Steelers safety Ryan Clark intercepts a pass intended for the Jets' Konrad Reuland in the third quarter Sunday at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.
By Ray Fittipaldo Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The Steelers were 23 minutes from making NFL history of the most dubious kind. No team in the history of the league had ever gone five consecutive games to start a season without forcing a turnover.
But then it happened just the way the Steelers said it would when they were in the midst of their drought. The offense went ahead by two scores for the first time this season, and Jets rookie quarterback Geno Smith was put in a position where he had to take a chance.
Ryan Clark intercepted a floating pass from Smith and made sure the Steelers kept their name out of the NFL record book.
"I don't know if I'm more excited that we actually got it and helped us win the game or that y'all can stop asking about it," Clark said.
It was the first of two turnovers on a day the defense reasserted itself in a 19-6 victory at MetLife Stadium.
For the Steelers, it was more than producing turnovers that had the players feeling good about their performance. It was about getting back to a formula that has been successful for decades under defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau.
The Steelers opened the first four games of the season playing uncharacteristically bad against the run. They entered the game 25th in the NFL against the run and allowed all four opponents to rush for 100 yards or more.
On Sunday, the Steelers limited the Jets to 83 yards on the ground.
Another tenet of the LeBeau defense is making teams earn their points by limiting big plays. The Steelers developed a disturbing habit of giving up big chunks of yardage in the past three games.
Five times against the Bengals, Bears and Vikings they allowed a play of 51 yards or more. On Sunday, the longest play for the Jets was a 29-yard pass.
"That's huge," defensive lineman Cameron Heyward said. "We prevented the big play and we smashed the run. When we do that I don't think teams have a lot of success against us."
"That's the thing we have to do first," Clark said of stopping the run. "We've been letting people get in good third-down situations.
"People haven't had to drop back and pass the ball, hold the ball and wait for routes to develop down the field. We had an opportunity to do that today because of the way the front seven played. For us, that's where it starts. We had to get back to that and today we did."
And when opponents are behind, the Steelers can pin their ears back and rush the quarterback in a more effective manner. They had four sacks in the first four games, but recorded three against the Jets and had six other hurries against Smith, a former West Virginia star.
LaMarr Woodley had a sack and was credited with two hurries. Fellow outside linebacker Jason Worilds had a sack and a pressure and so did Ziggy Hood, who was demoted earlier this week but was forced into a more prominent role when starting end Brett Keisel missed the second half with a rib injury.
Another of those hurries came from rookie linebacker Jarvis Jones late in the fourth quarter and led to the second turnover of the game, an interception by linebacker Lawrence Timmons that ended any chance of a Jets comeback.
"Our coaches did a great job preparing us and putting us in situations as far as knowing what the Jets were going to do," Jones said. "Guys did a great job of playing it, staying at home and being disciplined. We created some turnovers, got a lot of pressures and came away with the win."
The Jets compiled just 267 yards one game after the Vikings gouged the Steelers for 393. They also held the Jets to 3 for 11 on third downs. Getting off the field on third downs had been another trouble area for the defense in recent weeks.
"Coach LeBeau had us focused on, play-in, play-out, go to the next play," Clark said. "If something went bad in practice he was like, 'Play the next play.' That's what he preached all week. We gave up some plays. There were some things we have to get better on defensively, but we got back to running and hitting. That's the Steelers defense."