After breaking down the tape of the Jets' 27-10 loss to the Steelers, a few things jumped out:
PLENTY OF BLAME: Immediately after the game, the prevailing explanation for the utter ineptitude of the passing attack was how the wide receivers failed to handle the Steelers' aggressive press coverage. After watching the tape, I think that was a bit overblown. A myriad of factors contributed to Mark Sanchez's 10-for-27, 138-yard day.
I categorized his 17 incompletions into five different categories:
Off-target passes -- 5
QB under pressure -- 4
Drops -- 3
Miscommunications between QB and receiver -- 3
Pass breakup/good coverage -- 2
DEEP THOUGHTS: Adhering to Tony Sparano's vertical philosophy, Sanchez made an attempt to push the ball downfield, perhaps eschewing safer throws. Overall, he attempted 10 passes of 10-plus yards, according to ESPN Stats & Information -- but he completed only two. In Week 1, it was a completely different story, as Sanchez went 7-for-11 with two TDs on such throws.
PROTECT AT ALL COSTS: One of the questions that emerged after the game was, why didn't Sanchez utilize his backs in the passing game? He had no completions on two RB targets. A big reason for that was pass protection, as Sparano often kept in a back to block.
The Jets were so concerned with the Steelers' pressure that they over-emphasized pass protection. For the most part, they kept Sanchez upright (sacked only twice), but the cost of operating that way is that it takes a potential target (or two) out of the passing game. When you do that, and your wideouts can't win their one-on-one matchups, and your tight end is home rehabbing a hamstring injury, the passing attack gets choked to death. And that's what happened.
Here's a breakdown on how the Jets blocked the Steelers (most of the five-man protections came on the final possession, when they passed on every down):
Five-man protections: 9
Six-man protections: 14
Seven-man protections: 4
Eight-man protections: 1
IF ONLY HE KEPT IT: On Tim Tebow's third and final play at QB, a 6-yard loss by Shonn Greene, the Jets tried a misdirection run. RG Brandon Moore and RT Austin Howard pulled to the left, Greene ran right. If Tebow had faked the handoff and kept it himself, following Moore and Howard, he would've had a nice gain. In that case, he probably would've stayed on the field instead of getting pulled on 2nd-and-16. And who knows how things would've turned out?
RADICAL REX: We all know how much Rex Ryan and Mike Pettine like to use defensive backs. Against pass-happy teams, they've been known to dress 10 defensive backs. This time, they departed from their usual philosophy. Without CB Darrelle Revis (concussion), they dressed eight DBs and played only six. Really, it was just a five-man defensive backfield, as S Eric Smith had only seven snaps. Incredibly, they went the entire game with only three corners -- Antonio Cromartie, Kyle Wilson and Ellis Lankster.
By my count, the corners were responsible for 11 of Ben Roethlisberger's 24 completions. Breakdown:
Cromartie -- Five receptions for 77 yards, one TD.
Wilson -- Three for 41.
Lankster -- Three for 26.
BEN BUT DON'T BREAK: Concerned with the Steelers' big-play ability, the Revis-less Jets took a more conservative approach, playing more zone than usual. Roethlisberger did a nice job of finding soft spots in the underneath zones, exploiting the lack of speed at linebacker. LB David Harris allowed four completions for 44 yards (including a TD). At times, the Jets used a two-deep safety look, with Yeremiah Bell and LaRon Landry lined up on the hashmarks. Ordinarily, the Jets don't use a lot of two-deep looks. This was another adjustment to life without Revis.
BIG MAC: OLB Garrett McIntyre, who started for the injured Bryan Thomas and recorded two sacks, was praised for his production -- and deservedly so. But McIntyre is a limited player -- not good in space, as Ryan noted -- and his shortcoming was exposed. McIntyre missed three tackles in space, resulting in a couple of long gainers. It almost seemed like the Steelers made a concerted effort to pick on McIntyre whenever the opportunity was available.
NOT-SO-GREAT-SCOTT: LB Bart Scott might have experienced a moment of deja vu in the fourth quarter, when RB Isaac Redman ran through him for a 2-yard TD. Scott defeated his block and was positioned in the hole to bring down Redman at the 1- or 2-yard line, but he failed to get it done. Sound familiar? Scott also whiffed on a tackle in the 2010 AFC Championship Game, resulting in a 1-yard TD run by the Steelers' Rashad Mendenhall. Same field, different end zone.
ODDS AND ENDS: At one point, Sanchez had seven straight incompletions, the longest drought of his career, according to the CBS telecast. ... Rookie LB Demario Davis had a nice outside rush on the Jets' first sack, forcing Roethlisberger to step up. ... I counted at least four plays in which the Jets had a free runner at Big Ben and failed to bring him down. Harris had a shot at him on the 37-yard TD pass to Mike Wallace. ... Ryan went easy on Cromartie for giving up the Wallace TD, saying he had great coverage but misplayed the ball. But that's like a center fielder dropping a gimme fly ball after tracking it down in the gap. If you get there, make the play. ... The Jets made the Steelers burn a timeout when they lined up Tebow on a wing in punt protection. Great nugget from Phil Simms in the TV booth: He noted that one of the Steelers' assistants saw Tebow catching a pass in the pregame warmups, and he immediately told another assistant coach.