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Jets-Steelers pregame stretch

September 14, 2012 - Ray Eckenrode

Blogger’s note: From here out, we’ll be doing a pregame stretch blog and postgame wrapup blog for every Steelers game. We’ll also be commenting extensively on the team all week on Twitter @15MinutesBlog. In keeping with our personal decision to lessen the importance we place upon college athletics in our life, there won’t be any Penn State blogs this season but we’ll tweet casually about the team, especially during games.

New York Jets (1-0) vs. Pittsburgh Steelers (0-1)

Sunday, 4:30 p.m., CBS

Weather – or not?: Partly cloudy, 73, 0 percent chance of rain. With those conditions and after a moderate summer with a decent amount of rain, it sounds like the Heinz Field turf could be in bad shape for this one. Seriously, did you see the huge patches of bare dirt in the turf in Denver last week? We can put a man on the moon (allegedly) but we can’t figure out how to grow grass inside a stadium?

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Announcers: Jim Nantz, Phil Simms

Annoyance factor: The Steelers history and tradition helped CBS decide to make this the national game Sunday…Wait. What? It’s because of Tim Tebow? But he doesn’t even… I mean, why would you? Screw that, that oughta be annoying. Seriously, get your radios out and prepare to see 3,842 replays of those Denver playoff game touchdowns.

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Referee: Jerry Frump

Competence factor: Yes! We were hoping this thing wouldn’t be settled before the Steelers had the pleasure of getting screwed by someone named Jerry Frump.

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The line: Steelers -5.5

Smarts say: The Steelers opened here as 6.5-point favorites, meaning the boys in Vegas put very little stock in the Jets offensive “rebirth” vs. Buffalo. It’s dropped a point since then, meaning the public isn’t putting much stock in the “Peyton was just better” theory on the Pittsburgh opener. We’re guessing it could move again Friday, based on Troy Polamalu’s practice status. The over/under of 41.5 means the smarts see something in the neighborhood of 23-17 Steelers.

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Key matchup: Steelers blitz packages vs. Jets protection schemes

Because: This is the same key matchup as last week and we’re guessing it might remain the key matchup in the Pittsburgh games for a while because we can’t see any way this is going to be a playoff football team without it featuring a pressure defense. It looked like all was well in the world after two sacks in the first quarter of last week’s game, but then Denver went no huddle and the pressure went AWOL. The Steelers outside linebackers blitzed 28 times in the game (including 10 by LaMarr Woodley) and recorded a lone sack (by Jason Worilds on a blown formation by Denver). Mark Sanchez is not going to just stand back there Sunday and throw interceptions of his own volition. If the Steelers don’t pressure him, expect to see the calm customer who beat the Steelers once at Heinz Field in the regular season already and nearly did in the playoffs.

Quick hits:

+ As a regular reader of this blog, you are no doubt aware of our fascination/borderline obsession with the mathematics of the two-point conversion. If you’re not, you can read our current treatise on the matter by clicking the link at right. But after last Sunday’s action, we’re seriously thinking of adding a corollary to our position paper that we might call the “Brandon Weeden Principle.” It might say: “When making a two-point decision, the weight a coach places on the time remaining in the game should be inversely proportional to the amount of confidence he has in his quarterback to lead a trying or go-ahead drive.” The bottom line is this: When the Browns got an interception return TD with 14 minutes remaining to go ahead of the Eagles 15-10, we absolutely think Pat Shurmur should have gone for two to create a seven-point lead, even though that seems to violate the “only when time is of the essence” part of our guidelines. But when you assess more closely, time really was of the essence because of the presence of the struggling rookie under center for Cleveland. If Ben Roethlisberger is your QB (as he was when Mike Tomlin foolishly went to for two with roughly the same amount of time remaining Sunday night against the Broncos), you might score three more times in the last 14 minutes and the certainty of getting that one point far outweighs the risk involved in getting two and creating a seven-point lead. But with Weeden as your quarterback, the decision comes down to asking yourself which is more likely: That he can convert this one-play now to get you a seven-point lead or that he can convert a bunch of plays on a drive later to erase a deficit and get you a FG to win?

+ We discussed our concerns here last week with James Harrison’s troubling, lingering knee injury, and now, on top of that, come the three words no Steelers fan ever wants to see on an injury report: Troy Polamalu (calf). The all-world safety has been dealing with a bad calf since the Bengals game of 2010, we believe, when he made that athletic pick-6 against Carson Palmer. And that fact that it flared up so early this season is definitely bad news as it likely means Polamalu will be dealing with it the rest of the year. The calf is a very dense muscle, full of fast-twitch fibers, and the only prescription for calf strains is rest – and there’s not much of that to be found for an NFL player between now and mid-February.

+ We were remiss in our game blog last week of not kujoing (like kudos, but better) Chris Collinsworth on how quickly he picked up the way Peyton Manning was exploiting Ryan Clark’s absence, correctly noting that when Troy Polamalu lined up deep, Manning audibled to a run, and when he lined up at scrimmage, Manning attacked Ryan Mundy in the passing game.

The pick: There’s a popluar theory now that the Steelers will be fine, Denver is a tough place to play, Peyton Manning is one of the greatest of all time and still Pittsburgh had the ball with three minutes left and a chance to win. And that’s where our thinking leaned immediately after the game. But with more time to reflect, doubt has crept in. There were nine other NFL games last week that were one-score affairs in the fourth quarter. The whole essence of what the NFL is doing with its rules is designed to create one-score games in the fourth quarter. Maybe that shouldn’t be the barometer. We’re still not sure, but still have a load of concerns entering this one, concerns about the pass rush, the running game, Mike Wallace’s state of mind, the lack or red zone weapons, the injuries on defense and the ability of Mike Tomlin to keep it all together between the coin clip and final horn. You might have noticed this week that LaMarr Woodley guaranteed Pittsburgh wouldn’t be 0-2. In our experience, unless your last name is Namath, those things usually end up like this … Jets 24-23.

Last week: We were correct in forecasting the Steelers’ demise straight up and vs. the spread. 1-0, 1.000 pct.

Him: We saved the move over-hyped for last. Tim Tebow played 10 plays last week and the Jets really didn’t need to show anything with him because of how meekly the Bills bowed out. We expect Tebow to take a shot down the field very early in this game and then be used primarily to run, especially if Troy Polamalu doesn’t play.

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