Steelers Scouting Report: Week Four vs New York Jets

Steel City Underground’s “Steelers Scouting Report” is a preview of each opponent Pittsburgh will face throughout the 2022-23 NFL regular season on a weekly basis, with analysis, injury news, and potential key matchups.

The Pittsburgh Steelers currently find themselves on a two-week skid after a frustrating loss to the Cleveland Browns in Week Three. Going into Week Four, some may say that it is a bit alarmist to call any game a “must-win” at this point in the season.

However, with the gauntlet of opponents awaiting the Steelers after facing off against “Gang Green” – Buffalo Bills (away), Tampa Bay Buccaneers (home),  Miami Dolphins (away), Philadelphia Eagles (away) – I feel confident in stating that this is a “must-win” for the Steelers, who host the New York Jets on Sunday, if they have any hopes of putting together a competitive season and continuing Head Coach Mike Tomlin’s streak of never helming a losing season.

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Offense

The good news for Jets fans, entering Sundays game, is that they will no longer be subjected to watching the Stone-Age pony, Joe Flacco, attempt to move around a crumbling pocket while looking like a geriatric on ice skates. The bad news for Jets fans is that, even with Zach Wilson‘s athleticism, this New York offensive line has been anemic so far this year, continuing their trend from their collective performance last year.

Starting with RT Mekhi Becton sustaining a season-ending knee injury in August, his replacement in Duane Brown was moved to IR due to a shoulder injury shortly after. In last week’s game against the Cincinnati Bengals, starting LT George Fant suffered a knee injury that will land the veteran on IR for at least four games.

This leaves Connor McDermott and rookie Max Mitchell to start at left and right tackle for the Jets, which means I will have my eyes on Steelers OLB Alex Highsmith to continue his quietly impressive start to the season and build on his league-leading 4.5 sacks on Sunday versus these two vulnerable linemen.

With a beat-up offensive line that was already underperforming and a young quarterback needing to build up his confidence, I suspect the Jets offense to want to get the ball out of Wilson’s hands as quickly as possible, and, despite their public perception, the Jets have a number of weapons that the Steelers and Steelers fans should watch out for on Sunday.

At the top of that list are rookie WR Garrett Wilson out of Ohio State, and Breece Hall, the rookie RB from Iowa State.

Wilson-to-Wilson may be the only QB-WR combination that sounds better than Pickett-to-Pickens. Unfortunately, for Steelers fans, we are all much more likely to witness the former than the latter on Sunday.

Garrett Wilson has shown flashes so far this season that demonstrate why the Jets and so many other teams saw the receiver as a first-round talent. Now, the Jets just need their young Wilson tandem to build some chemistry together and aggregate snaps together on the field.

With a struggling and potentially banged-up Steelers secondary looking vulnerable without the help of T.J. Watt up front – expect Zach Wilson to look to his surname counterpart early and often on Sunday if given the time in the pocket.

Already, this season, Hall has shown himself to be a dynamic, dual-threat running back that this Jets offense can really lean on if they improve their offensive line play.

The Jets have demonstrated that they are not afraid to move Hall around the field and line him up as a receiver at times. Hall is one of those players that you just want to find a way to get the ball in his hands and the Jets will have to find ways to do that quickly on Sunday with screens and check-downs before the pass protection becomes an issue.

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I purposely left Zach Wilson for last in this report simply due to the fact that it is hard to predict or suspect what we will see from the former BYU Cougar on Sunday.

Wilson is coming back from two injuries that forced him to miss significant time, both on his right knee. Even when playing in his rookie season, Wilson never quite showed enough to satisfy Jets fans that the organization made the right choice in picking the “Mormon Mahomes.”

One thing is certain, from watching some of Wilson’s tape in 2021, the kid has an absolute rifle for arm. In three games, I think I saw Wilson put some touch on three passes. He is like a pitcher in baseball that almost only throws 96 MPH fastballs.

When it works, it looks impossible to defend or do anything about. But throughout the course of any game, you are going to find yourself in situations where you need to change up speeds, and I’m just not sure if Wilson knows when he is in those situations because his raw talent and athleticism have guided him through similar situations in the past.

Lastly, on review, it appears that Wilson struggles to go through his entire progression of receivers while on the field; either locking onto his first read for an inordinate amount of time or moving quickly from first read to check down.

Whether this is due to Wilson’s inability to go through his progressions properly, poor offensive line play, or a combination of the two is hard to say. The Steelers pass rush will need to make it a long day of work for the Jets offensive line on Sunday if the Steelers hope to secure their first home win of the season.

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Defense

It all starts up front for the Jets defense and that means two names: Quinnen Williams and Sheldon Rankins.

Rankins, a seasoned veteran in his second year with the Jets after spending six years in New Orleans with the Saints, helping to secure that formidable front. Williams, a fourth-year player out of Alabama who has started to really put all of the pieces together in these last couple of seasons and is poised for a big breakout season. The Steelers offensive line will have their hands full on Sunday dealing with the duo.

On the back end, the Jets have a few interesting pieces that are worth mentioning and keeping an eye out for. The first of which is Sauce Gardner.

The heavily-discussed, and highly-praised number four overall pick, coming out of Cincinnati, has performed as advertised thus far in his rookie campaign. At 6’3″, 200 lbs., I can see Gardner being a tough matchup for Diontae Johnson on Sunday. Gardner was touted for the lack of targets that receivers in his direction would receive in college, so I expect Mitch Trubisky to avoid Gardner in similar fashion.

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The last two players that I wanted to mention are the safety tandem of Jordan Whitehead and Lamarcus Joyner. Whitehead and Joyner are fascinating and frustrating to watch on the back end of this Jets defense.

On one hand, they both love to hit and clearly play their best ball when they can run downhill and pursue the ball carrier. These guys play football like I play defense in Madden, just nonstop hit stick, trying to de-cleat the ball carrier or blocker in front of them.

Unfortunately for Whitehead and Joyner, as safeties, they can’t always play downhill and close to the line of scrimmage. Often times they are tasked to be back in coverage and that is where their gameplay suffers mightily.

Poor tackling form, underwhelming coverage skills, and angles of pursuit that would make your geometry teacher cry;  Whitehead and Joyner remind this Steelers fan of Mike Mitchell, a hard-hitting safety that was frustratingly poor in coverage.

I know that “middle of the field” is kind of a taboo term in Steelers circles at the moment but, with Quincy Williams out with a high ankle sprain and these two safeties in the secondary, I sure hope that the Steelers are able to attack the middle of this defense with their big-body playmakers in Najee Harris, Pat Freiermuth, Chase Claypool, and George Pickens, on Sunday.

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Injuries

The Jets are mostly healthy entering  Sunday’s showdown against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Fortunately, for the Steelers, they will not have to see Jets LB Quincy Williams on Sunday who is week-to-week with a high ankle sprain but is not expected to play against Pittsburgh.

Williams was the Jets’ best defender on the field last Sunday versus the Bengals before going down the that aforementioned high ankle sprain.

Other than Williams, Zach Wilson (knee) was a full participant and is expected to make his 2022 debut on Sunday. Starting DL John Franklin-Myers (toe) was limited on Wednesday. Backup CB Brandin Echols (hamstring) was also limited on Wednesday.

The Pittsburgh Steelers host the New York Jets on Sunday, October 2nd at 1:00 p.m. (Eastern) at Acrisure Stadium on CBS (broadcasters: Greg Gumbel on play-by-play and Adam Archuleta as analyst.)

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