Jets may ditch blitz against Steelers
New York Jets coach Rex Ryan called blitzes against Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning 63 percent of the time in an AFC Championship Game loss last year. During the Jets' playoff rematch two weeks ago, he called for his defense to blitz 15 percent of the time. The Jets won.
In the New England Patriots' 45-3 shellacking of the Jets in early December, Ryan called 22 blitzes, and Tom Brady responded by throwing three touchdowns. Last week the Jets scaled back to 16 blitzes, and Brady was ineffective, throwing for only 91 yards when the Jets sent extra rushers in a 28-21 New York victory.
The Jets typically employ an all-out attack and use man-to-man coverage with cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie. Limiting blitzes and playing coverage underneath is a different philosophy, one that might not be replicated a third time this postseason when the Jets face the Steelers at 6:30 p.m. Sunday in the AFC Championship Game at Heinz Field.
"He is a lot different than Manning and Brady," Steelers receiver Hines Ward said of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. "When the protection breaks down is when he is at his best. He makes plays out of the pocket, but he can also stand in there and make throws."
Roethlisberger's style might make it difficult for the Jets to sit back and play coverage underneath. But the Jets also will have to be careful sending multiple blitzes at the elusive Roethlisberger, who has a habit of eluding the rush and making plays downfield.
"Our quarterback dictates a lot out there," receiver Mike Wallace said. "He is so much different than those other guys that they are going to have to play us different. You don't want to sit back and just let Ben pick you apart. If you rush him, he can get away from that as well."
That has been true throughout Roethlisberger's career, particularly this season. Roethlisberger, who missed four games, has 27 pass plays of 25 yards or longer — six for touchdowns — and a number of them coming after he eluded a blitz.
"Everybody has their own certain way of beating the blitz," veteran backup quarterback Byron Leftwich said. "He has his way of beating it, and it works."
The Jets realized as much during their Dec. 19 meeting against the Steelers and adapted — and won.
Despite blitzing nearly every team they had played to that point, the Jets brought five or more rushers only 18 of the 49 times Roethlisberger dropped back to pass.
Still, he had success both ways. Roethlisberger threw for 100 yards when the Jets blitzed and for 164 and a touchdown when they didn't.
"They try to confuse, I think that's the biggest thing that they do," Roethlisberger said. "(Ryan) did it with Baltimore when we played them, and now he's doing it with the Jets, bringing guys from all over the place. You don't know where people are lining up, how to identify (coverages)."
The Jets played seven defensive backs at times against the Patriots last week and dressed all 11 on their roster. The first time the Steelers and Jets played, cornerback Drew Coleman blitzed a number of times, as the Jets sacked Roethlisberger three times, Coleman twice.
"They bring pressure when they want to bring pressure," Leftwich said. "They play coverage when they want to play coverage. You don't know if they are going to bring a lot of pressure or not bring a lot of pressure. What you have to do is prepare for it all."
And have a quarterback who can handle both.
"I like our chances with our quarterback," Wallace said, "no matter what they do."
To blitz or not to blitz?
Ben Roethlisberger was 23 of 44 for 264 yards passing with one touchdown and carried twice for 25 yards when the Steelers played the Jets on Dec. 19. Here is the breakdown of how Roethlisberger fared:
When blitzed: 9 of 16 for 100 yards, 22 yards rushing, sacked twice.
When not blitzed: 14 of 28 for 164 yards, TD, 3 yards rushing, sacked once.