5 Storylines Ahead Of Steelers-Jets

Familiar faces, ghosts, Ducks & coaching scared

Matt Koll
December 20, 2019 - 11:49 am
Le'Veon Bell

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

It's not quite the 5-star matchup it was last week but the importance has never been higher. Here's some things I'm looking for in Sunday's game in New Jersey...

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5. Le'Veon vs. Pittsburgh 

It was ugly at the end for Bell in Pittsburgh. We remember it. It's still relatively fresh. The whole song and dance that we took part in last year with trying to guess when he was going to come back, if the Steelers should have opened up their pocketbook for him, seeing him show up at LA Fitness on McKnight Rd, yada yada yada.

So where do we stand now with him? How are the traveling Steelers fans...and there figures to be a lot of them...going to react to him? Bell was asked about this very thing on Thursday and said he thinks it will be about 50/50. Some will show him love, some will still despise him. 

How fans feel may be secondary to how his former teammates feel. We remember David Decastro and other members of the offensive line expressed some frustration over the situation last year but have since backed off, saying there are no hard feelings. 

Except for Bud Dupree...

He was the only one close to speaking out against Bell, saying, "if he has a problem with us, we have a problem with him." Hmm. He is one of the few that can actually show it on the field, too as he'll be on defense against him. Will he see some extra curricular activity? So wounds that still haven't healed? I would think not, but if the score gets out of hand (doubt that as well) maybe we see some fireworks. I'm not buying that it's all love from the Steelers...

As far as on-field production, he clearly hasn't been the same player as he was in Pittsburgh. His 3.3 yards per carry 

4. Will Darnold See Ghosts? 

Sam Darnold (in)famously said that he was "seeing ghosts" earlier this year against the Patriots. That New England unit has proven to be one of the best, if not the best, in the league this year. Can the Steelers reach that level? 

Related: Steelers' Kameron Kelly Arrested On South Side

This defense has been built on the takeaway and Darnold has thrown 12 interceptions on the year. But looking deeper, Darnold has thrown 10 touchdowns as compared to 3 interceptions over the last 5 games. The key, as always with this defense, is pressuring Darnold into making bad decisions and for ghosts to appear. 

The Steelers really didn't do a great job of this against Josh Allen last week. I was kind of disappointed with the lack of consistent disruption like we'd seen in the past. I think that changes this week. The Jets offensive line has been beat up this season, using 6 different combinations of starters. This should be the kind of game where Pro Bowler TJ Watt and Pro Bowl snub Bud Dupree feast. 

I think Darnold is the best quarterback in his draft class not named Lamar Jackson. But will he show it Sunday? 

3. Running Back Rotation 

The Steelers dressed 5 running backs last week against Buffalo and figure to dress at least 4 this week. Kerrith Whyte has proven that you just can't take a helmet away from him, being productive in his little game action. Benny Snell did a fairly admirable job when James Conner was out. Jaylen Samuels is the best pass catching back with the only one challenging him for that title being James Conner who looked fresh and ready to roll last week, despite not getting as many carries as he should have.

To me, Conner and Snell feel like "rhythm" backs. What I mean by that is it feels like they get more comfortable and more effective the more carries they get and the more they can feel out and wear down a defense. Both have described that as being an important element to their game. 

I feel like Kerrith Whyte and Jaylen Samuels can both jump into games and provide that instant spark and don't need to be in the flow of the contest to do so. We've seen Samuels get in, catch a pass or two and hop right back out. We've seen Whyte get 5 carries for 41 yards in a game this season. 

For as much heat as offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner has taken this year, I will say it's probably difficult to balance 4 running backs, even when you take a running back by committee approach. Most teams doing that only have 2, maybe 3. Never 4. That being said, Fichtner hasn't quite found the right way to deploy themyet.

Playing arm chair OC, James Conner would get the bulk of the carries. Jaylen Samuels would get passing down action, Benny Snell would only be in the game in 3rd down or short yardage situations and Kerrith Whyte maybe early in the game as just a different look to keep a defense honest and others fresh. 

We'll see how it plays out.  

2. Steelers Run-Pass Ratio 

This was targeted as one of the main reasons why the Steelers fell to the Bills last week. Why in the world did Duck Hodges throw the ball 38 times against the 3rd best passing defense in the league while all of those running backs only combined for 15 carries. 

Coach Randy said Thursday he "doesn't call scared" and they don't play scared in reference to the amount of passes thrown. Mike Tomlin said it was more about not being in control of the game, despite the fact that the Steelers were still throwing the ball more than running it even when they had a lead in the game. 

Fichtner may not be scared, but he may want to be a little more smart about Hodges' usage. I'm not too keen on him throwing more than 25 times in this one, unless of course they are shredding them through the air. 

1. Duck Bounce Back? 

Mike Tomlin is giving him the opportunity to do so. Just like he gave Mason Rudolph the opportunity to in Cincinnati. 

What's interesting is that the Jets front has been excellent against the run this year, ranking 2nd in the league in rushing yards allowed per game. Does that mean another 30+ attempt game from Duck? How does he handle that? 

One personnel note, the Jets figure to have Jamal Adams back as of this writing, their lone Pro Bowler defensively. Duck should be better protected in this one, as the Jets don't offer much in the way of a pass rush ranking just 24th in the league with 30 sacks. A lot of his struggles came because he was running for his life on his off-hand before the play could develop. ​

Hodges has said this week that he doesn't want to kill the Steelers. You know, like throw 4 interceptions. So how does that become a reality? 

This may sound crazy, but I think it's ok to punt the ball more and trust your defense. That's assuming Jordan Berry is actually successful in flipping the field. On a 3rd and 10? Why try to force the ball somewhere when the better bet might be to take what you can on the ground and play the field position battle. 

If it gets to that point where it's essentially "which defense can force the most mistakes" I like the Steelers chances of winning that war considering the takeaways they've been able to create. 

I doubt we see as bad a game as Duck played against Buffalo again this year. But how much better he'll be is the question. 

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