Steelers vs. Jets: The Hopalong Cassidy Edition
I had heard of Hopalong Cassidy as a child, although I don’t believe I ever saw one of the movies. But the name evokes someone with some disadvantages to overcome, and a quick Google search indeed revealed that the hero of the series got his name because the series began after he had been shot in the leg.
And indeed, given the striking nature of this week’s injury list and its concentration in a few crucial positions (offensive line, outside linebacker, and defensive backs) the Steelers may take the field with one hand tied behind their backs, if I may be allowed to mix the metaphor.
As for the opponent, there’s good news and bad news. The good news for the Steelers is that, so far at least, Ryan Fitzpatrick hasn’t been benched. This is undoubtedly because the options behind him are not necessarily an improvement. Here’s a comparison of Fitzpatrick’s and Ben Roethlisberger’s stats so far this season:
Ben has thrown a touchdown pass for every 13.2 attempts, with 4 interceptions (a less than 3% rate.) This includes the dreadful Philly game. Ryan Fitzpatrick has attempted 154 passes so far, throwing 4 touchdown passes. That comes to 38.5 passes per touchdown. On the other hand, he has 10 interceptions (so his stats almost mirror Ben’s) for a 6.5% interception rate. Nine of those are in the past two games.
The Jets are currently 1-3. The bad news for the Steelers is that it isn’t because the defense has been playing poorly. Quite the opposite. This is the same defense which sacked Andy Dalton, a guy who typically doesn’t take a lot of sacks, seven times in the Week 1 game. (Because of this, Dalton’s sack total for this season is already well over half the total for last year.)
In fact, the Jets defense has one of the best sack rates in the NFL so far—6th in the league, with 11 sacks. If there is good news to be had, however, it is that a bit of elementary math will reveal that since that glorious Week 1 contest they have only gotten four more sacks. However, that is as many sacks (or at least real ones) as the Steelers have all season.
They are also tied with the Steelers in interceptions, which isn’t very impressive, I’m sorry to say. Kansas City leads the league with eight so far (and those all came in three games,) whereas the Jets (and Steelers) only have two.
The scariest part of the Jets defense is definitely their defensive line, and a lot of their sacks are coming from this group. Steve McLendon, who I don’t suppose is going to be willing to give the Steelers a hometown discount, if you will, is playing lights out, as is, naturally, Muhammad Wilkerson.
Curiously, though, despite all the sacks, they rank below the Steelers in Team Defense, according to Football Outsiders. PIT is ranked right in the middle of the league, at No. 18. (They are, according to FO, 8th against the rush and 17th against the pass.) This is up from No. 26 last week. The Jets’ defense, on the other hand, is ranked No. 28 (down from No. 22 last week.) They are ranked No. 3 against the rush but No. 31 against the pass.
So perhaps the Steelers’ best tactic will be to split Le’Veon Bell out wide, as they did so successfully last week. Fortunately for them, Bell said this week that he actually prefers being split out because he has more room to run when he gets the ball. Given that the offensive line may not look much like the group that took the field in Week 1, it might be a good idea not to tax them unduly.
But game strategy isn’t my problem. I’m particularly grateful for this given the extensive injury list. But as we all know by now, The Standard is the Standard. And there may be a lot of guys called upon to uphold The Standard. Let’s hope they are up to the task.