It wasn't just that Ben Roethlisberger completed 23 of 30 passes for 264 yards and a big 55-yard touchdown to Emmanuel Sanders to start the second half. Or that his 10-yard scramble on third-and-10 at the Jets 12 produced a first down. For only the second time in his past nine games, dating to last season, Roethlisberger did not turn the ball over. More important, he did a good job recognizing all the Jets' different looks on defense and communicating them to the offensive line.
The numbers don't look very impressive, but the Steelers rushed for 61 of their 73 yards in the second half when they needed to protect their lead. And they did it against the league's No. 2 rush defense. Rookie Le'Veon Bell had 34 yards on 16 carries and caught three passes for 22 yards. Felix Jones chipped in with an 11-yard run for a first down and Jonathan Dwyer converted a late third down with a 6-yard run.
Antonio Brown continues to be a major producer with nine more catches, seven of which came in the first half. He converted a big third-and-15 that led to the first field goal, and drew a 25-yard pass interference call to set up another. Emmanuel Sanders, though, made the big play, catching a 55-yard TD to start the second half. Heath Miller made a nice 31-yard catch on second-and-18 that led to a field goal.
Kelvin Beachum, who replaced Mike Adams as the starter, settled down after a shaky start and gave a solid performance. Good thing, too, because Adams was deactivated and newcomer Levi Brown injured his tricep tendon in warmups. Beachum did not allow a sack, but he nearly caused a safety on the first series and also had two holding penalties. Roethlisberger was sacked three times, but only once in the second half when he deliberately took the sack to avoid a turnover.
The Jets managed to rush for 83 yards and average 4.2 yards per carry, but at least they didn't gouge the Steelers with any long runs. And that is a small victory for a defense that has been allowing 125 yards rushing per game. Cam Heyward, making his first start in place of Ziggy Hood, played very well and continues to collapse the pocket better than any of their linemen. He had a big stop on third-and-1 at the Steelers 2, forcing the Jets to settle for a field goal.
The defense finally came up with sacks and takeaways -- something that had been missing in the first four games -- and the linebackers were responsible for most of those plays. LaMarr Woodley and Jason Worilds had two of the three sacks on Geno Smith and Lawrence Timmons came up with one of the two big takeaways in the red zone -- intercepting a pass at the Steelers 3 after a big hit on Smith by Jarvis Jones.
After allowing three passes of 51 yards or longer in the past three games, the secondary did a good job taking the big play away from Smith, who was tied for first in the league with completions of 40 yards or longer (5). Smith didn't complete a pass longer than 29 yards and threw two big interceptions in the red zone. Safety Ryan Clark had the first pick at the Steelers 1 in the third quarter to protect a 16-6 lead.
Shaun Suisham remained perfect on the season by converting all four field-goal attempts, the longest a 48-yarder at the end of the first half. And punter Zoltan Mesko even showed some pop in his leg with two punts of 47 yards in the first half and a 53-yarder in the third quarter. His average of 45.5 yards was a big improvement over the past two games. At least it didn't matter this time that there is still no production from the return game.
No turnovers on offense, two red-zone takeaways on defense and being able to run the ball in the fourth quarter instead of throwing were the difference. Give Todd Haley credit for the play-action call from a run formation on the 55-yard TD pass to Sanders. And props to Dick LeBeau for patching up a defense that had been yielding big plays and not allowing the Jets a touchdown or a gain longer than 29 yards. The formula was simple, but successful.
First Published October 13, 2013 8:00 PM