Gene Collier: For defenses, cooler heads prevailed
September 17, 2012 8:00 AM
Steelers linebacker LaMarr Woodley sacks Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez.
By Gene Collier Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The emotional thermostats along the second and third levels of both defenses had reached dangerous levels early in this Steelers-Jets conflict, probably well before anyone could project the full extent of the potential damage.
You know you've got one nasty little AFC affair bubbling when the secondaries alone account for 85 yards in penalties, and it's almost more than either team can manage via the disappearing art of running the football.
"I can't worry about whining," Ike Taylor was saying 15 minutes after the Steelers finished thrashing the Jets, 27-10, in the home opener. "I can't do nothing any different from what I'm doing. I still gotta play."
Taylor didn't indicate specifically that former Steelers receiver Santonio Holmes was whining about that limp three-catches-for-28-yards performance Steelers defensive backs had just stapled to him, but Ike gesticulated at "Tone" ferociously late in the game as the Steelers exerted their full dominance.
In those moments, Taylor was risking his fourth penalty of the early evening; he already had been flagged for pass interference (cheap), interference again (even cheaper), holding (legit), and No. 24 was on the verge of aggravated unsportsmanlike conduct when this particular pseudo-comical grab bag of NFL replacement officials interrupted with the unexpected decision to go ahead and, you know, try to move the game forward.
Talk about having your hands full.
"Lot of testosterone out there," said Steelers wideout Emmanuel Sanders, one of 10 different Ben Roethlisberger targets in a game when passing yardage dwarfed rushing yardage in Todd Haley's no no-huddle offense by better than 4 to 1. "But guys are just competing to win. I didn't see anything too crazy out there."
Well that's one of us.
I saw Lawrence Timmons launch one of the Jets' two scoring drives when he cost the defense 15 yards by helmet-to-helmeting New York's Mark Sanchez, a classical violation of Mike Tomlin's eight-word safety commandment: Don't hit the head; don't use the head.
I saw New York's LaRon "Late Hit" Landry fuel two Steelers touchdown drives, one with a tardy tackle out of bounds, another with a desperate horse-collaring of Antonio Brown.
I saw Jets safety Antonio Cromartie, scalded by Mike Wallace for the TD that stretched the Steelers' lead to 20-10, jawing with Wallace and Brown at midfield 30 minutes later as though he had been impenetrable to that point.
But advanced degree in crazyology went predictably to Jets coach Rex Ryan for his psychotic deployment of alternate quarterback Tim Tebow, who appears to have made it official that he'll be getting more attention per snap than anyone in NFL history.
In this episode, Tebow did not appear except on special teams until the Jets were behind by 10 midway in the third quarter. He ran 22 yards right up the middle on the first play, then sparked an option play that gained 12 on the next. When Steelers safety Ryan Clark floored Shonn Greene for a loss of 6 on the third play, Tebow got the hook.
That was it. Sanchez came in to throw two incompletions and the Jets punted, which they did on every second-half possession but the one when the game clock expired.
Ryan was in no mood to blame anyone in particular for a rather thorough all-three-phases spanking, but he came closest with Landry.
"Well, I love the way he plays and everything, but you have to do it within the confinements of the rules," said Ryan, whose ingenious defenses (just ask him) have now allowed 55 points and 721 yards in two games. "I think it's something we really have to look at. That's two times now on the sideline that he's been called."
It surely had something to do with the climate in the secondaries, as the Jets were missing all-world corner Darrelle Revis, the Steelers perennial Pro Bowl safety Troy Polamalu. Both defenses were missing staring linebackers (James Harrison and Bryan Thomas) as well. So both units appeared intent on getting angry early and letting it boil over on the opposing receivers.
"I wouldn't call it angry," said Brown, whose thanks for converting a critical third-down play on the Steelers' final touchdown drive was to take one of Landry's legal hits in the middle of the field so squarely in his midsection it seemed it might break him in half. "It was more like hostility. Fortunately, we were able to take advantage of some things on third down."
Roethlisberger and his seriously varied targets converted eight times in 15 attempts on third down; the Jets, after going 10 for 14 in the opener against Buffalo, failed to convert eight of their 12 third-down predicaments against Dick LeBeau's secondary.
No one among Ben's receivers thought Revis would have made all that much difference.
"To us, the opponents are nameless, gray faces," Sanders said. "What matters is what we do."