earth with a two turnover performance that could and should have been a four turnover performance. The advantages the Jets should have had along both lines of scrimmage failed to produce. The Jets looked overly conservative, uninspired and completely outcoached in this one. Rex and Marty, go stand in the corner with the dunce caps on. On this day Mike Tomlin and Dick Lebeau took you to school.
Antonio Cromartie: In a year quickly filling with bad performances by Cro, this was probably his worst. He was continually beaten badly by both Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders. Cro is supposedly the #1 cornerback on this team, but he is playing like a number 3 or 4. Opponents are now specifically targeting Cro no matter who he covers, because right now, Cro can't cover anyone. He is playing hurt and that may be the problem, but Cromartie this year has looked nothing like the shutdown corner he was last year. Unless he turns things around pronto, this will be Cro's last year in Green and White.
The rest of the pass coverage: While Cromartie was the worst offender, he was joined in ineptitude by nearly every member of the back 7. Corners, safeties, linebackers - you name it, they were all burned by Pittsburgh's trio of Brown, Sanders and Miller. This was always a bad matchup for the Jets pass defense, as Big Ben keeps plays alive and the secondary no longer has the talent to stay with plays for 3, 4 or 5 seconds. For better or worse, this Jets team now relies on the front four to get pressure and make the secondary's lives easier. Today that wasn't enough, and the back seven was completely overmatched in coverage.
The offensive line: The line allowed a lot of pressure on Geno, particularly both tackles, who were simultaneously beaten by the Steelers on multiple pass plays. Geno was sacked 3 times and hurried plenty more, including the pressure up the middle that doomed him on the final interception. The line also failed to dominate in the run game, preventing the gameplan of playing it conservative and taking the pressure off Geno from working. On a day when the lines of the Jets were supposed to dominate, the offensive line just didn't show up often enough.
Geno Smith: Will the real Geno Smith please stand up? Today we were back to bad Geno, perhaps a predictable result of facing the legendary Dick Lebeau. Geno threw 2 interceptions, both ending what should have been scoring drives for the Jets, thereby costing the Jets at least 6 points and perhaps as many as 14 points. In other words, as badly as the rest of the team played, if Geno doesn't throw those two INTs, maybe the Jets still manage to win the game. The first INT was a typical rookie mistake, throwing into double coverage that quickly turned into triple coverage when he failed to look off the safety. Only bad things could have happened on that play. The second INT also appeared to be a throw into double coverage, aiming at a receiver in the back of the end zone with a very small window and a low likelihood of success. The hit as he was throwing made the window moot, as he threw a dying quail right into a Steeler's waiting arms. Geno also narrowly avoided two other interceptions due to bad hands by the Steelers' secondary. Smith finished 19 of 34 for a 56% completion percentage, with two interceptions and a 48.8 passer rating. This, unfortunately, is what the growing pains of a rookie QB look like. He played poorly today, but it is to be expected. If we need a rookie QB to carry the Jets, as we did today, in many games that formula just won't work, nor should we expect it to. Geno appears to have brighter days ahead, but for now we should expect plenty more ups and downs as he works out his rookie kinks.
So the Jets now stand at 3-3 and continue their Jekyll and Hyde act of win one, lose one. The good news: by this pattern, the next game should be a win. The bad news: the next game is against the Brady Bunch, and we have not fared well in second games against his Tomness. Next week is a big week. Bouncing back with a win would go a long way toward setting this team up for a run at the playoffs. Lose and we're facing an away game against a tough Cincinnatti team and a home game against one of the best teams in football in New Orleans. 3-6 is a distinct possibility.