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Scouting the Jets’ opposition: Pittsburgh Steelers

The New York Jets take on the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Cleveland Browns Lon Horwedel-USA TODAY Sports

The Jets and Steelers last met towards the end of the 2019 season, with the Jets winning 16-10. Both teams are currently 1-2 with the Steelers in a period of re-adjustment following quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s retirement at the end of last season. DraftKings Sportsbook has the Jets as 3.5 point underdogs.


With Roethlisberger gone, the Steelers drafted local college hero Kenny Pickett in the first round as the heir apparent. However, despite a solid preseason, they’re sticking with Mitchell Trubisky as the starter for now.

Trubisky, who offers a running threat, has only thrown one interception in the first three games, but he’s averaged less than 200 passing yards per game as the Steelers have the second worst offense in the league. Pittsburgh was 1-for-9 on third downs last week and fans are already calling for Pickett.

Former number two Mason Rudolph is also still on the team, but has been inactive. He lost his only start in 2021.

Offensive Line

The Steelers made some changes on the interior line during the offseason, bringing in two veterans, guard James Daniels and center Mason Cole, on three-year deals. They join Kevin Dotson on the inside. Dotson began the 2021 season as a starter but suffered a season-ending ankle injury halfway through the year.

Pittsburgh has brought back both starting tackles from last season. Dan Moore plays on the left and gave up seven sacks last year. Right tackle Chukwuma Okorafor had 11 penalties in 2021 but only gave up two sacks.

So far this season, the starting unit has only missed four snaps between them and none of them has been responsible for a sack, although Trubisky has been sacked five times.

On the bench, Kendrick Green and JC Hassenauer return. Green started most of last year at center, with Hassenauer starting the other four games, including one in the playoffs.

The Steelers also added some veteran depth with starter experience by trading for the versatile Jesse Davis and signing Trent Scott to a low level deal.

Running Backs

Pro bowler Najee Harris leads the running game after a season where he rushed for 1,200 yards and caught 74 passes. This season, he’s off to a slow start as he is only averaging 3.2 yards per carry.

Benny Snell was the backup last year, but averaged just 2.7 yards per carry, so he’s been jumped in the rotation by undrafted rookie Jaylen Warren, who has done well as the number two so far. Fullback Derek Watt completes this group.

Pass catchers

The Steelers lost some wide receiver talent during the offseason with Juju Smith-Schuster, Ray-Ray McCloud and James Washington all leaving. However, they are still led by Diontae Johnson, who caught over 100 passes and went to the pro bowl last season. He leads the team with 21 receptions so far.

Chase Claypool had over 800 receiving yards in each of his first two seasons, but he’s off to a slow start this year with just 79 receiving yards in the first three weeks. He has added some production on jet sweeps though.

6’3” rookie George Pickens was selected in the second round of April’s draft and, although he only had five catches so far, he already displayed his big-play potential with a spectacular one-handed grab last week and a number of impressive plays in camp and preseason.

The rest of the Steelers’ wide receiver depth is not that impressive, as veterans Miles Boykin, Steven Sims and Gunner Olszewski were brought in. None of these has had 350 receiving yards in a season and they have no catches between them so far this year.

They did draft another receiver, Calvin Austin, in the fourth round, but he is on injured reserve.

At tight end, Pat Freiermuth was a good second round pick last year and he reeled in 60 catches, including seven touchdowns. He starts ahead of Zach Gentry, who also contributes in the passing game. He had 19 catches last year. Versatile sixth round rookie Connor Heyward has only played 11 snaps so far.

Defensive Line

The Steelers run a 3-4 defense and their line is anchored by pro bowler Cameron Heyward, who had 10 sacks and nine passes defensed last year. Montravius Adams is the starter at nose tackle and they recently brought in veteran Larry Ogunjobi to start at the other end position.

The bench includes Chris Wormley, who started 14 games and racked up seven sacks last season. The other reserves are veteran Tyson Alualu, third round rookie DeMarvin Leal and Isaiahh Loudermilk, who was inactive last week.

The Steelers are in the bottom five for run defense through the first three games, although they’re actually in the top half for yards per carry.


The Steelers lost the reigning Defensive Player of the Year TJ Watt to an early-season injury, although he is expected to be activated from injured reserve later in the year.

In Watt’s absence, Alex Highsmith has stepped up and currently leads the league with 4.5 sacks. This is a potential breakout year for him, as he only had six all of last season.

The other starter at outside linebacker is currently Malik Reed, who had 13 sacks in the past two seasons with Denver.

On the inside, the Steelers brought in Myles Jack to replace Joe Schobert alongside returning starter Devin Bush. Jack racked up 35 tackles in the first three games to lead the team.

Jamir Jones and Robert Spillane have seen action off the bench in a rotational role. Former second round pick Ryan Anderson was also elevated from the practice squad.

Seventh round pick Mark Robinson, Marcus Allen and David Anenih round out this position group.

Defensive Backs

The Steelers forced five turnovers, including four interceptions, in the opening day win over the Bengals, but have only managed to force one since then.

The secondary is led by safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, who led the team with 124 tackles last season. Fitzpatrick has two interceptions including a pick-six, but suffered a concussion last week. He has returned to practice though and will play on Sunday.

The other starting safety is Terrell Edmunds, a former first round pick, who returned to the Steelers despite the fact they declined his fifth year option last year.

At cornerback, Ahkello Witherspoon led the team with three interceptions last season and was tied for the team lead with nine passes defensed. He started the first three games but has been ruled out of Sunday’s game with a hamstring injury.

With Witherspoon out, Levi Wallace will probably join the other starter, Cameron Sutton, in the starting line-up. Sutton leads the team with four passes defensed. Former Jet Arthur Maulet is the team’s nickelback.

Miles Killebrew and Tre Norwood provide depth at safety with James Pierre available as cover at cornerback, where he played extensively last season. Another former second round pick, Josh Jackson, was elevated from the practice squad.

Special Teams

Former pro bowler Chris Boswell is entering his eighth season as the Steelers’ kicker but has missed two field goals so far. The punter is Pressley Harvin who was drafted in the seventh round last season. He’s in the middle of the pack for most statistical categories so far.

Olszewski has taken over as the kickoff and punt returner to boost the return game, as he was an all-pro in that role in 2020. Sims backs him up.

The team has two solid punt gunners in Boykin and Pierre. The pair have combined for eight tackles in the first three games and Pierre forced three fumbles last season.

Other contributors include Derek Watt, who led them in solo special teams tackles last season and Fitzpatrick, who had a key field goal block in the win over the Bengals.

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