Our 2019 New York Jets opponent preview series has reached its conclusion. Let’s take a look into the offseason of the Steelers.
Over the past few months, we’ve been taking deep dives into the offseasons behind each of the 13 opponents the New York Jets will be clashing with during the 2019 season. With the regular-season opener less than a week away, the series comes to a close with a look at the 13th different opponent the Jets will meet up with this season—the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Nov. 9, 2014 (Week 10): Steelers 13, Jets 20
Pittsburgh’s last visit to the Jets came back in Week 10 of the 2014 season. The Steelers were riding high, having won their last three games to reach 6-3. The Jets, on the other hand, had lost eight-straight games following their season-opening victory over the Raiders. Given the opposite directions these teams were headed in, the Steelers entered the game as 4.5 point road favorites.
Out of nowhere, the Jets pulled one of their biggest upsets in recent memory. Led by Michael Vick, they came out to a 17-0 lead in the first quarter, powered by two touchdown passes from Vick. He hit T.J. Graham for a 67-yard score, then connected with rookie tight end Jace Amaro from five yards out.
The Jets defense would dominate throughout the entirety of the game. Over halfway through the fourth quarter, the Jets carried a 20-6 lead. Pittsburgh finally got the ball into the end zone with under two minutes to go, as Ben Roethlisberger found Martavis Bryant for an 80-yard score with 1:!6 to go. It was too little too late, however, as the Jets recovered the onside kick and secured the surprising victory.
Gang Green headed into its bye week at 2-8. They would win two of their ensuing six games, finishing the year 4-12. For Pittsburgh, the shocking loss was a mere speed bump. They won five of their final six games, finishing the season 11-5 and champions of the AFC North — although they would fall in the Wild Card round to the rival Baltimore Ravens.
Oct. 9, 2016 (Week 5): Jets 13, Steelers 31
The Steelers and Jets last met up in Week 5 of 2016. Similar to their 2014 meeting, the two teams were heading in opposite directions at the time. The Jets were off to a 1-3 start following two straight losses, while the Steelers came in at 3-1.
This time around, the Jets were not able to put a surprising end to their losing streak. On a sunny October afternoon in Pittsburgh, the Steelers steamrolled the Jets — but it took them some time to pull away.
The Jets defense was stout early, holding the Steelers to just one first-quarter touchdown throughout the early parts of the game. Trailing Pittsburgh 7-6 late in the second quarter, they took a 13-7 lead thanks to a touchdown pass from Ryan Fitzpatrick to Ben Roethlisberger. However, the Jets would inexplicably allow the Steelers to drive down the field and score in barely over a minute, giving Pittsburgh the halftime lead.
Pittsburgh took advantage of that momentum and ran away in the second half. They scored 17 unanswered points after the break, coming out with a 31-13 victory.
The Steelers would lose their next four games following their victory over the Jets, following to 4-5. However, they would win their last seven games to close the regular season, finishing 11-5 and claiming yet another AFC North title. They would advance to the AFC Championship Game after two playoff victories, but fell to the New England Patriots.
The Jets would eventually finish 5-11 in 2016, setting them up to draft Jamal Adams the following year.
Donte Moncrief, WR (FA: Jacksonville) — The Steelers needed a Robin to JuJu Smith-Schuster’s Batman, so they went out and added former Colt and Jaguar Donte Moncrief. He caught 48 passes for 668 yards and three touchdowns with Jacksonville last season. The Steelers are hoping he can recapture his 2015-16 form when he caught 13 touchdowns in 25 games for the Colts.
Devin Bush, LB (Round 1, Pick 10) — Pittsburgh traded up to grab Michigan’s Devin Bush, one of the most highly-touted linebackers in the draft. His speed and athleticism give him the upside to make a huge impact as a cover linebacker in the NFL right away.
Antonio Brown, Wide Receiver (Trade: Oakland) — The Steelers decided it was time to pull the plug on an era, as they sent Antonio Brown (and his drama) to Oakland. In exchange for his services, Oakland sent the Steelers a pair of 2019 Draft picks; one third-round pick (No. 66 overall) and one fifth-round pick (No. 141 overall). Pittsburgh used those picks on wide receiver Dionate Johnson (round three) and tight end Zach Gentry (round five).
Marcus Gilbert, Right Tackle (Trade: Arizona) — Gilbert started 87 games at right tackle for the Steelers over his eight years with the team, after being drafted 63rd overall in the second round of the 2011 Draft. The Florida product battled injuries over the last two seasons, playing only seven games in 2017 and five in 2018. Pittsburgh acquired a sixth-round pick from Arizona in exchange for Gilbert, using it on inside linebacker Ulysees Gilbert III.
Jesse James, Tight End (FA: Detroit) — Pittsburgh decided to make Vance McDonald their tight end of the future, so James headed for greener pastures in Detroit. He hauled in nine touchdowns over his four seasons as a Steeler.
IMPORTANT NUMBERS FOR THE STEELERS
Need to maintain: 8th in passing DVOA
Big Ben and the Steelers fielded a high-quality aerial attack yet again last season. The Steelers ranked eighth in passing DVOA, as they threw the fourth-most touchdown passes in the league (35) and placed eighth in net yards per passing attempt (7.0). Strong protection from the offensive line was crucial, as the Steelers allowed a sack rate of just 3.4 percent, second-lowest in the league behind only the Indianapolis Colts.
Adjusting to life without Antonio Brown could be a challenge, but the Steelers now have the opportunity to lay the foundation for JuJu Smith-Schuster to be the face of the offense for potentially the next decade-plus. He’s got all the tools to be just as much of a force as Brown was. Now it’s time for him to go out there and show the football world how great he can be when the focus is squarely on him.
Need to improve: 28th in turnover differential
Pittsburgh was on the wrong end of the turnover spectrum last season. Their -11 turnover margin was the fifth-worst mark in the league. They struggled in this department on both ends, ranking 26th in fewest turnovers (26) and 29th in takeaways (15).
Roethlisberger tossed 16 interceptions, which led the league. That fact should not be misinterpreted, however. Roethlisberger led the league in passing attempts with 675, and his interception rate of 2.4 percent was dead-on with the league average. It was actually below his career average of 2.7 percent. Still, he could stand to improve a little bit in this area.
The Steelers also lost nine fumbles, tied for 13th most in the league and their first time ranking in the lesser half of that category since 2014.
Defensively, Pittsburgh simply did not generate many big plays. They intercepted only eight passes, tied for the fifth-fewest in the league, and recovered only seven fumbles, tied for the ninth-fewest. Perhaps Devin Bush could help the Steelers offense make some more splash plays in 2019?